Blu-ray Review: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1”

Written by Blu-ray Reviews, Film

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1 (Warner Bros., 2010)

After six films and billions of dollars in box office grosses, this is the end — or the beginning of the end, anyway. After struggling to fit J.K. Rowling’s ever-larger Harry Potter books into film length, Warner Bros. shrugged and made the accountant-friendly decision to split the final volume into two parts, adding an extra bit of agonizing buildup to the final showdown between the boy wizard and He Who Must Not Be Named.

Of course, as Potter fans knew going in, the first half of Hallows is not only pretty grim, but largely devoted to our heroes running around, squabbling, and generally just trying to avoid Voldemort. Could that add up to two hours of filmgoing fun? Read on.

Synopsis: Harry, Ron and Hermione set out on their perilous mission to track down and destroy the secret to Voldemort’s immortality and destruction – the Horcruxes. On their own and on the run, the three friends must now rely on one another more than ever…but Dark Forces in their midst threaten to tear them apart.

Meanwhile the wizarding world has become a dangerous place. The long-feared war has begun and the Dark Lord has seized control of the Ministry of Magic and even Hogwarts, terrorizing and arresting all who might oppose him.

The Chosen One has become the hunted one as the Death Eaters search for Harry with orders to bring him to Voldemort…alive.

Video: Warners’ Potter Blu-rays boast uniformly excellent transfer quality, and Hallows Part 1 is no exception — which is no mean feat, considering just how dark the film’s palette is. With so much of the screen bathed in black so much of the time, you could forgive a certain amount of noise and artifacting here, but Hallows‘ 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is almost perfectly pristine. The movie feels as cold and grim as it should, but the picture is clear enough that you won’t lose track of what’s going on. Excellent.

Audio: Wow. Hallows Part 1 is a movie all about buildup, and the plot calls for quieter moments than some of the other films in the series, but there are also plenty of giant action set pieces, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack shoves you right in the middle of them all. This is home theater demo stuff, from Alexandre Desplat’s swirling score to the window-rattling sound effects, and it’s all perfectly balanced. Turn it up and dive in.

Special Features: Given that Warners has been releasing Ultimate Editions of earlier films in the series while the franchise has been wrapping itself up in theaters, it’s difficult not to be cynical about the special features here; you just know we’re going to get a bigger box at some point, with more (and probably better) stuff. But what you get in this set isn’t bad, including the requisite DVD and digital copy; a robust Maximum Movie Mode hosted by Jason Isaacs and featuring cast interviews, book readings, Potter trivia, and more; roughly an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes; 11 minutes of deleted scenes; brief looks at the making of the soundtrack and Potter theme park ride; BD-Live functionality; and a sneak peek at Hallows Part 2.

Bottom Line: The decision to split Hallows into two films was met with a certain amount of controversy from Potter fans, some of whom felt it was motivated purely by greed. There’s no doubt Warner Bros. was happy to extend the life of the top-grossing film franchise in history, but watching Part 1, you can’t help but admit that the split made a lot of narrative sense.

Yes, it’s largely a movie about teenagers running for their lives, and yes, it’s frightfully grim. It’s sort of the Empire Strikes Back of the Potter movies; at no point during Hallows Part 1 does it look like Harry and his friends have any real chance of defeating Voldemort, and they endure infighting, torture, and even death. And at the end of the movie — well, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it or read the books. Suffice it to say Hallows Part 1 ends with a classic “darkest before the dawn” setup that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever loved a fantasy trilogy.

But it’s also a really exciting film — more exciting than it probably had any right to be, given the narrative arc and the movie’s two-hour-plus length. Director David Yates does a tremendous job of ratcheting up the tension — right from the opening moments, you feel like something awful is just around the corner, and that feeling never fades. Hallows Part 1 also boasts a tighter focus on the series’ main protagonists than some of the other installments; unlike earlier chapters that largely ignored Ron and Hermione, this one is all about the trio, their changing relationships, and the tests they face on the cusp of adulthood. All in all, it’s really absorbing — and even rather moving — stuff.

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