Review: HARRY POTTER 7 is "Best Yet"

As an ardent Harry Potter fan, anticipation was at an all-time high coming into this week's release of the penultimate film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Luckily, this film is the best of them so far, taking some risks, showing off its magical style, and remaining truer to the source material than ever before.

Warner Bros made the absolute right decision splitting the final book into two films. While this may have been more about spreading the wealth than maintaining a creative vision, the former served the latter admirably. An astonishing amount of material from the book came into this first film, which will please longtime fans. For fans who only know the franchise from the movies, it serves them wonderfully, as well. The film gets deeper into relationships and how these hero children are going through their journey than any of the six prior, and it makes the fantastic seem more real when it is happening to real people.

That's really what this movie does best: it makes these people so real. It is very easy to feel real excitement, worry, and pain for the characters in this film. We've been on a long journey with them, and yet it seems they have so long to go. The film follows the book's turn to darkness as well. This is not a cheery time in the lives of Harry Potter and his friends, and that is reflected in everything from the literal darkness and clouds used in a lot of the scenes to the internal darkness the main trio express.

Ultimately, while the final showdown must be Harry Potter versus the Dark Lord Voldemort, the real story is how Harry Potter finds the strength within himself, and how utterly essential Hermione and Ron are to that. This movie brings that out in a much more overt manner than before, and allows a greater sense of unity to the cast, with a truer shared purpose.

The filmmakers made a couple of surprise choices that stand out as true delights. The first is toward the beginning of the film, when a story that Hermione tells in just a couple of lines in the book gets shown instead, carrying a much heavier weight, and setting the tone of the movie amazingly. It's one of the most powerful scenes in the entire franchise, and it's new to the film. The second is an animated sequence done to tell a story within the story. This sequence holds such awe and beauty, I challenge you to breathe during it. It is truly and utterly fantastic, and a pleasant surprise when things like that are shown and not merely told.

Fans will likely be surprised by how much is packed into this 2 hours, 26 minutes runtime. It ends at a very appropriate spot, with a major moment from the book being juxtaposed by another that comes a little later on, in some terrifying foreshadowing. The slightly further moment of the split than expected also means the final chapter, due out in theaters in July, 2011, will be one action-packed film.

There are funny moments, and heartfelt moments, and even some glimpses of hope. However, to use a geek colloquialism, this is the "Empire Strikes Back" of Harry Potter films. Everything supports that, from the atmosphere to the music to the up-close and personal violence. Overall, things look bleak for our heroes at the end of this movie, and fans know that not all will turn out well for them in the end, either. It's a heavy film, definitely earning its PG-13 rating, and reflecting well the fact that these children we've watched grow are now young adults forging their destinies. These young actors show an amazing sense of their characters and the pain they're going through, supported by an increasingly stellar adult cast.

It's easy to call a Harry Potter film magical, but what needs to be noted is how grounded it simultaneously stays. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a new gold standard for how to do adaptations right, and is sure to entertain fans of many ages for many ages to come.

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