Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 on Blu-ray
by Jim Bray
Right from its loud and screechy opening cacophony followed by the Minister of Magic's not-particularly-reassuring words to his employees that the Ministry is still strong, it becomes obvious that this latest - and second last - in the Harry Potter franchise is going to be a very dark outing.
Since it's also the lead-in to the ultimate and final battle between the good wizards and the forces of darkness, it's hard to imagine it being any other way. Yet that also means it's a more serious film, with very little of the fun that we loved from the original film – where a sassy little know-it-all named Hermione (Emma Watson) and a fish out of water wizard named Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) teamed up with a weasley loser named Ron (Rupert Grint) to capture our hearts.
Of course, a lot has happened since then. Not only have the kids grown from pre-teen to youngadulthood, they've also been forced to grow up as evil circumstances beyond their control conspire to plunge the world into darkness, destroying lives in the process. Times are, indeed, a-changing and it appears our heroes are about to be tested like never before.
So we see Hermione erasing herself from her parents' lives in an effort to keep them safe, while the Dursleys (Harry's muggle adoptive parents) leave their home for the same reason - it isn't safe to be a muggle any more. The situation is apparently so dire that the good wizards descend upon Harry, many of them taking up his appearance so they can act as decoys while he's spirited away to what they hope is going to be a safe house.
It turns out to be the Weasleys', though why they'd think Voldemort (who Harry is suddenly referring to as "you know who" again despite naming him many times in previous films) and his cronies wouldn't figure out that particular feint in about two seconds is beyond me. And, of course, they do, turning Harry and his friends' desperate flight into a true debacle. It appears that as long as Harry's around, no wizard is safe.
Well, no wizard is safe anyway, especially Harry.
Harry is destined to take part in this great battle so, with Hermione and Ron, he makes himself scarce while he tries to find a way to defeat Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). They learn that they must find the missing Horcruxes, which apparently give Voldemort his immortality. One part of their quest takes them, disguised, into the Ministry of Magic to find clues, in a pretty nifty scene. But they spend most of the rest of their time wandering across a wilderness as if they're Israelites searching for the promised land - or perhaps Narnians looking for the seven sword central to "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader".
Meanwhile, the magic from a Horcrux they already possess threatens to tear then apart much like the One Ring becomes such a burden to Frodo as he bears it on his quest in The Lord of the Rings.
Yeah, that does seem more than a tad derivative. There are some pretty convenient coincidences, too, such as Ron showing up just when he's needed to save Harry's life and reuniting the trio. And the meeting scene at the beginning with Voldemort and his co-conspirators seems inspired by Blofeld's chairing of a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. meeting early in "Thunderball."
There are a few very interesting scenes, too, such as the trio's imaginative infiltration of the Ministry and the part at the end where Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) faces off with Dobby (Tobby Jones), the critter we haven't seen since he wreaked so much havoc on "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
One thing notable about this outing is that Harry and his friends are on their own now. In the previous films, they've always had a least some protection from their teachers and extended families, but such isn't the case here. After a few early scenes, there's no one for them to lean on except each other, a sure test of character.
Though necessarily dark – and unfortunately (but necessarily as well) without the sense of wonder we got in the first film, when everything was as new to us as it was to Harry – the big problem with the film is that it's slow. There's probably a really good 100 minute movie trying to get out of this 146 minute epic, but I found myself checking how much time was left in the movie more than once – and this is just part one!
All the Potter films have been in this neighborhood as far as their length is concerned, and some have been even longer, but this is the only one where I couldn't wait for it to end. Even the last film, The Half-Blood Prince, which I thought at the time was easily the worst entry in the series, didn't have me checking my watch.
Sure, there are some great action scenes, and some nice character and plot development, but there isn't enough to keep the audience interested for that long. In fact, by the time the inevitable cliffhanger ending came I was wishing they'd have wrapped it up there, rather than making us wait for months to sit through the rest of the story.
I haven't read the book and so don't know what's coming, but I hope there's a rip-snortin' conclusion in the offing to make up for the overlong and meandering Part 1. The Potter world is such, however, that even if there isn't a whiz bang ending, I'll be there to see it because I need to see how it wraps up.
From a technical standpoint, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is definitely up to snuff. The cinematography and the special effects are first rate – continuing a trend that makes the first two (Chris Columbus-directed) films look quaint in comparison. The film looks great and the performances are top notch as well. I still miss John Williams' music, though Alexandre Desplat's here score is very good. It's just hard to fill Williams' shoes.
The Blu-ray's up to snuff as well. We received it in a combo pack that also includes a second Blu-ray of extra material, a DVD and instructions for downloading a Digital Copy.
This is a very dark film in its look as well as its mood, but the 1080p picture quality (at a 2.4:1 aspect ratio) is definitely up to the task. Shadows are plentiful and deep, the color and detail are superb, and there's good depth to the image.
The audio, which Warners presents in dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround, is speaker-shattering. I actually had to turn the system down a couple of notches from my normal setting! I'm not sure if that's a complaint…
This is a sound track that'll give your home theater a nice workout. Magic abounds, on the screen and across all 5.1 channels, whether via blasts of energy, attacks by Death Eaters, whatever. The sound fills the room, channel separation is superb, and the subwoofer nearly moves itself across the room it works so hard. Yet dialogue is always discernable and placed perfectly in the sound field.
The Blu-ray also includes "Maximum Movie Mode," where Jason Isaacs (who plays Malfoy, senior) hosts you in a Picture-in-Picture experience full of behind-the-scenes videos, "Focus Point" featurettes, interviews, trivia and more.
You might want to hold off on this until you've seen the film all the way through once – though you may be tempted to fire it up during some of the sections that drag…
You can also access the Focus Point stuff separately, from the menu, as well as five other featurettes on disc two.
There's also about 10 minutes worth of "additional scenes," for those who don't think the movie's long enough, as well as some eight deleted scenes as well. To be fair, they're pretty interesting, but I'm glad they were deleted because they would have slowed the film even more.
The "exclusive Deathly Hallows Part 2 Sneak Peek" is little more than a trailer, unfortunately, and doesn't give much of a feel for how Part 2 will unfold.
You also get "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Grand Opening," a promo of the theme park of the same name at Universal's Orlando resort and there's a quick "Behind the Soundtrack" feature on the score. And the disc is BD-Live enabled, if your player is as well.
It's a decent selection of extras, though there'll probably be plenty more offered when the inevitable special super duper edition hits.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.