11/18/2010 07:26 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

I'm a fan of the Harry Potter books and have enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, particularly since Chris Columbus gave up the reins after the first two. What started out as a series of benign magical fantasies for children has come to more closely resemble the works of J.K. Rowling on which they're based -- epic (if fanciful) struggles between good and evil, played out against a backdrop of wizardry and witchcraft.

When Rowling announced that the seventh book in the series would be the last, she faced an unenviable task: She had to find a way to bring together all the themes, characters and tropes she had created into one final life-and-death showdown between the evil Lord Voldemort and the adolescent Chosen One, Harry Potter. The resulting book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was a satisfying summing up, full of adventure, backstory, twists and revelations.

But it also suffered from what felt, for the first time in one of Rowling's books, like padding. As the forces of darkness rise, and the Deatheaters seek Harry's death, Harry and his pals Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley must escape and hide, while Harry figures out how to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes - talismanic objects into which bits of Voldemort's soul have been implanted, so that he might never completely die.

So, for roughly 200 pages, Rowling had Harry, Ron and Hermione holing up in an invisible tent in the deep woods or on the barren plains. They mostly sat around and talked. They'd get an idea, carry it out - and then return to the tent and talk and sit some more.

And that is the problem with David Yates' Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1. For roughly 40 minutes in the middle of the film, this trio sits in a tent and quibbles. Period. Essentially we watch them wait for something to happen. Isn't that supposed to be the part that's left out of the movie?

But you see the words "Part 1" in the title and know that Yates and writer Steve Kloves are determined to bring as much of Rowling's 900-plus-page doorstopper of a book to the screen as possible - in two parts.

In attempting to do so, however, they've fallen prey to the same trap Rowling did: how to move past the waiting and get to the story telling. Yes, there are revelations and bits of action during the trio's tented exile. But there's also an awful lot of nothing that could have been condensed, streamlined, distilled - I'm looking for a nice word to say that they needed to trim this sucker down. And one way would have been to condense this all into one final three-hour blow-out of a movie - even three and a half hours, if it takes Lord of the Rings length to get the story told.

Instead, the franchise holders have decided to maximize the amount of book they can deliver - and the amount of box-office they can rake in - by making almost five hours of movie. This installment runs two-and-a-half hours; undoubtedly, the conclusion (due next summer) will be about the same, or perhaps longer.

It needn't have ended this way.

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