There must be a spell to be cast that would get this Harry Potter saga over with: "acceleratus plotum," or some prig Latin like that. • After nine years and now seven movies (with an eighth arriving in July), the celebrated boy wizard's most apparent change is in height and vocal timbre. Nothing in the Hogwarts manual covers puberty. Harry is still determined to hunt down and kill Lord Voldemort, who in turn has had Harry in his sights at least twice and, like a James Bond villain, boasted so long that his prey got away.
The self-perpetuating mythology continues in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and darn if it isn't starting to resemble the Twilight saga. That is, if Edward ate once in a while and wore glasses, and Jacob was a ginger-haired mouth breather. Hermione and Bella are pretty much interchangeable. They're all hanging around bluish-gray and gloomy forests where beasties dwell, although with the Potter kids in a much comfier tent.
Gone are the Quidditch games and hydraulic staircases of Hogwarts, and with them much of the toy box wonder of Harry's quest. Part 1 of Deathly Hallows thrusts our heroes into the (sort of) real world, where Voldemort's legion of Death Eaters is killing off whatever Muggles aren't being enslaved. Harry and friends are searching for the remaining Horcruxes containing portions of Voldemort's soul to destroy. Best. Scavenger hunt. Ever.
More than anything, director David Yates — mimicking J.K. Rowling's dutiful final book — allows curtain calls for nearly every character that waved a wand or dodged a death bolt in the previous films. They sit somberly around evil-conference tables listening to Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) repeat himself, or pop into a scene to fret with Harry and depart as abruptly.
Similar complaints were registered about the book, although you can't blame Rowling for wanting to say goodbye to such profitable friends, or fans for whom a glimpse of Remus Lupin triggers fond memories from another novel/movie. We can blame the decision to break Rowling's finale into two films, a mercenary move no matter what Warner Bros. proclaims.
In doing so, Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves retain scenes and details, padding the running time and throwing off the film's rhythm. A lot of time is spent in that forest with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) rehashing what they must do and why, and in Ron's case, bailing out with a pout. Anytime something dangerous occurs, one has a sorcery solution and the others deem it brilliant. Just like the past few films.
Age hasn't been kind to the thespian abilities of Watson and Grint, she of the over-rehearsed line deliveries and he with an A-to-B range. On the other hand, Radcliffe is maturing well on screen. He'll do fine as far away from Harry as he can get with future role choices.
Part 1 of Harry Potter's long goodbye is technically impressive as usual, especially an animated shadow play explaining the whole Deathly Hallows myth. I'd like to see more of the battle play out in the Muggle world, as with a thrilling London diner showdown between wands and wickedness (or the Death Eater air raid in the previous film). Occasionally a comical touch works, like the heroes shape-shifting into adults, and Ron's awkward return to normal.
But the good stuff doesn't prevent this film from being little more than what must be done before better stuff happens. Warner Bros. even uses footage from Part 2 in trailers for Part 1, so you know they're aware of it. I can't wait for July to get here — or better yet August, when Harry's saga is finally put to bed.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.