So here I am talking about my first day, not-quite-the-first-show experience with HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1, the first in a two-part denouement to a decade-long saga of magical mayhem which I have started to identify a large part of my childhood with. Now before I posted this review, I skimmed the webverse to see what people were saying about the movie. Although I did a really perfunctory check, most of the authors were waxing eloquent about the movie. But they all were institutional authors (newspapers, magazines, gossip rags, etc.) the credibility of which as ideal, impartial movie reviewers is limited in my eyes.
So I decided to go ahead and post this. Beware, mine is not as honey coated as the ones I stumbled across. So if your Potter sensibilities are easily offended, turn back now (but refer this page to another friend of yours so that my new blog gets a few hits! Do this much for a fellow Pottermaniac.).
Now, in my honest opinion, Potter movie goers can be broadly classed into 2 categories (not counting the ones who go “Meh!” at everything.). First, the ones who enjoy the movies more than anything, but are usually not very avid readers of the books. And second, the ones who think that HP movies are trash and yet go to watch them to satisfy a certain primal feeling of satisfaction of having their convictions proved. So, here’s a disclaimer: I belong to the latter. I am of the opinion that the HP books are too intricately beautiful to be reproduced on screen within a reasonable time limit. And I take serious offence when the movie takes too many liberties in comparison to the books.
Anyhow, disclaimers done, now to move on with the review.
The movie starts with a stern Rufus Scrimgeour presenting a brave face to the world regarding the impending doom that the rise of Lord Voldemort has brought about. The first 30-odd minutes progress with enjoyable speed, with the non-book reader left clueless and only enjoying the cinematic exhilaration. The scene where Hermione “obliviates” her parents’ memories is a touching one. But that apart, the film fails to capture many of the subtle nuances which make reading the books such a pleasure.
For example the Ministry of Magic’s stout anti-Harry attitude is not conveyed well enough. One of the things which made Harry’s task so much more difficult was the inflexible attitude of the Ministry which wanted to use Harry as a Poster boy instead of supporting his battle. A lone visit by Scrimgeour is not a good enough way to show the way the Ministry humiliated Harry.
The take over of the Ministry by the Death Eaters is not very well portrayed. In fact, the amount of machinations that Voldemort had to conjure in order to lead to the fall of the MoM (Ministry of Magic) is underplayed by a single scene accorded to the event.
I know you may be thinking that these are nit picks and if they had to portray all these details in beautiful delicacy, I would probably still be in the theater, watching the movie. But the point is, I believe, that certain themes are important to weave the story. And they were sacrificed for several stunning shots of mesmerizing landscapes.
The story fell off a bit when Harry, Ron and Hermione were shown in quest of the Horcruxes and it seemed to move a little slowly. But then again, the emotional turmoil that developed between Ron and Hermione, leading to Ron’s deserting the mission (albeit temporarily), would be quite difficult to portray on screen as well as it has been on paper.
Before you take a shot at me, please, please remember that I will make the unjustified comparison between the book and the movie. Quite simply because the movie cannot exist as a stand-alone entity. I mean, anyone who has not read the books will be at a total loss to understand the movie. In fact, I think that the greatest weakness of the Potter movies is the fact that they cannot be seen in random order or without having read the books and yet be comprehended and enjoyed in its entirety. That said, I must say this happens to be the movie which has adhered most closely to the original story line.
Anyways. Back to the review.
There is little I can tell about the story since the plot is almost identical to the book without any variations. However, somehow, I had this feeling that the movie just did not come together in the end. I know it is a vague statement but the movie was not as well woven as the book. Digressing here for a bit, let me say that the sixth installment of the Potter saga was a bit of a downer and hence we Pottermaniacs were looking for a fantastic end to the series when the book came out. I must say we were satisfied in general, except for the last few pages where a flash forward to the future messed things up for us a bit. It was as if the conclusion was written with a very “filmy” ending in mind.
The beautiful landscapes, the scenic beauty of boundless meadows with cotton wool clouds in a brilliantly blue sky above are breathtaking, to say the least. The skirmish when Harry was being transported at the very opening is also well planned. In fact, like most of the Potter movies, this one has a lot to please the eyes.
Despite that, the movie has an almost monotonously melancholic theme for the entire length. So much so, that the slightly hilarious trip to Xenophilus Lovegood’s eerie abode is also like a somber funeral parlor meeting, which it actually is, seeing that they learn later that Luna, his daughter and their friend, was kidnapped by the Death Eaters. But the fact that it was nowhere as enjoyable as the one in the book is unpardonable in my eyes.
Another event of profound importance was grossly downplayed in this part. The scuffle at the Malfoys’ mansion where Harry defeats Draco and wins his wand. Without going into details and giving out the plot to the ones who have not read the book (though I daresay that by now the ones who have not read the books must have flown off this page seeing that I end up comparing almost everything with the book), I will just say that it is a critical turn in the events of the story. Hopefully the next part will give it due importance.
One thing which is bound to leave the ones who went in to see the movie without having read the books in a bundle of confusion is the matter of Harry seeing flashes of Voldemort’s endeavors to lay his hands on the Elder Wand. Though the story is beautifully told while the troika are at the Lovegood’s place, there is too much gap between the dots for the casual moviegoer to connect them and make meaning. Again, here’s hoping that the dots are connected in the next part.
That said, there are several important events which were bypassed in this part which one hopes will be appended in the next one. This part does not really delve into Dumbledore’s dark past, nor does it describe the role of one Gellert Grindelwald (although he briefly appears in a Harry-flash) in the whole wand business, and as a part of Dumbledore’s past. Flashes of Vodemort torturing wand maker Gregorovich and Ollivander are quite difficult to connect. There were several important discussions in the Malfoy Manor dungeons which lend meaning and momentum to the story. It also bypasses the important discussions that Harry has with Ollivander and Griphook the Goblin, after they escape the Malfoy Manot dungeon. And although the sequence of the death of Dobby, the ever faithful House elf is touching, it is way more poignant in the book. (and there I go again!)
The movie ends on a high note, much like it began with Voldemort violating Dumbledore’s tomb in order to retrieve the Elder Wand and finally giving it a flourish worthy of the great wand. The last scene of Voldemort prising out the wand from Dumbledore’s hands after breaking open his tomb is one of the best sequences in the whole movie.
I have already mentioned several times that the movie is very easy on the eyes and the visual pleasure is absolute. The battle sequences are hard to follow but that adds to the reality of the encounters. There are so many of them that I want to see the 3D version just to feel up close and personal in them. However, I still believe that the best battle sequence in all of the Potter movies was the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic in the fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As in the story, there is no Quidditch in this movie, which is one of the few things which was better in the movies than I had pictured in my head. Come on, all Potter freaks do that – imagining the movie playing inside their heads, directed by themselves, of course, while they are reading the books (if they don’t then there must be something wrong with me!).
David Yates is not half as daring as Alfonso Cuaron and does not venture to fiddle with the storylines and sequences. And given the complexity of the last book, it would be unwise to deviate much from Rowling’s well woven story. However, he fails to inject that last dollop of life which makes a movie special. This one has everything, and I am sure despite my not-so-flattering words, it will be enjoyed by almost everyone except the most skeptical folks (like me! I did not name this blog scepticemia for nothing!), the ones who are the true bearers of the epithet: Pottermaniacs!
I have never been a great fan of Dan Radcliffe’s acting prowesses. In fact I think he is the worst amongst the three. But in this movie, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by a marked improvement in his acting skills. Emma Watson, as always, remains the best of the three when it comes to emoting. And she seems to be growing prettier with each passing day! Rupert Grint also does a good job. But, still, while Dan has definitely come a long way since his two-expressions-only (extreme happiness and extreme sorrow) effort in the first few movies, he still has some serious catching up to do in order to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his co actors. One of my favorite actors, Ralph Fiennes, as Voldemort gets limited screen time, as has been the wont thus far. Another actor whose portrayal of character was almost what I had in my mind-movies was Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Again, he gets limited screen time. I am sure he will have more to do in the following part and fully express the awesomeness that is Severus Snape. The calming presence of Dumbledore is also missed. Somehow, he used to add a cheeky-Headmasterly demeanor to the movies which I enjoyed immensely. Oh, and I almost forgot, Helena Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange is just perfect!
So, in conclusion, to come to the positives:
- Decent acting
- Wonderful landscapes
- Great work with the battle scenes
- More or less adherent to the basic storyline
And the negatives:
- Lacks the final punch, and somehow I did not feel the movie to come together in the end
- Missed to stress on some critical moments in the story
- A monotonously dark, brooding tone buried the funny moments in the books
- Difficult to follow for Potter amateurs, especially in the flash-to-Voldemort scenes.
Overall, I’d rate it 6.5/10 and say it is a decent single watch.
So, go, watch it.