The minister of magic proclaims that dark times have arisen in the opening moments of the new “Harry Potter” film – and the turmoil that follows lives up to that billing.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” chronicles the chaos that engulfs the wizardry world as evil Lord Voldemort seizes power and sets out to destroy Harry.
The film, which opens in theaters today, is an epic 2 1/2-hour tease that should leave fans salivating for “Part 2,” the final “Potter” movie, which does not arrive until next July.
Fans may leave frustrated that they have to wait eight months for the finale. But the seventh and final novel in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series needed to be broken into two parts, says Daniel Radcliffe, who stars as the teen wizard Harry.
“I was always very much in favor of it being two parts, and I think most people were, simply because we all realized there was no way you could do justice to the book and really capture the story in one film,” Radcliffe says.
In the first six books, he says, there was secondary action that could be cut from the movies, “themes which, while exciting and while fans love them, simply don’t add anything to the main thrust of the story.
“In the seventh book, there is very little extraneous stuff that’s not actually contributing heavily to the main plot line.”
“Part 1” sends Harry and pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) outside their usual haunts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
They’re in perpetual danger as they hit the road to hide from Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his followers, the Death Eaters, while simultaneously seeking to find and destroy magical artifacts that are the key to Voldemort’s dark powers.
“It’s kind of an edgy road movie, where these three iconic characters, who we’ve always seen in this magical place called Hogwarts, are thrust out into the big, bad world and have to fend for themselves and survive,” says David Yates, who directed both parts of “Deathly Hallows” as well as the fifth and sixth “Harry Potter” films.
“As much as we love Hogwarts, we needed a fresh environment. We needed to be out of our comfort zones, definitely,” Watson says.
And what’s Voldemort aiming to get out of all of this?
“Everyone knows, don’t they? They read all the books, don’t they? They all know what he’s up to: world domination, total power,” says Fiennes.
The story tests the bonds between Harry, Hermione and Ron as jealousy, suspicion, bickering and feelings of betrayal undermine their relationship.
They all take painful leave of their homes: Harry giving a last glance to the sad little closet under the stairs where he lived as a boy; Ron worrying about the safety of his large and loving family; Hermione making an agonizing act of self-sacrifice to protect her parents.
Along the way, they journey into enemy territory at the Ministry of Magic, which Voldemort’s followers have turned into a fascist monolith bearing the slogan “Magic Is Might.”
They learn of the Deathly Hallows, powerful gifts bestowed upon three brothers by Death itself. And they have a savage encounter with fanatic Voldemort flunky Bellatrix Lestrange, played with wicked glee by Helena Bonham Carter, one of the highlights of the franchise’s roster of esteemed British actors.
Newcomer Rhys Ifans is a standout as the spacey but tragic wizard journalist Xenophilius Lovegood, while Bill Nighy joins the cast as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour.
Returning actors include Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Julie Walters, David Thewlis and Bonnie Wright.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” will bring to a close one of Hollywood’s most remarkable film franchises, a gambit of more than a decade by Warner Bros. to bring all of Rowling’s novels to the screen before the young stars outgrew their roles.
The result will be a 20-hour saga that lets fans watch Harry grow from a shy, neglected 11-year-old to a bold, noble young man.
“I don’t think it’ll take too long before these films do finish and finally come out for cinemas all over the world to be having ‘Harry Potter’ marathons, where they just play them all back to back,” Radcliffe says. “And I imagine attendance will be huge.”