By Geoff Boucher – Los Angeles Times (MCT)
WATFORD, England – There was a break in the action – the cast and crew of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” were milling about waiting for the next set-up on a summer day here in 2009 – and Daniel Radcliffe sat back in his seat and admired the life of a fugitive.
“Everybody is after us,” the actor said of his on-screen persona, Harry Potter, and his partners in magic. “We’re to the point in the story where it’s a lot of action and we’re on the run. And that’s brilliant.”
When Part 1 of the two-part Harry Potter franchise finale reaches theaters on Nov. 19, it will do so without one of the series’ signature characters. But the missing star is not a wizard, Muggle, goblin or troll; it’s a place. The seventh film is the first without any notable screen time spent inside the stone corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the castle that has become synonymous with the magical epic.
The absence of the ancient academy from the seventh movie, according to producer David Heyman, informs the texture and rhythm of the franchise’s penultimate installment. The film is very much a road-trip adventure with the three main characters – played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – in fugitive mode and preparing for the final showdown with Lord Voldemort, portrayed with reptilian rasp by Ralph Fiennes.
“It gives this film a very different feel to be away from Hogwarts,” Heyman said. “The main characters – Harry, Ron and Hermione – are on the run and, yes, they do go to some magical places, like the Ministry of Magic, but a lot of the film is set in a quite naturalistic setting, and that makes it feel very real and very human. There’s plenty of magic, of course, but it’s set against a very real context. It feels real, gritty at times and beautiful at other times.”
Radcliffe said treading past the stony floors of the Hogwarts set in Watford energized the cast during the production of the seventh and eighth films, which were made together in a shoot that began in February 2009 and did not wrap until mid-June of this year.
“This movie just looks different than the other ones,” he said. “We’ve spent so much time at Hogwarts that it makes it fresh to go somewhere new on screen.”
When last we left the orphaned wizard at the end of 2009’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” he was mourning Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who had been cut down by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman).
The forces of Voldemort were ascending, and the gathering darkness was far removed from the tone and twinkle of the first films in a franchise that has pulled in more than $5.3 billion in worldwide box office.
The seventh film has dramatic showdowns with Voldemort’s cult, the Death Eaters, and a startling supernatural heist job that includes a dragon as the untamed getaway vehicle.
But Heyman said some of the most compelling sequences are marked by emotional tension and smothering suspense.
“One thing I love about the films of (director) David Yates is that you really feel the human element,” Heyman said. “There’s a real truthfulness, and going out on the road with this seventh film, it makes it feel just much more real.”
Hogwarts makes its return in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” in a manner of speaking. That final chapter of the franchise is built around a massive battle that destroys much of the school. That’s not much of a spoiler if you’ve been paying attention.
The Warner Bros. poster promoting the two-film finale shows the ramparts of the ancient academy in flames beneath a grim tagline: “It all ends here.”
The films taken together have the cast’s enthusiasm at an all-time high.
“Without question, these two are going to blow all of the rest of them away,” says Tom Felton, who has brought memorable sneer to the role of Draco Malfoy.