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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 1:00 AM | Page modified November 19, 2010 at 12:57 PM

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Corrected version

Movie review

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I': Best when it flies free of the book

A review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I." The penultimate movie in the series is very satisfying, despite its sometimes clunky source material.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I,' with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Brendan Gleeson, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Julie Walters. Directed by David Yates, from a screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. 145 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images. Several theaters, including IMAX at Pacific Science Center and others.

The "Harry Potter" movies have always been more than movies; they're Events, complete with countdowns and costumes and fans standing by to relentlessly nitpick every tiny detail changed from J.K. Rowling's novels. And within all that clatter, it's somewhat miraculous that the movies are as good as they are.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I," the penultimate film of the series, faithfully reflects a few problems in the books: a long, slow middle section; a nagging feeling that the Hermione-Ron love connection makes no sense. (Watch the raging chemistry on display between Emma Watson's Hermione and Daniel Radcliffe's Harry in this movie — not to mention the film franchise's failure to develop Ginny as a genuine love interest for Harry — and you may well draw the same conclusion. Ron, begone.)

But for those caught up in the "Potter" world — and surely anyone who isn't dropped out of this franchise long ago — "Deathly Hallows" is immensely satisfying. Nonetheless, things are gloomier than ever before: Harry, Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint) are adrift; their anchor, Hogwarts, is no longer a safe haven. "I must be the one to kill Harry Potter," says the evil Voldemort, at the beginning of the film, setting the stage for the ultimate standoff. Dark forces amass against Harry and his allies, the Order of the Phoenix, who assemble for a thrilling skyborne escape early in the film. The fearless trio invades the Ministry of Magic in amusingly frumpy grown-up disguise, searches for Horcruxes (pieces of Voldemort's soul, to be used against him), spends a little too much time camping, and leaves you wishing "Part II" were coming next week, not next summer.

Those who rate the movies based on their closeness to the books should be pleased; screenwriter Steve Kloves, transforming Book 7 into two movies rather than one, has a little more room to breathe here and axes fewer scenes than usual. (This almost, but not quite, justifies the decision to split the final movie in two, which surely had more to do with finance than with art, and leaves "Deathly Hallows" with a stopping point — albeit a logical one — rather than an ending.)

But some of the best moments come when the movie flies free of the book, just a bit. An early scene where we see Hermione casting a spell on her parents so they will forget her (otherwise they're in danger) is mentioned in the book in passing but not seen; Watson, pale and stricken as she murmurs the charm, shows us the cost for Hermione, saying goodbye to Mum and Dad forever as her image fades from family photographs. Watson and Radcliffe have a charming wordless sequence in that tent, reminding us that these brave warriors are just kids, still (cue the aforementioned raging chemistry). And Evanna Lynch's ever-wafting Luna Lovegood, as usual, steals the movie with a line; in this case, "That's a curious thing to keep in your sock."

Director David Yates keeps things moving along smartly, despite the camping lull; the movie's non-ending sneaks up, with us barely having time to register the new, poufier hair on Alan Rickman's Snape, or Helena Bonham Carter's this-time-even-more-evil-yet-still-delicious Bellatrix Lestrange, or the way Rhys Ifans' soft otherworldliness perfectly matches Lynch (he's playing her father). "Part I" ends with both a roar and a sigh, a flash of light in the night and an idyllic cabin by the water — and, most important, with friends together, facing the darkness, whatever it may bring.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

This article was corrected on Nov. 18, 2010. An earlier version included an incorrect star rating.

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