Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

I am too much of a Harry Potter fan to give a normal review for this particular movie.  So, based on what I’ve seen some others do, I’m going to proceed by laying down:

  • The Good – the things I enjoyed, loved and approved of
  • The Bad – the things that I disliked, did not approve of, could have done without or did not understand
  • The Ugly – the things that sucked, didn’t make sense, I personally hated and refuse to accept.

Before I move into those details, however, I want to make it clear that, on the whole, the film itself was, I think, a success.  I think it may be one of, if not the best film in the franchise thus far.  The choice to split the final story into two parts paid off; the details, nuances that cropped up throughout the film were all possible because the film had time to work them in.  Even things that might have escaped the notice of people who didn’t read the books, they’re there for those of us who did (i.e. Hermione’s reference to perfume; the perfume Ron gave her for her birthday).  I also firmly believe that the kids, the stars (Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Felton, etc.) have never given better performances.  They clearly handled this film (and, likely, its companion due out next year) with extreme care.  It shows, and I, for one, am grateful.

I’ve heard several reviews that say the film is laden down with too much plot, too many devices, details and new information, but that’s hardly its own fault; the book presents all of those things originally.  Yes, the book had more pages than the film has screen time, but considering how much the book introduces here in the home stretch, how many new things have to be incorporated and made known, it seemed to work well.  Things got cut, and things got altered, but in ways that worked and, in the end, leaves us with a film that is gripping and heartfelt.

The Good.

  • Scrimgeour / the film’s opening
    What I liked about this introduction was it’s sort of unexpectedness; it’s different from the other films’ openings and, right away, it provides a nice establishment of who Scrimgeour is, as Minister of Magic and what’s going on at the Ministry, as a book-end to what happens there later.

  • Voldemort
    FINALLY we get a sense of what a badass this guy is.  Right from the get-go we see why he has struck such fear into people up until this point.  I’ve been vocal in the past that I do not especially care for movie-Voldemort.  I don’t feel like he’s been portrayed accurately from the books. Until now.  There’s a quiet, underlying sinister power that he has in the first part of this film that he’s lacked in the others; he’s been so energetic and outwardly psychotic that it’s made him seem unimpressive – at least to me.  So now, after this film, I’m finally on-board with movie-Voldemort.
  • The Seven Potters
    I enjoyed this scene because, (a) it’s such a visual treat, (b) the twins are fantastic, and (c) we finally get to meet Mundungus Fletcher.  I thought his casting was great.
  • The scene in the cupboard under the stairs
    I loved this.  It’s a nice reference to Harry’s revisiting the house from the book, and it works so well on screen.  I loved that it didn’t have any musical score; that it was portrayed in the same way as it would have really happened.  It was just really well done and it’s such a small moment compared to the rest of the movie.
  • Hedwig’s death
    I was hoping that they’d cut this part out, but by changing it the way they did, by having her actually save Harry, her presence being what gives away his true identity, was a very poetic note and I liked that she went out saving him, rather than just being subject to the battle from inside her cage.
  • Ron & Hermione
    One of my favorite parts in all the books is when Harry wakes up to see Ron and Hermione’s hands laying close to each other, indicating that they probably fell asleep holding hands.  It’s one of those things that probably went right over the heads of people who didn’t read the book, but it was so amazing to see it on screen.  I thought for SURE it would get cut for the film, but it didn’t and it was awesome.  But, looking at the bigger picture, they had chemistry together, something that I’ve been wary about for awhile; Emma Watson has far more natural chemistry with Daniel Radcliffe, in spite of the fact that Rupert Grint is (in my humble opinion) the better actor. By far. But I saw genuine sparks between them in this film and the scenes between them that are full-on romantic were, therefore, not forced, but believable.
  • The fight in the diner
    I LOVED this sequence.  Apart from Harry not being under the Invisibility Cloak, it was one of the few scenes that, for me, was such a close interpretation of the book; the two Death Eaters even appear right after Hermione says, “Voldemort.”  I loved the touch with the waitress wearing earbuds, unable to hear the brawl going on in the next room.  I liked too, that, for the first time (unlike the fight between Harry and Draco in the last film), the fight seemed real, visceral, and intense.  It felt like a gunfight; the magic, the spells, were like real weapons.  I love, too, Rupert’s reaching to touch Emma’s face as he says, “you’re the best with spells.”  It was so subtle, but so intimate, I loved it.  My only other gripe with the scene is that, towards the end, Ron comes off like the leader, even in spite of taking a step back, behind Harry and Hermione.  I mean, on one had, it’s great, I’d love to see Rupert Grint be the leader, but on the other hand, Harry is the lead, not Ron, so it’s a big diversion from the book, even if a temporary small one.

  • Kreacher & Dobby
    Did Kreacher’s tale get horrendously shortened?  Yes.  Was Dobby in the book quite this much? No.  But when the film still managed to convey Kreacher’s experiences, his connection to Voldemort and the locket, and the importance of his involvement.  Plus, when he and Dobby drag Mundungus into the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, it was hard not to fall in love with them all over again.  I think, too, that the animation/effects they use to create the house-elves has improved quite a bit since the last couple films; they seemed far more polished and real and seemed to fit into the environment better than they have before.

  • Neville being a badass
    I didn’t really know for certain what to expect from Neville in this film; whether or not he’d be able to pull off the transformation that the character undergoes in the book.  With only one line of dialogue, however, I already believe it and can easily see him becoming the sincere hero at the end of the story.  (And who didn’t love Cormac’s “my father will hear about this!” line?)
  • The Ministry of Magic
    The World War II symbolism didn’t jump out at me much in Rowling’s words (though I realize it’s there), but it definitely resonated on screen; and not necessarily in a bad way.  Though we only see the phrase “Magic is Might,” once, the use of the papers as propaganda, the sense of oppression was palpable.  I think it helped solidify some of the ideas from the book in ways I hadn’t expected; the concept of their absolute power and corruption was just so wonderfully executed, even in a modern context.  You know, the age-old expression, “history repeats itself”?

  • Sophie Thompson as Mafalda Hopkirk
    What an amazing surprise!  I hadn’t even realized that that was her until someone else pointed it out to me, but she was wonderful, as usual.
  • The Splinching
    I was sort of unprepared for this scene; mostly because it had slipped my mind, so when it commenced, I was bowled over, particularly by Rupert and Emma.  A scene like this could easily become cheesy or unimpressive, but it seemed to me that they both handled it really well, especially since there were no bells and whistles to accompany them; no daunting musical score, no dynamic camera movements, just a straightforward scene.  And you felt the tension; Ron’s pain, Hermione’s urgency and attempt to calm him down, and Harry’s confusion.  Well done, all.

  • The Radio
    While the use of the airwaves was different from the book’s invention of “Potterwatch,” it fit in the film well enough and still conveyed the sense of danger and isolation that the characters are experiencing throughout the middle of the film; and considering that that’s really the core theme of this film (even in its own right, separate from part 2), having the radio be just a radio, without the comedic perks actually seemed to help rather than hinder.  Granted, as a fan, I was hoping to see/hear it, but I honestly wasn’t surprised or too greatly disappointed that it got cut.  I especially liked the subtlety of what we heard on the radio; the “short” list of missing people, “Snape, newly appointed headmaster of Hogwarts…” etc.
  • The fight in the tent / Ron’s departure
    So much of the film hinges on that scene.  You relate to all three characters and you have to feel that when Ron leaves, he leaves.  Most people predict that he’ll come back (when I read it, I didn’t necessarily predict it, but I hoped he would), but it still has to carry a certain degree of finality, that there has been a distinct shift in the friendships.  Rupert’s performance was excellent and, again, so were Emma and Daniel; when Emma says that there’s nothing between her and Harry, she truly looks pained and at a loss.  I didn’t even mind that they actually got into fisticuffs, unlike the book, where Hermione kept them separate by magic.  You felt their stress, their weariness, and their strain.  They also all looked slightly grubby, which was good, since they’ve been out on the road and traveling.  Ron looked the most so, because he is strained even more so by the locket’s influence.  Does it make you think of Lord of the Rings? Yes, but that’s no more the film’s fault than the book’s.
  • Godric’s Hollow
    Scary, effective, brilliant.  I didn’t think the film would touch me emotionally (cemetery) or creep me out (Bathilda/Nagini) any more than the book already did.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  And it was more than just seeing the snake emerge from Bathilda’s body.  It was the slow, almost Hitchcock-like use of score, build-up to that climactic moment which made the whole scene so very gripping.  I had also presumed that this would be the end of the film, where the story would break into two parts; I was pleasantly surprised when the film continued for so long!
  • The Silver Doe
    I was worried that the appearance of the doe might not have the same tone that it does in the book; that it’s benign, not evil, which, given what happens just beforehand, it seemed like a hard thing to avoid, but somehow, it managed to still seem like a good thing.  I’m not sure how they’re going to explain it in part 2, given what they’ve left out (or if they plan to at all), but it was pretty enough to watch.  Curiously, though, it wasn’t until I saw the doe on screen that I finally put it together; a doe and a stag.  How adorable are Lily and James?

  • Ron’s monologue
    That whole scene could have been so easily cheesy, but it wasn’t at all.  It was sweet and beautifully performed – way to go, Rupert!  Knew you had it in you!
  • Xenophilius Lovegood
    I was pleased with his portrayal; especially right before the Death Eaters arrive.  You believe his situation and sympathize with him, even though you can’t believe what’s about to happen; they took his daughter and he is clearly pained about the whole of it.  Plus, he didn’t seem as absent-minded as I thought he might be.  Like Luna (who you believe is his daughter), he’s smart behind the quirks and oddities.
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers
    Another unexpected delight.  I thought the story would be summed down to a back-and-forth narration between the characters or some such, but nothing like the beautiful animation we got to see.  I loved it, every moment of it, especially the “ink and parchment” texture of the animation; it made for a nice motif.
  • Malfoy Manor
    From the first sweeping shot leading up to the front gate, the whole sequence is dramatic and climactic when I didn’t think it would be.  I even know the outcome, and still I felt the danger, the sense of oncoming defeat.  I was very impressed by Bellatrix; she takes out, like, four guys in a matter of seconds.  Like Voldemort in the beginning, it was nice to see a direct example of why people find her so intimidating, especially after her stupid behavior at the end of the last film.  When the boys get thrown in the cellar, and Hermione starts screaming, I kept waiting for Ron to start shouting, “Hermione!” like he did in the book, because I thought it was so sweet,  such an example of his desperation to help her.  I was sad not to see that happen, but when Wormtail came down to get Griphook, all Rupert had to say was his one line of, “let her go,” and the same feeling still conveyed in just those three words.

    I thought the use of Bellatrix “branding” Hermione with the word mudblood was clever; like a concentration camp number.  But for all of Hermione’s screaming, it seemed like a small amount of torture.  I thought we’d hear Bellatrix shout “Crucio!” at least once.

    I was sad not to see Dean in the cellar, but I was glad to see John Hurt again.  He’s such a great Ollivander!  I can’t wait to hear all about the Elder Wand in Part 2.

The Bad.

  • A bit of over-acting
    In the first scene at Malfoy Manor, the Death Eaters overplay their fear and submission act just a little bit (particularly Lucious and Bellatrix).  However, for the first time, that behavior didn’t seem totally unwarranted, given what happens in that scene and how they finally got Voldemort to come across as scary.  Still, it seemed just a bit over-the-top.

  • No goodbye to Dudley
    The good-bye between Dudley and Harry was so great in the book; it was sad not to have it in the film.  I’m not too surprised, and the film manages to work without it, but it would have been nice to see.
  • What was wrong with Tottenham Court Road?
    When the Trio Apparate away from the wedding tent, they go to Piccadilly Circus, as opposed to Tottenham Court Road, where they went in the book.  Was it because Tottenham Court Road is too unknown or too quiet?  I don’t know.  The film worked fine the way it is, but it seemed like a case of “let’s use a major London landmark!”  And it doesn’t seem to convey the sense of isolation that is present for the rest of the film, starting with the very next scene when they walk down an alley.
  • Phineas Nigellus
    His absence wasn’t too big of a deal at first glance, but by his not being there,  it screws up a lot of the logisitcs of how things come to pass (i.e. the silver doe).  And he’s a riot, he would have added so much.
  • The dance
    I found that the jam between Harry and Hermione was good in theory, but not in execution.  It didn’t bother me, really, as far as to whether it indicates romance or not; I don’t think it does, especially given how Hermione just walks away at the end.  I like the idea, the tension-breaker, a reprieve from the danger, the sadness, but I don’t think it worked entirely well and it does sort of imply the possibility of romance at first, which then leaves the situation with a continued sense of ambiguity.
  • The Sword of Gryffindor
    It’s so small!  I even thought it was small in Chamber of Secrets; it looks like a child’s sword.  I guess, too, I always pictured a broadsword, massive, to personify the bravery and honor that IS Gryffindor.

 

The Ugly.

  • Narcissa’s hair
    What. The. F***.  Blond.  Her hair was blond.  Why is that so hard to understand?  It was slightly better than the last film’s design, though not really different, just cleaned up a bit.  Is it because Bellatrix’s hair is dark, and they wanted to make a connection between them?  Didn’t work.  It just looks ridiculous and actually makes you stop and try to figure out what’s going on on top of her head, rather than stay riveted in the scene.

  • Harry looking in the mirror
    I can’t understand WHY Harry has NO reaction when he looks in the mirror and sees Aberforth’s eye.  It’s only for a second, yes, but given that it’s brief and hardly-seen, the audience might dismiss it if they don’t know the reason for it; they might even think THEY miss-saw it, if Harry doesn’t have any reaction.  He’s dead-pan, the whole time.  Why?!

  • The lack of Polyjuice Potion
    The excuses they came up with were incredibly flimsy and it just made the characters seem reckless.
  • The aftermath of of the Horcrux destruction
    The lack of Harry’s line, “she’s like my sister,” does nothing but continue the ambiguity of Harry and Hermione’s relationship.  Ron’s line (“just think…only three more to go”) is funny, and the comedic beat was nice, but it wasn’t the right way to go, I think.
  • Fenrir Greyback
    He has, I think, one line total.  For all of his involvement in the film, it might as well have been some other, nameless character.  Which is ridiculous, because in the book, his role was more important, especially as far as how much he threatened them, Hermione in particular.
  • The ending, as far as the trio went
    The film just stopped, quite abruptly.  The bit with Voldemort was great, but there should have been more surrounding Harry.  Some sort of conclusion, that would really wrap up their part of this story.  Even if what happened with Voldemort turned out to be something Harry saw through their connection, which – oh, that’s right – he saw like that anyway.

So, in the end, the Good outweighs the Bad or the Ugly.  Part 2 is shaping up to be quite epic.  And I can’t wait.

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