Warner Bros. | 2010 | 146 min | PG-13

The decision to divide J.K. Rowling’s seventh novel into two separate films remains a controversial one, but director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have taken full advantage of the opportunity the opportunity provided, and crafted a character driven drama unlike anything seen in the series before.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1On the verge of turning 17, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is no longer a boy, not yet a man. He should be returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his final year of studies alongside best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), but instead the three of them are preparing for the fight of their lives. Things are so grim that Hermione has to wipe the memory of herself from her parents’ minds.

Dumbledore is dead. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has more power, with his Death Eater army out into the world to eradicate all Muggles. With the Ministry of Magic in the Dark Lord’s pocket and Hogwarts without their influential leader, there’s little hope. This means Harry must begin the hunt for special Horcruxes, pieces of Voldemort’s soul that, if destroyed, can end his monstrous reign. Facing dreadful threats from all sides, Harry takes off with Hermione and Ron into the wilds, armed with their Hogwarts training and special gifts from Dumbledore’s will, used to combat attacks from Voldemort’s minions, trackers, and the Horcruxes themselves, which extract dreadful thoughts out of anyone who possesses them.

The first Harry Potter film hit screens in 2001. Deathly Hallows, Part 1 feels like the characters have grown up with the actors. No longer at Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are now forced to rely on themselves, each other, and lessons learned. However, their journey is a bumpy one. Harry, while believed to be the leader, isn’t sure of where to go. Most importantly, he doesn’t know how to stop Voldemort from killing everyone in his path. Hermione, torn between willpower and despair, finds her confidence waning the farther she wanders from Hogwarts. Ron, caught between his love for Hermione and his loyalty to Harry, does his best to protect their makeshift family while battling demons, both internal and external. As the stress and strain increases, the friends begin to turn on each other, putting their bond to the test.

Once the film is released in its entirety, it will be easier to evaluate the narrative. However, as of now, Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is one of the strongest entries in the film series. I will admit that I’m not what you would call a Harry Potter fanatic, but impressed by the story and character development, I find myself really looking forward to July 15, 2011, when the final installment reaches theaters.

The film is framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. There are some vibrant splashes of color thanks to the wedding scenes, moments in the city, and the trio’s initial wanderings through the country, but grays and earth tones come to dominate the palette as winter sets in. In any case, the transfer shows excellent depth all around. Likewise contrast is strong, showing the full range of values with no signs of compression. Fine object detail and overall sharpness are impressive as well. There’s none of the usual indicators of excessive digital sharpening, like edge haloing. A healthy amount of grain also suggests minimal use of noise reduction measures.

Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is consistently clear and intelligible. Surround effects – ambient, directional and 360-degree wraparounds – are balanced, seamless and well mixed. Low frequency effects are used sparingly but effectively. High frequency details are similarly excellent, at their most pleasing with the film’s orchestral score.

We get the following special features:

  • Maximum Movie Mode (Disc 1, HD, 168 minutes): Actor Jason Isaacs (the elder Malfoy) hosts Warner’s latest Maximum Movie Mode; a seamless Picture-in-Picture is overflowing with behind-the-scenes videos, optional “Focus Point” featurettes, interviews with key members of the production, special appearances by a number of actors, readings from J.K. Rowling’s novel (by Tom Felton, aka Malfoy the Younger), trivia and fun facts, and several dissections of the plot, characters, saga and production helmed by Isaacs, his castmates and the filmmakers. Isaacs even pauses the film at several points along the way to discuss certain aspects of the film at greater length.
  • Focus Point Featurettes (Disc 1, HD, 19 minutes): The optional Focus Points sprinkled throughout the Maximum Movie Mode experience are also accessible from the main menu. Segments include “The Last Days of Privet Drive,” “Hagrid’s Motorbike,” “Magical Tents,” “Death Eaters Attack Cafe,” “Creating Dobby and Kreacher” and “The Return of Griphook.”
  • Behind the Story Featurettes (Disc 2, HD, 32 minutes): Five more featurettes can be found on Disc Two, all of which are lighter in tone than the Focus Points that grace the Maximum Movie Mode track. Treat yourself to “The Seven Harrys,” “On the Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver and James,” “Dan, Rupert and Emma’s Running Competition,” “Godric’s Hollow and the Harry & Nagini Battle” and “The Frozen Lake,” all of which represent cheery respites from the bleak, heavy-hearted confines of the film itself.
  • Additional Scenes (Disc 2, HD, 11 minutes): Eight deleted scenes are available as well, and each one — “The Burrows Shed,” “The Dursley House,” “Dudley and Harry,” “The Granger House,” “Ministry of Magic Lifts,” “Tent,” “Rabbit Chase in the Forest” and “Ron and Hermione Skimming Stones” — are well worth watching. While some would have certainly proved detrimental to pacing and tone, others would have been a tremendous asset to the narrative. “The Burrows” offers a quiet, bittersweet exchange, “The Dursley House” provides a rare glimpse into the Dursley matriarch’s soul, “Rabbit Chase” indulges in visual and thematic parallels that would have made later scenes in the film resonate even more, and “Skimming Stones” centers around a simple but touching beat in Ron and Hermione’s relationship.
  • Exclusive Deathly Hallows Part 2 Sneak Peek (Disc 2, HD)
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Grand Opening (Disc 2, HD, 6 minutes): Radcliffe and his castmates, J.K. Rowling and other VIPs visit the new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” theme park at the Universal Orlando Resort and get up close and personal with its magical attractions.
  • Behind the Soundtrack (Disc 2, HD, 4 minutes): A discussion of Alexandre Desplat’s haunting score and the ways in which it enhances the film as a whole.
  • BD-Live Functionality
  • The set also comes with a standard DVD, and Digital Copy of the film. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1is available for Digital Download on iTunes.