I have a tendency to rip into TWILIGHT fans for their irrational obsessive behavior toward Teams Edward and Jacob. I’ll admit that I have never read any of the TWILIGHT books, but I saw the first film and I have heard and read plenty about the series of books to know that Stephenie Meyer does not possess an ounce of imagination. But all of this is beside the point and admittedly, it’s a little hypocritical considering my own obsession with J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER. My devotion to the 7-book series and the Warner Bros. films is undoubtedly on the same level of craziness as any TWILIGHT fan out there. Then again, I don’t own a broomstick, a magical cloak, belong to a local Quidditch team, or hang up banners belonging to one of the  “houses” in Hogwarts. However, the release of a new HARRY POTTER film is always something to look forward to and rather than simply being an anticipated movie, these films are more like an anticipated big event. Of these films, the latest, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1, marks the beginning of the end and if you’ve read the book, you know that it will end in a manner fit for an epic on the scale of THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

I’m going to forego providing a synopsis of DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 because to give you a proper description of the story would require me to delve into the previous books/movies, which would require a monumental feat that’s not worth attempting. I also assume that the vast majority of you who are reading this review have either read all the books, seen the movies, or both. Suffice it to say that the last movie finally culminates in the prophesized showdown between Harry Potter and his nemesis, Voldemort. The world has been overtaken and terrorized by the Death Eaters (Voldemort’s followers; think magical Nazis) and it is up to Harry Potter to save the world.

Each book in the HARRY POTTER series has progressively gotten larger in page count, which in turn has posed an increasingly annoying problem for the various filmmakers behind the film adaptations. I was not a big fan of Chris Columbus’ overly saccharine adaptations of the films, but I give him credit for remaining painstakingly faithful to and sacrificing very little from the books. The subsequent films got technically better in look and style, but they suffered from too much condensation of the source material even though each film is over 2 hours. Understandably, the books contained too much material to all fit into a single film. What’s more, the studio couldn’t divide each book into two films because by the time we reached the final book, the actors would be into their 30s and well past the age of the characters. For all these reasons, DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 has finally combined all the best elements necessary to make a great HARRY POTTER film. It finally has a talented director in David Yates AND the studio has wisely decided to film practically every scene from the final book. So far, the end result is how I wish every previous HARRY POTTER had been made. It’s also the first time where I felt the franchise finally transcended the source material and stood apart as a film that could be admired without referencing the book.

I’m not very familiar with director David Yates’ work, but based on what he did with HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, and DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1, he is a filmmaker worth looking out for in the future. Yates strikes a beautiful balance between the magical world and the real (or Muggle) world without making it too fairy tale looking on the one hand or too edgy and rough on the other. Yates blends the two worlds together and still manages to maintain a distinct feel and look for each realm. With the Death Eaters having overtaken the magical world, that world is intended to be significantly darker than how the series began. Yates’ version of that darker magical world has a gothic renaissance quality to it that is absolutely perfect. The creatures, magic, and other fantastical elements no longer look too CG (computer generated). They are blended seamlessly into the world to appear natural and thus, lends the film more plausibility. Furthermore, Yates finally gives the audience an impression that the Death Eaters have taken over the world. In his previous films, I did not get that sense despite the fact that the director provided scenes showing Voldemort and his Death Eaters wreaking havoc. Here, there is a constant and foreboding sense of impending doom that gives greater weight to Harry Potter’s mission as well as the stakes that he and his friends face.

If you compare the acting in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE with what the actor’s pull off in DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1, the improvement is striking. The story contains a lot of dramatic and emotional moments that require an expanded performance range from the actors. Characters die and deal with all sorts of internal conflicts. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) have come very far since their debuts back in 2001. We have watched them develop their craft throughout the HARRY POTTER series and the films have in a way become an acting school for them (it also doesn’t hurt that the young actors have been spoiled by England’s cream of the crop of actors who have appeared in the series). DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 is the culmination of years of training. They have lived with these characters for a decade and are by now as familiar with their characters’ personalities as they know themselves. Of the three, Rupert Grint has always been the weaker actor, but even he steps up his game in DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 and puts out a wonderful performance.

I sort of allude to this earlier, but the VFX work and the cinematography in DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 are a big part of why this film stands apart from previous HARRY POTTER films. The CG doesn’t have that shiny, bright plasticy sheen that you see with poorly done effects films (for a good example of that check out the new GREEN LANTERN teaser trailer) nor does it bring attention to itself for the sake of impressing the audience with eye candy. As for the cinematography, the DP, Eduardo Serra (THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, UNBREAKABLE, GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, BLOOD DIAMOND), does a fantastic job portraying the dark world our characters inhabit. In particular, the scenes in Act II where Hermione, Harry, and Ron hide out in the countryside look otherworldly and although they look like real locations, they possess a magical quality in the uniqueness of the landscapes. DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 is the most beautiful looking HARRY POTTER yet and I hope the Academy of Arts and Sciences will recognize Serra’s work. Finally, I just want to remark how fucking amazing the animation sequence is where Luna Lovegood’s father tells about the Deathly Hallows.

If you’re wondering what the film’s shortcomings are, there isn’t much in my opinion, but there are a few things that I wish had been done differently. Although I was overall satisfied with where the first film ends, I was hoping the filmmakers would have amped up the climax. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Act III contains a sequence that takes place inside Luna Lovegood’s father’s home. The house is a tower that, in the book, gets visited by the Death Eaters, who are looking for Potter. As the sequence is written in the book, the battle that takes place inside the tower is pretty chaotic and it seems to last longer than it does in the film. From what I remember, the characters are all stuck inside the tower as it falls apart around them. In contrast, this scene is a pretty short one in the movie and altogether unremarkable. The film also omitted a part in the book where Potter reconciles and settles his differences with his cousin, Dudley Dursley. It would have been nice to have seen some sort of closure between at least one of the Dursleys and Potter, but we don’t get to see it in the movie. Finally, the film completely omits any coverage of Dumbledore’s family history, which I think is an important part of the book. However, I can understand these omissions because in the end, omissions from the film were still necessary despite the film being split in two. Regardless of what part of the book is omitted, there will be some dissension from the Harry Potter Fan Club.

DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 is a beautifully crafted adaptation of the final book in the series. It contains both exciting and emotional moments and it succeeds in building up a momentum toward the epic finale that we will see next summer. I am glad that the Warner Bros. brass and David Yates recognized the importance of getting the final book completely right and end the series with a huge bang. The efforts put into this film show and the final product goes beyond what we have seen in previous installments of the series. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then I don’t need to tell you to go see this movie because I’m sure you already have. If you’re not a fan, then I urge you to read the books and check out the movies.