I can remember few events in my life as exciting as the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book in 2007. The books featuring the Boy Who Lived and his quest to discover the truth about his famous and tragic past and defeat the Dark Lord who killed his family had captivated reading audiences for 10 years. Maybe the only thing more incredible than the release of “The Deathly Hallows” was that the book itself met most of the fanbase’s expectations, taking a completely different route from the rest of the series to provide complete closure to the myriad characters and story lines.
Though fans were sad to see the series come to a close, they at least knew they had a few more years of the movies to hold onto the beloved franchise. In order to include as much from the book as possible, director David Yates, writer Steve Kloves and the rest of the Warner Bros. team decided to split the final chapter into two movies, starting a trend that has since been followed by other young adult adaptations “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.” Part 1 recounts roughly the first 500 pages of the 750-page novel, detailing Harry, Ron and Hermione’s wandering across Britain in search of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, the destruction of which will defeat him once and for all, and on the lam from the Ministry of Magic, which has been overthrown by the Death Eaters.
This part of the story can be a tough sell. Most of the time, the three main characters freely admit they don’t know where they’re supposed to be going or what they’re even looking for. The group spends their time traversing the countryside, keeping as far out of touch with the other characters as possible so as not to draw attention to themselves. This is felt even more in the book, where the fugitive teens are often found taking a potion to give them an entirely different personality or else hiding Harry under his Invisibility Cloak to keep him as safe as possible on his journey. Without the usual hijinks of the first six books, all of which took place mostly within the confines of Hogwarts, there is a significantly more mature and somber tone in the book, something the movie (and in fact, the entire series) captures perfectly.
This leaves most of the dramatic tension to the characters themselves, which is where the movie really stands out from the rest in the series. This is the first time all three lead actors, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione), all have to show their acting chops, and it’s the first time all three are brilliant in the same film.
Each have had their moments to shine throughout the films’ run, but in the chapter in which their acting choices matter most, the one in which they are the only three characters we see for more than 10 minutes in a 140-minute feature, they finally come into their own as legitimate actors. Radcliffe carries the weight of his character to a T. Grint highlights the depths of Ron’s character that get drawn out in the novel, showcasing that he’s more than just the babbling comic relief sidekick. Watson maybe provides the greatest performance, nailing all of the highly emotional ordeals Hermione goes through, from the opening sequence, in which she erases her parents’ memory of her in order to better protect them from probing Death Eaters, to the very last, in which she is savagely tortured.
The actors had a lot of help, though, from some inspired directing choices. Most of the film’s additions to the story helps make it feel more well-rounded. Ron is given a radio to tote around in an effort to keep tabs on whether his family is OK, a sound and an act that quickly becomes an integral part of his character. The sound and cinematic choices made to show the effectiveness of Hermione’s spell that conceal their camp are nothing short of brilliant. But the narrative star has to be the telling of the fairy tale “The Three Brothers,” a captivating and extraordinary piece of animation that helps set up Part 2 in a way that’s hard to forget:
Of course, some side plots from the book were dropped or marginalized. “The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore” chief among them, which the book uses to unveil some of the mysteries of Dumbledore’s past and calls the quest he left to Harry into question. The house-elf Kreacher goes through a major character transformation partly through his telling of the death of his former master. Other side characters’ stories, including werewolf Remus Lupin’s dilemma over his impending fatherhood, are dropped as well to focus and build on the main narrative.
The one issue the movie couldn’t hope to fix is a lessened impact on Dobby the house-elf’s sacrifice in the climax. Harry freed Dobby from the Malfoy family in the second book, something for which Dobby remained eternally grateful throughout the series. He makes appearances in books 4 and 6, establishing him as a regular character. His death while rescuing Harry, Ron and Hermione from Malfoy Manor breaks Harry, causing his character to mature almost instantly. Before being captured, Harry had been indecisive and aloof, letting Ron and Hermione worry about what their group was going to do next and distracting himself by trying to slip into Voldemort’s mind using their magical connection. After burying his friend, Harry immediately takes charge of things again, setting the group’s course and keeping his own mind clear and focused on one goal.
Readers can feel the weight of Dobby’s loss, as well, because they’ve spent a lot of time with the house-elf. The movie, though, didn’t bring him back after “Chamber of Secrets.” He has an earlier scene in “Deathly Hallows” to re-establish him to movie audiences, but his importance as a character is diminished because he hadn’t been on screen in eight years. The audience feels bad at his passing, but it’s not nearly as shocking and heart-breaking as it was in the book.
Part 1 of “Deathly Hallows” is, in my mind, the best of the Harry Potter movies, droll though it may be at times. Part 2 is often the popular choice for favorite in the franchise, in which everything comes to a head and the fate of the world is decided in a great battle at Hogwarts. We’ll discuss it in this space next week, when we’ll see just how much keeping the house-elf plot out of the movies affects the product.
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