2010-12-02

Movie Review 17: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Any Harry Potter movie is guaranteed to be a box office smash. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is no exception. It’s also one of the best movies in the series. I put it on a par with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

If you haven’t read the books and still plan to see the movie (or read them) just go see it. It’s paced well and is a good adaptation of the story. In some respects, it does a better job of telling the story.

The rest of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. If you’ve read the book, then you already know what they are. If you want to go in completely cold, you should probably stop reading now, and just go see the movie.

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I was worried about the camping sequence from the book. In the book, is seems like Harry, Hermione, and Ron spend a ton of time just wandering about the woods, trying to figure out their next steps. They do that in movie, but it doesn’t slow down the film. They show the passage of time with the weather and a haircut, and even though the whole process takes months, there’s enough action and character moments that it doesn’t get boring. And I want Hermione's bag.

During the initial escape from Privet Drive, we see the first death of the film. Although we know it’s coming, it’s still a shock to see the green light hit Hedwig. This is one of the liberties the movie takes with the book. As I recall the story in the book, the Deatheaters figure out who the real Harry is by his signature spells. In the movie, it’s Hedwig’s efforts to protect Harry that give him away.

The Familiars were always an area of the book where I think J K Rowling missed an opportunity. Early on, every witch and wizard has a familiar. Hermione has her cat, Ron has his rat (for a few books, anyway), and Harry has his owl. Outside of the actions in The Prisoner of Azkeban, though, the familiars don’t really do anything. Sure, they’re pets, and provide some companionship, but there’s not really anything magical about them. They don’t compliment the witches and wizards anymore than they would a muggle, yet Rowling seems to make a big deal about them early on. But I guess that’s not really a comment about the movie.

Ron’s bumbling about the muggle world proves entertaining. And the battle in the coffee shop is well done.

There’s a scene where the Snatchers seeking our three leads nearly stumble across them. Hermione’s charms provide adequate protection, but they tension in the scene is thick and very well done.

In fact, the film is filled with tense scenes. Even knowing what is likely to happen next doesn’t quell the stomach knots. Whether it’s the visit to Godric’s Hollow and the encounter with Nagini or Harry’s efforts to retrieve the sword, or Ron’s effort to destroy the necklace or the encounter at Lovegood’s house, the director kept me on the edge of my seat.

There's an awful lot of wand swapping in this film, like there is in the book. And considering the importance of some key wands to the story, it still feels contrived. It's like the writers are trying to make the game of musical wands fit the targeted outcome of the story. In that respect, it's similar to the car swapping towards the end of Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby.  If just seems forced and "convenient" to the narrative.

Finally, the scene for Dobby’s funeral is touching. It accomplishes something Rowling couldn’t do in the book. It’s closes out the movie they way it began -- with the death of a beloved character. Hedwig’s death tells us no one is safe. Dobby’s tells us it’s only getting worse. The movie doesn’t give us a happy ending. We’ll have to wait for part 2 for that. Until that film comes out, all we can do is mourn the characters we lost here, and fret about the fates of everyone else.

In short, this is an excellent film, with good pacing and a solid story. It’s reasonably true to the book and does a nice job of telling a tragic story. And I can’t wait for part 2.

You can find more of my movie reviews here.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Great review! Can't wait to see this film. (I have read all of the HP books - in two languages)!
Best wishes,
Anna