It’s usually fun to argue about movies. Half the reason this site was started was so Hans, Shep and myself could have a launching pad to bitch and disagree and interact with each other (and with you, too!) about what movies we’re passionate about and what movies need to just go away forever (insert obligatory Transformers 2 dig here).
But there is a flip side to this spirited discourse, and it is by far my least favorite part of movie geek-dom. Sometimes there is a wild consensus about a movie. Everyone loves it. It drives people to tears and is regarded as a great film. And if you’re less enthusiastic than the rest, that’s a disappointing thing, especially when your reaction comes straight from the gut. It’s hard to defend your position, and for people who are passionate about the film, “It just didn’t connect with me” isn’t a good argument.
But still. That’s kind of how I felt about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1).
Now before you stone me to death, let me be very clear. I LOVE Harry Potter. I’ve read all the books, most multiple times. I own every film, and whenever I’m not lucky enough to get a pre-screening pass, I go see each movie at midnight on opening night. Of all the movies, I think Order of the Phoenix and Prisoner of Azkaban are my favorites, and I think David Yates is a godsend to the franchise.
Another thing…Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) is a damn fine movie. It’s well directed, well written, and, most importantly, well acted. These kids have grown up into striking thespians (I said THESpians all you creepy Hermione fans), and while I’m not a huge fan of the first two Chris Columbus directed films, I gotta give the man props for finding actors who could really carry an entire series.
So if you come out of HP7.1 thinking it’s the best movie of the series and the greatest thing since sliced bread, like Shep and Castor did, then more power to you. I can’t argue that this movie isn’t supremely well done.
But it just didn’t get me all stirred up emotionally like the other films. And you can’t argue with that.
When my two companions and myself walked out of the theater after the film ended, there was a serious buzz around us. I overheard multiple conversations of fans saying that this movie was their instant favorite. Even Shep and Castor jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming this the best of the Potter films. I thought about arguing, but I didn’t. Most of the time arguing about movies is fun, but when it’s something like Harry Potter, something my friends and I are extremely passionate about, coming in with my negative vibes would have been on the same level of a personal affront. And why would I even argue with them? It was a damn well-made movie, and if it hit them in the heart-hole, who am I to say a bad word?
Hence the advice in the headline of this article. If you’re a Potter fan, please please please do not let this review color your enjoyment of the movie. This is one of those rare times when the moviegoing experience, informed by seven novels and six previous movies, is almost 100% subjective. You know what you’re getting in both story and tone. You know who will live and who will die. You know whether you like how David Yates directs these movies, and you know which parts you’re most looking forward to.
Because this movie is the book, almost to a tee. If you loved the book and all the previous movies, you will most likely love this film. So ignore me. Close this site, go somewhere else, and continue to anticipate the greatness of the film.
If you’re still here, I guess it’s time for me to let loose my big secret. I think the seventh Harry Potter book had some serious problems, and I think these problems are magnified when you translate the book, ALMOST page for page, into movie form. And while I am behind the decision to make this book into two movies, splitting it up has really drawn attention to how problematic the first part of the book is.
One movie issue is that the first part of the seventh book involves lots and lots of peripheral characters. Fans of the book knew who these characters were, and it was a great to be able to spend some time with them. Fleur and Bill, Rufus Scrimgeour, Mundungus, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tonks…these are great characters, but they’re also characters who had very very limited screen time in previous movies. Even having read the books, it was hard for me to feel any kind of emotional connection with these characters. So when the first act of the movie has a lot to do with Bill (who we’ve never seen before this film) and Fleur’s wedding, it’s hard to justify the screen time. The scenes just lay kind of flat to me.
(*MILD SPOILERS*) Even Dobby, who plays a key role in the climax of this film, has been absent for five movies. So when we’re asked to care about him, he still feels like a really peripheral character, and “that one really sad and shocking moment,” well acted and directed as it is, doesn’t have the weight it needs to carry the end of the movie.(*END SPOILERS*)
This problem of peripheral characters disappears, though, when our main group of heroes have to quickly abandon the relative safety of their friends and family and go off in search of Voldemort’s horcruxes. And this is the point when I realized this movie wasn’t going to hit me the way I’d hoped.
The movie becomes Harry Potter and the Camping Adventure, and the films becomes insanely episodic. The three characters, now emotionally bruised from their exile and fear of death, sit around trying to figure out what to do. They fight, they cry, they hide from snatchers. Every once in a while, they have an idea and go investigate. Then they go back to camping and trying to figure out what to do next.
Once again, this isn’t a problem with the movie. It’s an issue with the story. What’s more, it’s completely necessary to make the overall story of Harry Potter work. We have to see these friendships threatened. We have to feel the weight of Harry’s realization that he’s alone and there will be no Dumbledore to guide him. Our heroes have to find the answers to their questions themselves, and if this happened in a quick succession of scenes, there would be no real value to their accomplishments.
I get it. I really do. But that doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t get weighed down and falter. It doesn’t magically make me love the experience of the film just because I know everything Yates is doing will make the second part of this story all the more powerful.
You see, this story…part one of book seven…is about finding stuff. Voldemort is looking for Harry and for the Elder Wand. Harry, Ron and Hermione are looking for horcruxes. They’re also searching for how to destroy these horcruxes, and they’re desperate to figure out how Dumbledore and the Deathly Hallows fit into this whole mystery.
Very few of the tasks set forward at the beginning of the movie are accomplished, and the whole affair ends up being unfulfilling.
I know…it’s the point. We’re going through the same hellish journey of Harry, Ron and Hermione. But it still makes the movie unfulfilling.
This is usually the point where I tell you how they should have changed the movie to make it better. This time, I got nothing. Other than small nitpicky things, any change that would have made this movie more enjoyable would have had to change a lot of canon and would piss off fans of the book. What’s more, it would have run the risk of undercutting the emotional resonance of the final film, whose success hinges on Harry’s feelings of loss and desperation.
So there. That’s why you should disregard this review entirely. I told you.
In the end, this is my least favorite Potter film. I miss Hogwarts. I miss my favorite teachers. I miss the magic and the joy that have been present even in the darkest of the other films.
But let’s hope the drudgery of this film helps make the series, as a whole, more affecting. Like an athlete’s training, this movie is grueling, unforgiving, long, and not a lot of fun. But if it helps the Potter series cross the finish line victorious, the whole thing will have been well worth it.