"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" isn't close to being a bad movie, but it is arguably the weakest among the seven films in the series. By the end, I had less a feeling of satisfaction than an obvious want: Let's get to Part 2.

That will have to wait until July, leaving fans of author J.K. Rowling's wizard with a picture that's low on action and memorable moments. It's high on dialogue that bogs down the film, feeling as though it's attempting to incorporate more of the book through a moody tone.

By splitting Rowling's final Potter book into two films, the new one is served up as an appetizer of sorts. It's full of tiny details, and it places an emphasis on the lead trio of actors more than ever before.

But a feast of great moments must await in the second film, because there are so few in this beginning-of-the-end chapter. Don't look for the world to be saved in this journey into the dark.

There are some magical moments early in the film, while we get caught up with our old friends and see some wonderful characters we haven't seen in a while (love Dobby the House Elf) now facing their most challenging tasks yet.

Evil spreads across the world as the supremely deviant Lord Voldemort focuses his power and his minions play out the script's political parable of pure-blood wizards vs. the Muggles, or us average folk, in a form meant to evoke Nazi Germany.

There isn't much happiness to be had, but the most pitch-black moments can fascinate. Voldemort holding court with his underlings, all the while levitating a Hogwarts teacher above their grand table before serving her up to a monstrous snake, is wicked-good horror and may chill the littlest viewers.

The film doesn't feel like any of the others because the students act more mature, and the evil takeover literally removes them from the setting of their beloved school of wizardry and witchcraft. The trio spends more time than ever on London streets, in restaurants and especially hiding in dense forests. There's no classroom comedy, no scintillating games of Quidditch and no school romances.

There is the quest to find the horcruxes - elements that if destroyed can shut down Voldemort for good - and there is little time for humor or action. There is also no question that taking the kids out of school feels like it's taken them out of their element, both for the filmmakers and the actors.

"Deathly Hallows" goes deeper in examining the long friendship of Harry and his pals Hermione and Ron, and the latter pair's romantic relationship that continues to grow, in both meaning and complications.

This gives more room to Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint to grow as actors, but the quiet, psychological scenes look small and insignificant against the film's large scale.

The only thing more deadly than Voldemort is the sleepy second hour of this film, which follows the trio as they mostly hide from their enemies, search for Gryffindor's sword and try to formulate a plan.

The conflict within the trio is clearly meant to be a flash point, a realization that these are no longer children in classes but adults discussing adult problems, like the outside world and its potential demise.

This unfortunately means that not much beyond talking happens for large segments of time in the "Potter" film with the least energy. Their quest often feels like it's stuck in neutral. When the film returns to more of an action mode for the final half-hour, it doesn't feel like the characters have strengthened their bond any further than it was before, which makes that second act feel a bit irrelevant.

Director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves produced one of the series' stronger entries last time out with "The Half-Blood Prince." That was due to their marriage of the series' outstanding visual effects with several bewitching performances, as hormones ran rampant at Hogwarts and several characters' story arcs changed dramatically.

But instead of stirring up a cauldron full of our favorite British actors who have populated the first six films, most never show up here or only make cameo appearances. The film comes alive every time Helena Bonham Carter's sinister Bellatrix Lestrange cackles her way onto the stage to mistreat our heroes, but so many others are missing in action.

One of the film's most artfully done moments comes in learning of the "Deathly Hallows," three of the most powerful items in the wizarding world. This is demonstrated through Hermione reading a fairy tale of their origin, accompanied by a vivid shadow-puppet visualization conjuring up the pictures from the book. Very cool.

But "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" casts few such spells, instead faithfully laying the groundwork for the conclusion to come. Let's move on to Part 2 already.


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Theaters: Imax at Cinemark, AMC Southroads 20, Cinemark Tulsa, Cinemark Broken Arrow, Starworld 20, RiverWalk, Owasso, Eton Square, Sand Springs

Running time: 2 hours, 26 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images, brief sensuality)

Quality: (on a scale of zero to four stars)


Michael Smith 581-8479

Original Print Headline: 'Harry Potter' and the weakest of the seven