Do you feel that slight rumbling? Can you see those ripples in your water glass? Don't worry, it's not the return of the dinosaurs or that imminent colossal earthquake that's going to gobble us all up; it's just the aftershocks of Harry Potter geeks stampeding to theaters across the country, their lightning bolt forehead scars mingling with sweat, striped Hogwarts house scarves trailing from their necks, their wands at the ready.
Okay, maybe I'm succumbing to a bit of hyperbole here, but the sheer anticipation for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 truly is full-blown and unrestrained. This penultimate installment of a franchise that is well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing in movie history is the culmination of nearly a decade worth of films that have brought J.K. Rowling's words to the big screen since 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It's all been leading up to this, a climax so epic it had to be split in two.
Kid fare no more, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is supremely dark and, dare I say it, scary. We find our protagonists, Harry and his BFFs Ron and Hermione, right after their protector and headmaster, Dumbledore, has been murdered, taking any semblance of safety with him. The noseless Voldemort and his Death Eaters are on the hunt for Harry Potter, as is the Ministry of Magic, the government body of the magical community in Britain, which has been taken over by corrupt extremists. With death nipping at their heels, Harry and his friends must flee for their lives and embark on a Lord of the Rings-esque journey to destroy the seven Horcruxes, objects that store bits of Voldemort's power and hold the key to his demise.
Devoid of the kinks found in the previous movies, the film is a well-oiled machine, its principle parts working effortlessly and harmoniously. Director David Yates, who was at the helm of the last two Potter films, has really hit his stride here, reveling in the chill of the icy blue-tinged scenes and expanding his focus from the halls of Hogwarts to wild, expansive landscapes. And the acting, specifically from scene-stealing Emma Watson as Hermione Granger and Alan Rickman as Snape, has reached a level of believability only hinted at in the previous films.
Despite being deadly serious the majority of the time, there is some levity to be found, whether in the hilariously awkward sexual tension between Hermione and Ron, the inadvertent comedy of Dobby the house elf, or a particularly tender moment when Harry attempts to cheer Hermione up with a goofy dance. Perhaps the funniest scene comes when Harry and the gang must infiltrate the Ministry of Magic using the bodies of Ministry workers and Ron comes face to face with the wife of the man he is impersonating. These lighthearted moments are much needed retreats from the apocalyptic surroundings.
Having witnessed the maturation and progress of these characters, we as viewers have become heavily invested in their fates. We want to warn them about that giant snake that's about to attack and protect them from homicidal witches (both meanings of the word apply), such as the deliciously evil Bellatrix Lestrange played by Helena Bonham Carter. As beloved characters begin to die at an unprecedented pace in this the final showdown, there are bound to be some tears and trembling lips. It's the close of an era, after all, a goodbye to a cherished imaginary world and the closing chapter to many a childhood.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is out now. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't see it in IMAX (just sayin'). For tickets and information, visit sfgate.com