Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One,” the final installment of the hugely popular franchise, is finally here. But unlike the final book, which is contained in one volume, the film version is divided into two parts. “Part One” alone clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 26 minutes.

The story at this point is as dark as it gets: The hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has been targeted by the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry and pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) must pull together as Harry prepares to do battle with his archenemy.

The Associated Press calls the seventh movie in the series “gorgeously bleak.” But there’s a catch: Viewers have to sit through the set up for “Part 2”: “There’s lots of exposition, lots of characters and plots lines introduced and reintroduced from films past.

The Los Angeles Times critic, Kenneth Turan, finds the plot a tad plodding. He notes that the format of this film, directed by David Yates, is a more respectful translation of the book to the movie format, focusing on “connecting the dots rather than creating risky excitement.” The reviewer gives the film a three out of five stars, and warns those new to the “Harry Potter” series not to start now, since “this latest episode makes little attempt to bring newcomers up to speed.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly gives the movie an A- and gushes, “‘Part 1’ is the most cinematically rewarding chapter yet.” She mournfully reminds fans, “Haunting every frame of this assured and beautiful first half is the knowledge that soon, in 2011, the screen journey will be over.”

“Part Two” arrives in theaters in July 2011. The motivation for splitting the movie in two may have been partially financial: It’s a multibillion-dollar franchise that Warner Brothers is having to kiss goodbye, after all. But fans too may feel just fine stretching out the ending as much as possible.

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