Seven books from “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling; and now the seventh film. But not so fast with the closing testimonials there, Bub.
The seventh book was deemed too massive in scope for a single release, so here’s the penultimate chapter in the movie saga, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.” Surely this is the only time in movie history that a “Part 7” has been called “Part 1.”
As the movies have gone on, it has become increasingly clear that this is really a long-form series, not a bunch of separate films. So as usual, no attempt is made at the beginning of “Deathly Hallows” to catch us up on previous installments.
The early going of this one (which like most of the previous films was adapted by Steve Kloves) barrages us with characters, dire allusions and significant glances. The boy wizard and “chosen one” has left Hogwarts. In fact, as evocative as that location has been, it’s refreshing to have some new places to see in this movie.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is now being hunted in earnest by the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes); there’s no waiting around through academic terms or any of that nonsense any more.
In a cool early sequence, Harry is replicated a dozen or so times, and the shape-shifting continues later when Harry and pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) take the forms of adults in order to infiltrate an underground worker’s hive that looks like something out of “Metropolis.”
For large parts of the film, the three friends are wandering through various forests and moors, in a strange sort of morose exile. The film is so slow, yet so packed with meaningful portents, that at times it resembles a European art picture from the 1960s or something.
Because “Harry Potter” is one long megafilm designed for fans, the individual titles don’t have to behave like regular movies: There’s no need to keep things moving or do a great summing-up.
Director David Yates shies away from big emotional moments, save for a bit of heroics from computer-generated Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones). At this point Yates is less a director than a manager, herding the elements into place.
It’s difficult to rate “Deathly Hallows,” because it’s not for casual filmgoers, and it doesn’t seek to be a self-contained night at the movies. It has odd elements (some significant events happen offscreen and Yates has a peculiar way of backing important characters into scenes so that we barely notice they’re present), although imaginative touches decorate this world, as before.
The incredibly crowded cast returns folks such as Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, and Robbie Coltrane. The newcomers include Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans, thus proving that every recognizable British actor will be employed in this series before it is over.
“Deathly Hallows” moves the tale along, and yet it also feels like a place-holder. We can assume that “Part 7 Part 2” will deliver the long-awaited summing-up.