Director: David Yates
Studio: Warner Bros.
The stakes are high for Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in this first half of the final Harry Potter story as the evil Lord Voldemort (a CGI-mangled Ralph Fiennes) closes in on Harry's whereabouts with the intent of killing the boy wizard. But not only is Harry no longer really a boy (Radcliffe is old enough to buy himself a beer), this sequel ups the action and trades in the teen-romance vibe of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for darker material and even some unexpected sensuality.
One of the best scenes in the entire series comes early in Deathly Hallows: Part I when Harry's friends drink Polyjuice Potion to transform themselves into Potter clones before taking to the air and eluding the Death Eaters. Harry is hell-bent on finding the remaining Horcruxes so he can destroy them and, subsequently, the Dark Lord. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Thompson) search for items that hold bits of Voldemort's soul as well and infiltrate the Ministry of Magic in an ingenious scene where they drink Polyjuice Potion to disguise themselves as employees and literally flush themselves into the Ministry via a public restroom. There is a palpable sense of danger hanging over this sequel and, when a favorite character does meet his end, it carries real dramatic weight. There is also a wonderfully animated "Tales of the Three Brothers" sequence that mimics shadow puppets and is unlike anything else in the Potter movies. It all ends on a cliffhanger that whets fans' appetites for the franchise finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, which opens in theaters on July 15.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, the seventh movie in the series, isn't going to win over new fans despite its more mature direction and darker tone. It doesn't stand on its own and relies heavily on the films before it or in-depth knowledge of J.K. Rowling's books, otherwise a casual viewer will leave wondering, say, why Hermione erases her parents' memories or why Harry flies through a wall of an old house into a child's playroom. For fans that have grown up with the books and movies, it's rewarding to see the three leads enter young adulthood and grapple with more adult concerns, like when Ron feeds his mounting paranoia and feelings of inadequacy by having a hallucination about a topless Harry and Hermione in a romantic embrace. Like its eponymous character, the series has now graduated into adulthood with a film that Muggles of all ages can get into.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain several short making-of featurettes. The Blu-ray adds the interactive Maximum Movie Mode, plus "The Seven Harrys," "On the Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver and James," "Dan, Rupert and Emma's Running Competition", eight additional scenes, a behind-the-soundtrack featurette and an opening scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.