Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Spoiler alert - if you haven't read the book and haven't seen the film yet, don't read the following, just go and see the film. If you haven't read any of the books or seen any of the films, then this film on its own might be somewhat confusing. Read the books first, then see this film.

From the opening scenes you can tell this film is going to take a different approach. The first six Harry Potter films had a serious case of 'quart into a pint pot' (more like 'gallon ...' for a couple). For the final book, though, they have chosen to split it into two parts; it makes a big difference.

Right near the beginning there is a marvellously poignant piece of visual imagery: Hermione uses her magic to make her parents forget all about her (for their safety), and the film shows family photographs with Hermione's picture slowly being faded out of each. Time is taken with each of the main characters to establish that loss and isolation are going to be big themes.

There are still action sequences, of course, and there is humour, and there is an intense three-way relationship at the heart of the film. But the backdrop is that the bad guys are winning, and Harry, Ron & Hermione are on their own.

At the start of the film the three have the Order of the Phoenix to help them. Then Hedwig dies, then Mad-Eye Moody. Then the Ministry of Magic falls, and the Weasleys' home is invaded. After that Harry, Hermione and Ron are alone: on the run, seeking out Voldemort's Horcruxes in the slight hope that once they're all destroyed he can be beaten. But they don't know where they are and, when they do find one, they don't even know how to destroy it. Instead the Horcrux in their possession just drags them down further.

Eventually even Ron goes away, leaving just Harry and Hermione wandering around various scenic but bleak parts of the UK. There is one beautiful scene: as the two reach rock bottom, Hermione is listening sadly to music on the radio, then Harry takes the Horcux off her for a moment and they dance together, in their tent in the middle of nowhere.

But the wandering isn't totally vain. Eventually they begin to find out about the 'deathly hallows': a cloak of invisibility, a stone of resurrection and an unbeatable wand. They also realise, through Harry's dream connection, that Voldement is seeking the wand. They are too busy running, though, to do anything about it. Nevertheless, Dumbledore's legacy leads Ron back to the others, so they are three again; part of the loss is restored - especially as in the process they retrieve a sword which is able to destroy the Horcux. But then they are captured. Dobbie the house elf is able to free them, but is killed as they escape. Harry buries Dobbie, then the film ends with Voldemort finding the unbeatable wand and revelling in its power.

In the book, Dumbledore is a central thread: his backstory, Harry's feelings of doubt and alienation, and the teenage Dumbledore's relationship with the dark wizard Grindelwald. None of this is in the film. On one level this makes a lot of sense, as it probably wouldn't have transferred well anyway (and I'm not at all convinced by Michael Gambon as Dumbledore anyway); on another level, though, it means you lose the 'dark night of the soul' element of Harry's wanderings, leaving a shallower result. Nevertheless, given the size of the book, I think this was a reasonable thread to leave out.

There are a couple of disappointing scenes later on in the film, as things start to move again. There is a very ominous, even scarey, scene in the book where Harry and Hermione walk into a trap baited by a dead Bathilda Bagshot in Godric's Hollow. In the film the scene is run-of-mill, with little tension, even when the trap is sprung - just a standard wand battle and escape.

Similarly, in the book the aftermath of Dobby's death is a deeply moving passage where Harry buries his body and magically carves a tombstone honouring Dobby, 'a free house elf'. In the film, Harry buries the body in sand and then the movie rushes on to show the final scene of Voldemort getting the wand. For my daughter, and I'm sure many others, Dobby's death was the saddest moment in the film, yet little was made of it. In a film lasting 146 minutes, would it have been so hard to spend an extra moment mourning the heroic Dobby?

That said, this remains an enjoyable film to watch. It's also very obviously only half the story, and I'm looking forward to the finale next spring.

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