The Culture Beat

July 17, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex @ 9:36 pm


I have enjoyed the Harry Potter films mostly as interesting, and sometimes frustrating, experiments in adaptation, rather than as exciting visualizations of a popular books series. Before I’d read any of the books, I’d seen the first film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in theaters and liked it okay but didn’t think it was anything special, especially since The Fellowship of the Ring came out within a week or two of the film and it soared by comparison (and it helped that I was a fan of the book). But then discovering the Harry Potter books and understanding its fascinating use of Christian symbolism and themes helped me appreciate the films–to a point. Readers of the Potter series know that the books grow in plot, character complexity, and thematic richness until, one is caught up in a hugely dense narrative with dozens of vivid and consequential characters and plot threads that author J. K. Rowling weaves into one of the richest literary tapestries of our. age. Seeing that complexity mostly left in the books because of the difficulty of fitting it into feature length films undercut my enjoyment despite my appreciation for the quality of the film series.

Of course this goes to the difference between the media of print and film narratives. Print is far better at getting into the mind of a character and the way books can convey pages of expository dialogue without stopping the story. Those qualities are difficult in film, which favors appeals to the eye and
the emotions. Thus, after the first two books, Sorcerers Stone and Chamber of Secrets, being relatively short in length and pretty literally adapted to film, the subsequent films, through Half Blood Prince, were more freely adapted with characters and plot threads removed from the necessarily more streamlined narratives-until the production of Deathly Hallows.

Announced as two films, some fans thought it was a cynical last shake of the magical money tree by Warner Brothers, but I was with those relieved that Rowling’s last, very long and exciting book, full of revelations and closure, would get the ending it deserved. Deathly Hallows, Part.1 had a much more deliberate pace, made more so by the book’s tale of Harry and friend’s bleak fugitive existence in the wilds. Nevertheless, it still omitted crucial character elements that made the books so rich and detailed. There is also the fact that the script practically omitted the use of two New Testament scriptures found on crucial places in Harry’s hometown of Godric Hollow. This and other Christian themes in Rowling’s book are discussed in an insightful review of Deathly Hallows, Part 2, by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

So I was looking forward to Part 2, looking for a satisfactory wrap-up but I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the movie. I reacted, for the first time since the second film, with excitement, laughter and some tears. Despite knowing what to expect, the moviemaker’s magic worked its spell and I found this the most entertaining of all the films.

In fact, this is the film that actually requires that you have read the book to grasp and appreciate some of the revealed history of certain characters as we see a montage that completely changes what we thought we knew. I have to wonder about audience members that have stuck with the series this long and still not read the books–as one critic has said, that really should be the price of admission by now. I will carp about the incredibly dark picture and at times nearly colorless photography. I know it’s a dark time in the wizarding world but for Dumbledore’s sake, that’s a metaphor, not a stylistic command to use 40 watt bulbs to light the set. The greatest danger to our characters at times is that they will run into each other in nearly pitch black stairwells and corridors. It’s not as thrilling when you can’t see what’s happening. Even if this is partly due to cheapskate exhibitors’ refusal to properly project the image, there still needed to be more lighting in the cinematography.

And yes, the film still leaves out significant character and plot points that reveal important facts about major characters but this train gets you to its destination, King’s Cross station and the return, as I’d devoutly hoped, of John Williams’ original themes to bring big smiles and a true conclusion to this remarkable and historic film franchise. All is well.

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