Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review of the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

First some overall comments that do not include spoilers.

I thought this was one of the best adaptations of the series to the screen. I am glad they chose to split the story into two movies because the plot in the seventh book is so intricate that to try and condense it into a standard movie length story would oversimplify things to the point of eliminating the magic of the story.

If you have not read the series, the movie will probably confuse you. My husband has seen all the movies, but never read the books and he was confused by the movie. I had to explain some details about Horcruxes that I know were explained in the previous movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, (HPB), but that he probably forgot or maybe never really understood.

So if you are a casual fan of the series and have not read the books, I recommend seeing it with someone who has read all the books. They will then be able to explain things afterward to help you understand those things you missed.

Overall the special effects are wonderful and appear seamless. The tone of the movie is brooding and dark, but there are touches of humor to lighten the mood at times. There are odes to the darkness of World War II and attempts at race purification.

The acting is great and some of the stellar British actors involved in the series shine even when they have few lines and only a few moments onscreen. The child actors have grown into their parts and no longer appear uncomfortable in their roles.

After this point, I will be discussing aspects of the movie and for those who do not want to read spoilers, please stop reading this post now.


Movies by their nature as a visual medium are different than books as a vehicle for storytelling. Things that might need pages of description in a book can be conveyed with a few frames in a movie. There were many condensing of events to speed things along. For example, the death of Hedwig was done differently than in the book, but it worked and streamlined the narrative. Other examples of introducing information quickly was a line by Bill Weasley of being attacked by Fenrir Greyback, (since that event was not included in the movie version of HBP), and the radio news mentioning that Severus Snape was the newly appointed headmaster of Hogwarts.

I especially liked one of the beginning scenes where Hermione gave her parents a memory charm and erased her own image from family photographs. It was a sacrifice that moved me to tears.

The Seven Harry Potters scene included some great bits of physical humor. The twins, Fred and George, were only on screen for a short while, but they stole every scene they were in. I particularly liked Saint George quietly sipping his tea while watching his little sister kissing Harry Potter in the kitchen.

The scenes in Grimmauld Place were creepy as I expected. I do wish however, that we had been able to see the transformation of Kreacher after being given Regulus' locket. I thought that was one of the most touching aspects of the whole series.

Imelda Staunton gave another cloyingly evil performance as Dolores Umbridge. I also liked the casting of Nick Moran as Scabior. He looked dangerous and had a Bad Boy look about him which made him ever so watchable.

The one thing that bugged me about the sequence at the Ministry of Magic was the delay of the Trio leaving the building once their Polyjuice Potion disguises wore off. Yes, it was funny that Ron Weasley had a woman who thought he was her husband and she wouldn't let him leave. However, Harry was standing there without anything covering his face and didn't try to disguise himself. Really? Come on. He's Undesirable #1, he's in the belly of the beast and is just waiting for his friend to extricate himself from a woman's arms? Really?

I had to re-read that passage and realized that the effects of the Polyjuice Potion held until after they left the Ministry. :shakes head: So that's one scene I don't really understand the different choices made by the screenwriter and director.

I mean, the Trio should be practicing CONSTANT VIGILANCE. Harry should have covered his face and pretended to cough. He should cough enough to get people to want to avoid him, but not enough to bring unwanted attention to himself.

The splinching worked, but my husband was wondering what "splinching" meant. I had to whisper the explanation to him.

I liked Xenophilius Lovegood, his strange house and the animation sequence telling the story of the Three Brothers. I thought that worked well. The animation reminded me of the Tim Burton style.

I loved the scenes in Malfoy Manor where Lucius Malfoy looked like a broken man. His choice years ago to become a follower of Voldemort had taken its toll. He was now a prisoner in his own home with unwanted guests that he could not evict.

Tom Felton as Draco also looked as if he regretted becoming a Death Eater. He had followed his father's footsteps, but there were signs that he did not like what was happening. The Evil was just a bit too much for him. Or so it seemed.

I was glad to see Dobby once again. He had been a part of other books, but this was his first reappearance in a movie since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Dobby was one of my favorite characters. He was odd, but fiercely loyal to Harry Potter. The one thing I did not understand was the clothing he wore. Dobby was a free elf. He should have been wearing something other than a nasty pillowcase. He could worn a flower print shirt, a strange necktie, and paisley printed shorts. Instead they just gave him clunky shoes to wear to designate his free elf status. Bah! Dobby was free, he deserved clothes.

Beyond that minor wardrobe related criticism, I loved the scenes with Dobby. He was a great character who helped rescue Harry and his friends. The death of Dobby was something that made me cry both in the reading of the book and in the movie. His sacrifice on behalf of Harry Potter was touching.

I am glad that the movie ended there as well as Voldemort grave robbing from Dumbledore's tomb. It shows where both sides in the war are at this point in time. It will also allow for the action/adventure sequences of Gringotts, Aberforth's confessions about Dumbledore, Snape's death and deathbed memories, the sacrifice in the Forbidden Forest as well as the ending duel to be shown in detail for great cinematic glory. Part II should be a wonderful ending to a marvelous series.

For those who are just fans of the series, I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie in the comment section.

SHIPPING Thoughts from a recovering Harry Potter addict

Now onto the matter of Harry and Hermione's relationship in this film. For those who were not a part of the online Harry Potter fandom, you will not understand how a movie scene that was not in the book could be potentially controversial.

It is only because I was a part of the fandom and participated in the online debates that I realize the dance scene could be like chum to sharks. It is likely to set off a feeding frenzy. The most vituperative subject of debates in the online fandom dealt with romantic relationships, also known as "shipping."

I looked at it as a communal attempt at in-depth literary analysis. It was not the passive writing a paper for a professor and hoping to get a good grade. No, it was putting forth your thoughts in public and having others challenge your assumptions and then offer up their own theories. Sometimes it was just getting kudos or cyber stinkbombs sent your way.

I argued on behalf of the Harry/Hermione ship. I also argued that I welcomed a Love Triangle between the Trio. That was something many Ron/Hermione shippers simply did not want to contemplate. They thought it would be too painful and that Harry wouldn't want to risk hurting his friend Ron.

I feel that love triangles can be powerful dramatic constructs. It has inherent conflict in its structure. There had been so many other love triangles used in the series that having a love triangle between Harry/Hermione/Ron seemed inevitable.

As it turns out, I was right. Jo Rowling used a Love Triangle within the Trio and it worked well, both in the book and in the movie. Ron was certainly jealous at the thought of Harry and Hermione becoming a couple. It showed on his face with black circles under his eyes when he wore the cursed locket around his neck and saw them talking together. Later, when he was challenged by Harry to destroy the Horcrux his fears were demonstrated by the torturous images shown by a piece of Voldemort's soul depicting his friends in a compromising position. Something that would drive him mad and perhaps make him use the sword against Harry and not the locket.

All of that was in the canon. However, there was a scene in the movie that was not in the book and it surprised me.

The Dance Scene.

Ron stormed off and left Harry Potter for his search for Horcruxes, Hermione chose to remain behind and not leave with Ron. Harry and Hermione are alone in a tent and are listening to music on a radio. Harry coaxes Hermione to join him in a dance. At first it is a light and breezy dance, a little awkward in the steps, but it ends with them in an embrace.

They could have easily kissed at that point. Hermione looked as if she considered kissing Harry then deliberately avoided succumbing to that temptation.

As I was sitting in the theater, I could not help but think how upset the Ron/Hermione shippers I had debated all those years ago would be with that scene. All it would have taken was one kiss and then the pairings Would Have Changed Forever. Harry would have realized that the woman for him was not his best friend's little sister, but his other best friend who had been by his side through countless adventures. A woman who had saved his life several times and had shown unwavering loyalty and sacrifice on his behalf.

There are countless number of Harry/Hermione fanfics that are nothing more than finding some kind of excuse to get them alone together so they can discover that they are attracted to one another. One kiss and then fade to black or possibly NC-17 territory. It all depends on the fic writer and what their intent is on writing the story of them becoming a couple.

In this case, if they had kissed it would probably have led to them being in bed together. These were two teens with raging hormones were alone together where no one could hear them, see them, or find them. They were also under the ever present threat of being found, captured and killed. That kind of wartime stress has led to many quick romances. In this case it would have been for two best friends discovering their attraction to one another. It would have changed the romantic pairings forever. It would also have been Ron's greatest fear when he destroyed the locket: Hermione had chosen Harry over him.

Another thing that surprised me about the movie was seeing Jo Rowling's name in the credits as a producer. She could easily have had that scene removed from the movie if she wanted. She had given a note to the screenwriter in HBP when there was a bit of dialogue of Dumbledore reminiscing of a long-lost girlfriend that said, "Dumbledore is gay." That nixed those proposed lines.

Rowling allowed the dance scene showing the possibility of Harry and Hermione becoming a romantic couple to remain in the movie. Why?

Was it a bone for Harry/Hermione shippers?

Or was it included because it was good drama?

I believe it was the latter, because I believe in the power of drama.

I am also certain that some stalwart Ron/Hermione shippers will find that scene offensive because of their years of arguing against H/Hr. That would make them not want to see even subtle hints of that romantic pairing.

Jo Rowling admitted in an interview published in Melissa Anelli's book Harry: A History that it could have gone Harry/Hermione.

"Now, the fact is that Hermione shares moments with Harry that Ron will never be able to participate in. He walked out. She shared something very intense with Harry. So, I think it could have gone that way." Page 266

Precisely. We were not delusional at all. We saw the romantic potential that could have been.

And now, there is even a poll (totally non-scientific) by MTV to see whether or not people wished it had gone H/Hr over R/Hr.

As I am writing this, H/Hr is winning.

Last night my twelve year old son asked me why Jo Rowling went with Ron and Hermione as a couple when he thinks that Harry and Hermione would have made a better couple. I sighed and then had to try and explain to him that Jo Rowling was using literary alchemy as the underlying framework for her story. Therefore Harry's girlfriends had hair color that went in the following sequence: black, white, red. (Cho, Luna - they did have one little date in HBP, Ginny) This was supposed to reflect the three stages of alchemy in order: nigredo, albedo, rubedo.

Hermione had brown hair, so she didn't fit in that schema.

Instead, Hermione was supposed to represent the element mercury and Ron was sulphur, both are needed in the alchemical formula to create gold.

For those shaking their heads, I point you to my friend John Granger's capable hands in understanding the usage of alchemy throughout the series. It was something I didn't want to acknowledge as constraining Rowling's dramatic choices, but as it turns out: John's original assumptions and predictions of Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione were spot on because those pairings work alchemically.

In case you were wondering, my son shook his head at my explanation. It wasn't what he wanted to hear.

What are your thoughts of the movie? Did that dance scene delight or bother you?



Patricia V. Davis said...

I loved this review, especially the parts about the alchemy which I'd never heard of. Thanks!

Linda C. McCabe said...

I am glad you liked it. I barely scratched the surface on the subject of literary alchemy. John Granger has been writing about that subject for years and has been a popular speaker on the Harry Potter conference lecture circuit. He has several books where he discusses this issue in great detail and he also blogs about it on hogwartsprofessor.com


John said...

Dear Linda,

As always, you are very kind. we both remember the dark days of talking alchemy or H/Hr shipping, when either/or and certainly both were marks of delusion. I confess to still wishing the H/Hr ship could have come in; the advocates for that position were so much more fun than the winning team.

May I offer a stray thought here about the dance scene? I think it is more a movie industry inside joke, believe it or not, than anything to do with Harry Potter.

Perhaps the greatest movie ever made is a Western featuring John Wayne called 'The Searchers.' It's a John Ford spectacular and few films -- none that I can think of -- explore the American psyche as profoundly and with such sympathy. The crowd of film makers who burst onto the scene in the 70's and 80's were all 'Searchers' fanatics. Supposedly, just as an example, the director of 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' showed it on the set every day in continuous loop so everyone involved would know what he was after.

Martin Scorsese did a re-make of 'The Searchers' called 'Taxi Driver,' with Bad Bob DeNiro stepping in for Wayne as the obsessed noble savage who hates kidnapping Indians. Scorsese, though, aimed to out-do Ford by including, you guessed it, a dance scene between the kidnapper and kidnappee (Jody Foster!). He thought it made Travis Bickle's quest (DeNiro) that much more tragic and delusional. He wasn't nearly as sympathetic as Ford was to the American psyche!

Anyway, the 'extra scene' is something of a legend in Hollywood, given Scorsese's stature and the icon quality of Ford's Searchers. My guess is that the director of this film decided to toss it in both, as you say, to illustrate the drama of life in the tent without Ron (as well as the depth of Hermione's feelings for him) and to tip the hat to Scorsese by improving Rowling's book as Mad Martin had tried to improve on Ford.

Just a thought!

Again, thank you for your kind comments and the link to HogPro --

Grateful John Granger

Linda C. McCabe said...


I must admit ignorance about the film The Searchers. I had not heard of it before and did not know of its being held in high esteem by filmmakers. I shall add it to my Netflix queue.

I would not be surprised if there was some type of homage being done to another movie. Moviemakers like doing that a lot. I particularly enjoyed the pointers to Cool Hand Luke in Toy Story 3.

I also know that director Alfonso Cuaron used some staging in his installment to the HP series to provide a pointer to his movie Y Tu Mama Tambien. The Trio shared a strange looking hug after the death of Buckbeak. It was choreographed to have the same staging as the one with adult connotations.

See the comparison: http://tinyurl.com/37xxhrt HP and PoA

http://tinyurl.com/2bc79oz Y Tu Mama

(Although I must admit this isn't a great example, but the best one I could find on the web.) I did watch the movie in advance of PoA's release just to get a sense of the director. I remember recognizing that embrace when I was in the theater and feeling a bit surprised to see Alfonso using such a pointer to his adult work when he was using adolescent actors.

Thank you for stopping by and may your family have a pleasant Christmas season.


Leslie said...

I have to say I was excited to see your review come up, even the day before I got to go see the film [I abstained until this morning and enjoyed your thoughts immensely].

And while Dobby's grating voice still drives me nuts [I questioned whether or not it was the original actor there--still haven't checked, but it sounded off], their bringing him in here was almost as poignant [sp?] as if they had actually included him throughout. I took issue with his monologue at the Malfoys, because Bellatrix honestly could have killed them all several times through then, and she doesn't seem the kind to sit still while an ex-family houself lectures her on his freedom. I was also unhappy with his garb--he should have had at least one of those poorly knit hats Hermi made in the books [which would have been a good nod in that direction as well] or something. The boots were a sad declaration of the independence long saught and heartily treasured.

The dancing scene brought to mind no overwhleming literary theorems or clever connections to me--instead, I found it to actually be the filmmakers' closing of the door on the double-H ship. It seemed to me more that Hermione, who has more or less clearly been destined for Ron from first crying fit in the first novel, was looking at Harry and seeing someone she loved, but not in that particular role. Harry, on the other hand, was trying to boost morale, albeit awkwardly, and show her that he was, in fact still present and would continue to be her friend and support her at that dark hour. Even when they came closer together, it looked an awkward platonic shuff than a raging hormones seduction. [The tiny little obnoxious child in the back of my brain who thinks "so there" is a clever comeback wants me to say, "Plus, Harry loves Ginny, so there!" Unfortunately, I never cared much for Harry or Ginny who always seemed two-parts Mary Sue to me.]

And I don't know about the rest of the world, but my favorite character of the entire series is, in fact, Neville. After the underwhelming tip of the hat to his existance in the last film, I grew dubious to whether or not they would give him his shining moment of awesome in the final battle at Hogwarts. The thirteen seconds he's actually on screen, however, we got to see him growing into the, if you'll pardon the expression, bad-ass he's going to be. I, for one, cannot wait to see him smiling with bruises and blood at finding the Trio reappearing at Hogwarts, bursting with grim hope [if you can burst with grim hope].

It will be awesome.

You know what else should be awesome? That entire scene. The battles will be tremendous, even if I can't do it in 3D.

[And if they have to change it so that one character of the fourteen bajillion she killed does not die, I would like it to be Fred. I love the twins, and they are tied with their parents for second-favorite status in my head.]

And crap, I now officially have to leave for work. I'll type in matness [thinking madness all the way] for the word verification and go find my shoes. Have a great day!

Linda C. McCabe said...

Thank you for such a detailed comment and please accept my apologies for not responding sooner. I read them and then got distracted with doing something else and forgot to reply.

I am glad you liked my review. I agree with your appreciation of Neville. He is a good kid. A decent kid. One who had been unfairly picked on for years and it is good to see his transition in the series from a forgetful little boy to a confident young man.

As much as this sounds a bit ghoulish of me, Fred Weasley will still have to die. The filmmakers will have to do that along with Remus and Tonks. The weird symbolism used in the alchemy calls for the last stage to be "red" and as John Granger noted you cannot spell Fred without fRED.

Actually, I expected Rubeus Hagrid to be the one who died in the 7th installment since Rubeus is Latin for red. Eh, no such luck. (I was never a fan of the drunken teacher.)

Alchemy also demands there be an orphan, so that's why Tonks and Remus had to die. The end of the alchemical reaction occurs when their son Teddy is left as an orphan. Interesting, eh?

I do hope that Dumbledore's backstory is given some prominence in the last movie when Aberforth is introduced. Otherwise, I think my husband will be once again lost and shaking his head as to some of the characters' motivations.

I do think that the Gringotts sequence as well as the showdowns in the Forbidden Forest and Great Hall are going to be mesmerizing. Should be great!