UPDATE 8/24/2010. Welcome to all the new visitors. I hope you enjoy the review, and maybe stick around the blog a little bit longer! As much as I wrote on this review, I know I left some things out that people really want to know, so if you have a burning question that is not answered, send it over at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll post a followup on the blog.
UPDATE 2: If you navigated directly to this page, check out our main page, because I just posted the first set of questions that got sent to me. Thanks!
The movie opens with an extreme closeup of Grufus Scrimgeour’s (minister of Magic) as he’s giving a very haunting press conference about all the dangers and horror going around in the wizarding world. The scene zooms out as it turns into a picture in a newspaper. We see the Dursleys packing up, leaving Harry behind, and their house in Pivot Drive completely empty. There’s another scene that starts out with Hermione looking worried in her bedroom. The filmmakers then decided to show Hermione hexing her parents to forget their current lives and move to Australia. After she does this, she also makes all images of her disappear from the pictures in their house. This scene was very well done and was one of my favorites in the whole movie. It was very effective because it quietly communicated the dread wizards were feeling due to Voldemort. There’s a shot in the trailer of Hermione walking towards what looks like a church. She’s not really heading there. It’s just part of a shot of her walking down her street, as the camera pans up to reveal the titles. One thing to note about that: since the movie score isn’t completed yet, they were using a variety of music from other movies, they had some music from Harry Potter, but I would say most of it sounded very much like a Hans Zimmer score. It was a little bizarre to see the Harry Potter And the Deadly Hallows title set to one of the most recognizable cues from The Dark Knight score.
If I recall correctly, we then see a shot of Snape arriving at Malfoy Manor, where there’s a very chilling sequence of Voldemort explaining to the death eaters about the shared core between his wand and Harry’s. The Hogwarts teacher who had been captured and tortured can be seen floating above the table throughout the whole scene. We also get a very intense exchange between Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy, when Voldemort asks for his wand in order to be able to kill Harry. The actor who portrays Lucius does a good job of selling the internal humiliation Lucius feels as his wand is taken away. Then Voldemort brings the teacher forwards, and shortly after she pleads for Severus’ help, she is killed.
We then cut to Harry waiting for the Order of the Phoenix to arrive. One of the things that I was very impressed with in the movie was how despite it being the darkest Harry Potter movie of all, it also had a lot of light hearted humorous parts. The seven Harrys scene is one of the best examples of this. As we see the decoys taking the polyjuice potion, the camera pans 360 degrees around the real Harry seeing all of them transforming. After, when they are changing, there’s a very funny moment when they’re all commenting on Harry’s eyesight, and Fleur comments how hideous she is as she takes of her bra. The sight gag of Dan Radcliffe taking off a bra got a lot of laughs from the audience. The scene plays out pretty much like the book, with the big exception of Harry and Lupin not having the heated argument they have in the book. In fact, Tonks’ pregnancy is brushed aside. It was a little frustrating if you’ve read the book, because they didn’t just omitted it, but literally brushed it aside: just as Tonks is about to make her announcement, Mad-Eye pushes her aside and discusses how important it is to move Harry. Mundungus Fletcher is briefly introduced without much background in this scene, though it is established that he’s forced to be there and that he’s a sketchy character.
Right before they leave, we see the scene of Harry releasing Hedwig from his front door, as seen in the recent publicity shots that have been circling around the web. The chase scene that follows is very exciting, though it mostly focuses on Harry and Hagrid (who is stupefied or paralyzed shortly after the chase begins, leaving Harry to fend for himself). The chase itself is very exciting, and takes place high in the sky, and on the street level, including a sequence through a tunnel that has the motorcycle doing a loop and Harry tippy-toeing on a truck as he hangs on for dear life. Hedwig’s death is a big change from the book; and one, I think is an improvement. Instead of the Death Eaters finding out who the real Harry is because he used Expelliarmus, they find out because Hedwig is flying close to him protecting him. In the movie, as Harry’s about to get hit with a death curse, Hedwig gets in the way and gets killed. Hagrid wakes up as they enter the protected area by the Weasley’s and one by one the Order of the Phoenix arrives. We do not see Mad-Eye’s death, it is only mentioned that he was killed after Fletcher escaped. The scene where Lupin grabs Harry for questioning is identical to the book, and translated great to the screen.
After, there’s a short scene of Harry trying to leave and Ron convincing him to stay for the wedding. We later see them putting up the wedding tent as Rufus Scrimgeour arrives to read the last will of Dumbledore. I thought the scene was very interesting, and the filmmakers made a very good effort of trying to maintain the relevance of the items Dumbledore left them throughout the movie. The golden snitch is usually seen flying around Harry at various points in the film, Ron’s illuminator is used several times. The Tales of Beedle the Bard are kind of ignored upfront, but obviously play a large part later on in the film.
The biggest change in the wedding scene is that Harry attends without any disguise. We see cameos from some old characters like Madam Maxine and Victor Krum (who dances with Hermione as Ron jealously watches in the background). This is also where we meet Mr. Lovegood, who was perfectly cast and portrayed. The camera purposely focuses on his necklace, but nothing is mentioned about it. We do not learn its significance until later, and there is no argument between him and Krum.Then there’s a short, but good conversation between Harry, Aunt Muriel and Elphias Doge in which some exposition is given to Dumbledore’s past. The actress playing Aunt Muriel makes a very good job at teasing Harry for not knowing Dumbledore. The wedding is cut short by the Patronus announcing the fall of the Ministry and the impending arrival of the Death Eaters. After a chaotic exit, we see the trio go into the coffee shop, where they are attacked by another pair of Death Eaters. There’s a nice bookend sequence here where Hermione uses the same memory charm on one of the Death Eaters that she used on her parents.
The Grimmauld place sequences are very shortened compared to the ones in the book. The trio discovers that RAB is Regulus Black very quickly and there’s no doubt it’s him who took the locket. Harry then finds Krecher and sends him after Mundungus Fletcher when he finds out he stole the locket. The whole subplot with the dual portraits in Grimmauld place and the Hogwarts Headmaster’s office was cut. There’s short sequence at Diagon Alley, where we see Fletcher hiding from people (and the first sighting of the Harry Potter Undesireable #1 poster). The movie then cuts to Harry, Ron and Hermione sitting around a table, when they hear a noise, then they notice Mundungus Fletcher with Kreacher hanging around his neck. Then, in what got one of the biggest reactions from the audience, Dobby greets Harry Potter as the camera pans to show him dangling from Fletcher’s leg. After a quick interrogation, they realize they need to go to the Ministry.
The Ministry sequence plays out almost exactly like the book. I have to say, seeing people flush themselves down a toilet to get there was very funny, especially because when we first see the bathroom, every stall has a line of people constantly going in but no one coming out. One thing that stood out is that the filmmakers were going to great extents to draw comparisons between the crusade against Muggles and Nazis. The statue at the entrance of the Ministry has been replaced by one of Muggles being crushed to death by wizards. Later, when Harry enters Umbridge’s office, we see workers making anti-muggle propaganda that looks almost exactly like Nazi propaganda. The guards at the ministry even have red bands around their arms, similar to Nazis. This was a little jarring for me even if it was also very strongly implied in the books, mostly, I think because of how visually obvious it is. The effects from their escape out of the ministry were very unfinished, but they include a run-in with Dementors in the court room, and some back and forth spell casting with Ministry storm troopers. Finally, we see them apparate in the wilderness, and Ron’s arm being severely hurt, which puts him out of commission for a while, and sets the stage for his jealousy and eventual leaving.
After that, the movie slows down quite a bit, as we enter the scenes set when Harry, Ron and Hermione walk around in the wilderness. I was afraid that the movie was going to have the same pacing problems as the book had during these sequences, and I was not proven wrong. These scenes tend to drag a bit, especially because the first part of the movie is so full of action sequences. One thing that makes these scenes more interesting than the book’s is that the locations they used to film these are absolutely stunning. Props to the location scouts for finding these places. Another big element in this set of scenes is the horcrux locket, and the effect it has on whoever wears it. In a way, these scenes almost feel like a Lord of the Rings homage, due to the constant wide shots of pretty landscapes and the similar ways in which the locket and the One ring affect whoever is wearing it.
It is interesting to note that, while Ron listens to his radio, the Potterwatch subplot is mostly overlooked. Since the movie is very much focused only on what Harry, Ron and Hermione are doing (think, for example, how in War of the Worlds or Signs we never really see what’s going on in the outside world), I thought the underuse of Potterwatch was a missed opportunity to show how horrible things were out in the rest of the world.
The scenes of Ron arguing with Harry and Ron abandoning them were very well acted, in my opinion. The performances were all around the best in any of the Potter movies, especially from the main three characters.
After Ron leaves, Harry and Hermione decide to go to Godric’s Hollow. The scene right when they arrive is another one of my favorite scenes from the movie. The setting and tone are very dark, like the rest of the movie, but it is contrasted with the snow and the caroling they hear from a nearby church. The scene when Harry finds his parent’s tomb is as close to perfect as possible. A very creepy Bathilda Bagshot shows up at the cemetery and leads them to her house. Just as in the book, she does not speak in front of Hermione, and takes Harry upstairs, where she speaks to him in Parsel (a change from the book, where we do not learn that it’s Parsel until later.) The effect of Nagini coming out of Bathilda were mostly incomplete. In particular, we saw what seemed to be a place holder for the most graphic scene of Bathilda’s skin falling to the ground as Nagini comes out. What we saw were a couple of quick shots of her jumping out. Voldemort does not show up at Godric’s Hollow before they disapparate out.
We see Harry having another of the dreams / shared memories he’s had throughout the movie, bringing him one step closer to finding out about the elder wand. When he wakes up, Hermione tells him he’s been out cold for a while. I can’t remember if this is where this particular scene is placed in the movie, but the filmmakers added a very very good scene of Harry and Hermione setting the locket (and therefore, their worries) aside, and they have a very awkward, but touching dance in the tent. It was also one of my favorite scenes in the movie, because it brought some levity to all the bad moments they’d been through up to that point.
Afterwards, we see the scene of the Doe patronus leading Harry to Griffindor’s sword, and the scene plays out much like the book, including a very dramatic reveal that it’s Ron who rescues Harry from drowning in the freezing water. After they get Griffindor’s sword, Harry opens the locket so Ron can destroy the Horcrux. When it opens, a massive creature that looks a little like the Smoke monster from Lost appears and tries starts taunting Ron with everything that made him leave in the first place. The sequence hits a high point with what I think will be one of the most talked about things in this movie: a silvery illusion Harry and Hermione are shown making out topless. Great acting by Rupert Grint in this scene.
After that, they decide to visit Mr. Lovegood, where they finally learn about the symbol of the Hallows. In an inspired choice by the filmmakers, we do not only hear the Tale of the Three Brothers as Hermione reads it, but also shown it through an animation sequence. It’s a little tough to describe, but I’ll try my best. It’s a pretty barebones animation set against a simple background that looks like old and yellowed paper. The characters look basically like 3D animated stick figures, and almost like a scaled back version of something Tim Burton would do. Everyone I talked to thought that the sequence was a very clever way to get through a lot of exposition.
Another change from the book is that Mr. Lovegood calls the Death Eaters to his house by saying Voldemort’s name outloud. (The taboo was mentioned by Ron earlier in the movie, but not really explained.) After they manage to escape the attack, they apparate immediately to where the snatchers are. They get chased down through the forest, shooting spells from their wands. The scene seemed to be shot with a hand held camera, and there was a lot of shaking and quick cuts, like a Jason Bourne chase sequence. The effects on this scene also looked like a work in progress, and there was no music (and since most of the movie had a temporary score, we don’t know if they intentionally left no music for this sequence.) They get caught, but not before Hermione deforms Harry’s face so that he’s not recognized, and then they get taken to Malfor Manor.
Given that the movie was going to be split, I thought that the escape from Malfoy Manor would be emphasized more, and the action increased, so as to give the movie one final large action sequence before the cut. However, it seemed to go much faster than I anticipated. After Bellatrix notices Griffindor’s sword, she keeps Hermione for torture and sends the rest of them to the dungeon. The torture scenes are very intense, but a lot of what makes the scene work is seeing the characters in the dungeon react to Hermione screaming in pain. Bellatrix cuts the word Mudblood into Hermione’s forearm. Harry looks into the mirror shard (something he’s been holding the entire movie, while looking at Dumbledore’s eye the whole time), and soon after, Dobby apparates to help Harry. An interesting note is that Wormtail is stunned by Dobby but he does not die in the movie. Given how much I hate that character, I hope they’re just saving it for the second part.
After they escape the dungeon, the confrontation and escape from the Manor goes very quickly. Dobby drops the chandelier, Harry dodges and wrestles Draco’s wand from him (another interesting point is how Tom Felton played Draco with a lot of uncertainty of what’s happening around him. In this sequence, for example, Draco barely puts up a fight with Harry for his wand, and the whole time, Draco has a conflicted look on his face). The scene ends with Dobby gathering everyone around him in order to apparate in Bill and Fleur’s house. Before they leave, we see Bellatrix throw a knife at the group, and the whole scene is set in slow motion, so you see the knife flying towards Dobby, while at the same time we see the apparition portal opening up. We do not see what happens with the knife at this moment. Then the movie cuts to a beach, where Harry yells happily that they’re all OK; until he notices that Dobby had been stabbed in the heart with the knife Beatrix threw. Dobby dies in Harry’s arms, and he declares he wants to bury him traditionally, with no magic. This is the last we see of our heroes.
The final shot of the film is the only to take place in Hogwarts, (I didn’t see the castle, but it is likely that it will be added later) and it’s Voldemort flying towards Dumbledore’s tomb, cracking it open, and taking the Elder Wand from his dead hands. The camera focuses on Voldemort’s joyous face as he obtained the only Hallow he was looking for, the camera zooms out and we see he’s conjuring up a massive and ominous cloud. The end.
I would say this is my favorite Harry Potter movie since Prisioner of Azkaban without a doubt. It is also the most faithful to the books since movies 1 and 2. I’m still conflicted about the split because it both feels appropriate and like an excuse to extend the series at the same time. The movie benefits from not having the action and narrative compressed like the last few movies, but at the same time, the cut feels a little artificial, especially if you’ve read the book. My biggest complaint with the split is that the movie ends shortly after we learn about the Hallows (and by extension, the reason for the title). That’s the moment when the story moves away from the three characters trying to figure out the plot, to the characters having a good understanding about what’s going on and what they need to do next. Because of this, the movie doesn’t seem to have that strong a narrative compass as it could. Once both movies are out, it won’t make sense to watch this part without watching part 2 shortly after, and in the meantime, this movie suffers a bit because of this.
Most of the omissions and changes from the book seemed to be either improvements, or changes that were made to simplify the narrative and avoid unnecessary exposition. The best example would be the change in the role of Hedwig at the beginning of the film. Keeping the Expeliarmus explanation would have added a lot of confusing exposition to the movie. The change allowed for a more streamlined narrative, and also for Hedwig’s death to be more meaningful. They can also trim a little from the middle sequences in the forest. That part seemed to drag a little, just like in the book. However, these complaints are minor, and do not detract significantly from the film.
Overall, I believe the movie lived up to expectations, and it bodes well for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, since they got a lot of the exposition out of the way, they’ll be able to make a more action packed and exciting movie.
If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll try to answer as best I can!