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‘Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ is exceptional beginning of end

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1' Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint Pitchforks: 4.5 out of 5 Rating: PG-13 Opens: Nov. 19

Sitting in the theater, waiting for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” to start, it occurred to me that nine years have passed since the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I was stricken with a similar epiphany last June when I realized the eleven-year gap between “Toy Story 2” and “Toy Story 3.” This is truly turning out to be a year of sequels that make me feel like an old man.

Remember when Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint had high-pitch voices and were prepubescent kids learning the fundamentals of wizardry and Quidditch? Now they’ve matured into young adults, as have many diehard “Harry Potter” fans. Where has the time gone?

When I first heard this final chapter of the “Harry Potter” series would be split into two separate movies, I thought it to be an obvious gimmick for Warner Bros. to continue milking one of their most successful franchises. No doubt the studio will now make $2 billion, as apposed to the meager $1 billion they would have profited off of one “Deathly Hallows” film. The good news is that splitting up the movies has proven not only to be a brilliant financial decision, but a wise creative choice as well.

For the most part, the “Harry Potter” film saga has remained loyal to the tone and major plot points of J.K. Rowling’s books. But only staying practically true to the classic novels has not been enough to please some nitpicking “Harry Potter” fanatics that consider any changes whatsoever to be blasphemy.

When I go to the movies I do my best not to compare the film to its original source material, and interpret it as stand alone entertainment. Personally, I’ve loved all previous six “Harry Potter” movies. As somebody who has read the books though, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed with the disappointing, yet necessary, exclusion of some material.

By splitting “Deathly Hallows” in two, the filmmakers cover more ground than ever, allowing more time for character development. While “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” packs in more story than any of the previous screen interpretation, not a minute of the film feels overstuffed. This is possibly the best paced and least rushed of the “Harry Potter” films, making for a terrific beginning of the end.

It seems a tad pointless to discuss the plot, seeing how virtually everyone has read the book by this point. And if you haven’t, why are you reading this review? Allow me to give you the cliff notes version.

Lord Voldemort is at the peak of power. Harry can no longer return to his safe haven of Hogwarts, nor can he rely on Albus Dumbledore for guidance. The fate of the wizarding world depends on Harry and his friends destroying the remaining horcruxes, which embody the Dark Lord’s soul.

This is the third “Harry Potter” film to be directed by David Yates, who produces the most technically achieving entry to the series yet. The world of “Harry Potter” has never appeared more appropriately menacing with bracing cinematography from Eduardo Serra and a chilling musical score by the great Alexandre Desplat. Utilizing unblemished visuals, Yates creates several brilliant action set pieces, such as when Harry and his allies are pursued by Death Eaters through the skies of London. The most dazzling sequence of all is a rendition of “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” a classic wizard fairy tale, with the same essence of a Tim Burton stop-motion animation.

Visuals aside, it’s the perpetual chemistry between Radcliffe, Watson and Grint that completes “Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” The three young actors have been portraying these characters from the beginning, and haven’t hit a wrong note once.

The relationship and circumstances of the trio here somewhat resembles the dynamic between Frodo and Sam in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” They are more vulnerable than ever, not only confronted with the challenge of defeating Voldemort, but also internal struggles of jealousy and paranoia. Fans fell in love with these characters in the books, and these actors make us fall in love with them all over again. Yates never allows the special effects to overshadow the drama of the story and its underlying themes of friendship, love, perseverance, and loss of innocence.

Is this the best of the “Harry Potter” movies? That’s hard to say at this point. I’ll always admire the wonderful whimsy of “Chamber of Secrets” and the darker approach of “Goblet of Fire.” With “Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” it feels as if I’ve only seen one half of a great film. However, if “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” proves to be as stellar as its predecessor, the two together might make for the standout of the franchise. But “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” flawlessly does its job. Nowadays, it’s rare that I walk out of a two-and-a-half-hour movie desiring to see another two-and-a-half hours.

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