Monday, January 9, 2012

Movies and Book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) and Part 2 (2011)

I am re-reading and re-watching all of the Harry Potter books and movies.  You can find info about this and links to all related posts here. 

In addition, you can read my original review of the Part 2 movie here.

Plot (no spoilers):  After the events of the last book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not return to Hogwarts for their final year.  When the Ministry of Magic falls to Voldemort they go on the run.  They try to figure out how to locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes (items with pieces of Voldemort’s soul in them).  Only once they have done that can Voldemort be defeated.  This mission drives some wedges between their long standing relationships with each other.  They find out about the Deathly Hallows and try to decide if they should search for them, too.  The stakes keep rising as they end up having to break into the Ministry of Magic, then the impregnable goblin bank Gringott’s, and finally into the now Death Eater controlled Hogwarts.  Much is learned about Dumbledore’s past and not all of it is good.  Much is learned about Snape’s past and not all of it is bad.  All of these things lead to a final showdown between Harry and Voldemort.  Many familiar characters do not survive this final book in the series.

Thoughts about the book:  I admit that I was a little worried before this book came out.  I had been disappointed several times in the past with either books, movies, or TV shows where the authors had written themselves into a corner and just couldn’t produce an ending that would live up to expectations.  Boy was I wrong to be worried about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  It not only delivered in spades, but explained things, revealed new info, was very exciting, and gave a satisfactory conclusion to the main characters.

The first time reading it my only complaint was the roughly 200 page section where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are bouncing around the countryside, camping out, and basically saying “What do you think we should do?”  “I don’t know.  What do you think we should do?”  I felt it dragged some and could have benefited from some editing.  I still read the book in a single day, but found myself briefly stopping a couple times during this section.  When I compared notes with other people I knew who were reading the book all five of them said almost exactly the same thing – that they had put the book down during this section and picked it up at a later point.  My second time reading the book I also set it aside during this section.

Author J.K. Rowling took advantage of this being the last book and used that freedom to kill off quite a few familiar characters.  Knowing this I kept track of the deaths.  I counted a total of 17 familiar characters dying, 9 more incidental characters dying “onscreen”, and 50 more dying “off-screen” during the Battle of Hogwarts.

I found it interesting what Rowling did with Dumbledore’s past.  We find that he was not such a nice guy when he was a teenager.  This follows Rowling’s trend in later books of trying to give three dimensions to some of her characters.  After the book came out Rowling revealed in an interview that Dumbledore was gay.  Knowing this now, I looked for any hints in the book and found none.  There was a political enemy of Dumbledore who described his relationship with Harry as “unnatural, even sinister”, but I read that more as just trying to drive a wedge between them, not that it had anything to do with sexuality.  Also, as a teen Dumbledore has a strong friendship with another young wizard, but at no time in the book does anyone describe it as anything more than a friendship, even people who are trying to discredit Dumbledore.  I certainly didn’t pick up anything in Rowling’s writing that ever hinted at Dumbledore being gay. 

By the way, as part of finding out about Dumbledore’s past we finally learn that the bartender in Hogsmeade who has been mentioned several times in the prior two books is Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth.  He plays a small, but important role in the final book.

Rowling also seemed to be trying to show that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were grown up.  They are all 17 – the age of adulthood for wizards and witches.  Questions of jealousy and sexuality come up, although nothing graphic.  Ron uses “effing” (literally) now and then in his dialogue.  Add to this the themes of finding out your heroes were not always heroic, and the major theme of sacrifice for the greater good, and this is definitely the most mature of the seven books.

One final note on the book (an “epilogue”, if you will) – Rowling respected her fans so much that she actually wrote the final chapter years before this book was published.  She kept it in a safety deposit box, so that in the event of her untimely death, her fans would still get to find out how the story ended.  This chapter became a “19 years later” epilogue in the book.  I wish George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones, etc.) had that level of respect for his fans.

Thoughts about the movies:  As I mentioned above, the camping sequence was the slowest in the book and I felt it dragged.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to make that the centerpiece of the first film.  Nearly one hour is devoted to them bouncing around the countryside.  One advantage of film is that at least we got to see many beautiful locations all around Britain.  A negative with the film is that for the first time shakycam infects the Harry Potter movies (a new cinematographer was used). 

The second film pretty much has the gas pedal all the way to the floor from beginning to end.  In fact, the way they split the movies is that roughly the first 500 pages of the book, covering several months, is the first film, and the final 250 pages of the book, covering a single day, is the second film.

Part 1 is about average in length for a Harry Potter movie, while Part 2 is the shortest of the eight, with it exceeding two hours only because of a 12 minute long credits sequence.  Like the book, the first film could have done with some serious editing.  The second film is easily the best of the eight.  Like the book, it also really delivered.

Having seen the movies before, this time I had fun watching in the backgrounds of several crowd shots seeing many familiar faces among the students and staff of Hogwarts.  It really is amazing to me that they were able to keep such consistency in casting across the movies, even when many of the roles ended up being non-speaking in some films.

In addition to returning most of the people to have been in the Harry Potter movies (see below), there were also objects seen in earlier films for sharp eyed viewers (i.e. a chess piece from the first film; the Cornish Pixies from the second film).  I did not appreciate this depth the first time I saw the movies because it had been years since I had seen the earlier ones. 

There was a terrific animation sequence in Part 1 where we learn about the Deathly Hallows.  The style of the animation, even though done on a computer, harkened back to the earliest days of animation where silhouettes appeared against a lit backdrop.  [See for example The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) – the oldest surviving animated film.  My thanks to Kevyn Knox at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World whose recent post on the 10 Best Animated Movies brought this to my attention.  You can read the post here and see a still from the film.]

There are sequences in both movies where Hermione impersonates two different characters.  I found it interesting that both actresses (Sophie Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter) played Hermione with big eyes, looking scared.  Emma Watson always played Hermione as someone who was usually resolute in the face of danger.  Perhaps these older actresses were playing the character more as how they would have felt being a 17 year old girl in very dangerous situations.

Harry got his first kiss in the fifth movie (with Cho Chang).  Ron got his first kiss in the sixth movie (with Lavender Brown).  Hermione finally gets her kisses in these final two movies – with both Harry and Ron.  In the early days I used to be amused when interviewers, usually female ones, would tease the young Emma Watson by pointing out that she might be kissing one of her co-stars at some point and then asking how she felt about that.  She would always get really embarrassed.  Well, when all was said and done she ended up kissing both of them.  When it finally came time to kiss Rupert Grint (Ron) both he and Emma had trouble with it because they were such good friends.  I don’t remember Watson mentioning much about her kiss with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) for part of a dream sequence.  I would have thought that would have been more awkward since it was supposed to be more sensual.

Big Names, Familiar Faces, and Familiar Voices:  This movie continues the series trend of having well known U.K. actors/actresses playing roles both across many movies, and in smaller cameos within only one or two movies.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 return just about everybody who has ever appeared in a Harry Potter movie and whose character is still alive (and even some of those who died).  This includes characters not seen since the first movies like John Hurt’s Ollivander the wand maker and Miriam Margolyes’ Professor Sprout.  Some of the appearances are of the “blink and you’ll miss them” variety like Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney. Even former students like Percy Weasley and Oliver Wood (still played by Chris Rankin and Sean Biggerstaff) appear.  A notable exception who did not return was John Cleese who played the Gryffindor ghost Nearly Headless Nick in the first two films.

Joining them this time are Bill Nighy (new Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour), Rhys Ifans (Luna’s father Xenophilius Lovegood), Sophie Thompson (Mafalda Hopkirk), Twilight alumnus Jamie Campbell Bower (young Gellert Grindlewald), Kelly MacDonald (The Grey Lady - Ravenclaw House’s ghost), and Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore).

Stanislav Ianevski reprised his role as Viktor Krum (the Durmstrang Champion in the fourth movie), but his scene at Bill and Fleur’s wedding was cut.

Thoughts on the book vs. the movie:  Because they split the book into two movies, comprising about 4 hours 10 minutes of non-credits scenes, the filmmakers did not have to make anywhere near the number of cuts that were made for the prior three films.

Dobby, who had been written out of the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies, appears for the first time since the second film.  Because of this the filmmakers wisely added him to an early scene in the movie to remind viewers of who he was.  It makes his later scene more emotional.

We finally get to meet older brother Bill Weasley.  He had been in earlier books, but not any of the movies.  It does mean that in the Part 1 movie it feels like Fleur Delacour (the Beauxbatons champion in the fourth movie) seems to come back out of nowhere for the people who have not read the books.  The filmmakers did not have to go far to find the actor to play Bill – Domhnall Gleeson is the son of Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody).

Speaking of Weasley’s, older brother Percy, whose estrangement from the family was in the books, but not the movies, does re-appear in the final film, giving some closure for the readers of the books, but probably meaning nothing to those who only watched the movies.

A couple of characters who died in the book were not killed in the movies, and at least one described death in the book for a key character is not shown onscreen.  Some fans were disappointed by the latter, and I was one of them.  Fans also had similar complaints about two other key characters who were just shown as dead in the aftermath, but that was actually the same as what happened in the book.  Their deaths were not explained in the book.

Even though the filmmakers had over four hours to cover stuff, they still ended up cutting some things.  I wish they had left in Dudley Dursley’s farewell to Harry.  It’s a nice moment giving closure to Harry’s relationship with the Dursleys.  The filmmakers actually shot the scene, but cut it out because “it disrupted the narrative flow”.  “Narrative flow”?  Two minutes into the movie?  Give me a break.

They also did not include an explanation that speaking Voldemort’s name now identifies your location to the Death Eaters.  This leads to Harry, who has always said “Voldemort”, now referring to him as “You Know Who” like everyone else – for no apparent reason to the movie audience.

A couple of changes from the book are an added romantic connection between Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood and the fact that none of the children were removed from Hogwarts for safety before the battle.  The former is kind of cute, while the latter was probably done to increase the tension and chaos (Harry often has to fight his way through crowds of running children.)

Another change was necessitated by the drug charge arrest of actor Jamie Waylett (Draco Malfoy’s goon Crabbe).  Since he was not available to play the character his actions and fate were shifted to Draco’s other goon Goyle (Josh Herdman).

While not a change, the scene where we see Snape’s memories illustrates the advantages that film can bring.  While the description was informative and a little moving in the book, seeing Alan Rickman playing Snape experiencing these things was very moving.  He finally got to play Snape as more than an inscrutable character and he really did a great job.  I found myself a little misty eyed after this sequence.

Thoughts on one movie vs. two movies:  At the time the movies came out I saw no need for there to be two of them.  Having now re-read the books and re-watched the movies it’s even more apparent that one movie could have easily done justice to the last book.

As I noted in my original review of the Part 2 movie, it should probably have been titled Harry Potter and the Big Pile of Cash.  That’s the real reason the studio made two movies, not because they couldn’t fit the story into one.  Having an eighth movie made them an extra billion dollars.

I tracked the pre-credits run times of both movies.  Part 1 came in at 2 hours 13 minutes and Part 2 came in at 1 hour 57 minutes.  That’s a total of 4 hours 10 minutes.  Add on 12 minutes of credits and you get a total of 4 hours and 22 minutes total run time.  Yes, that is too long for a single movie, especially one where kids are a big part of the audience. As The Lord of the Rings movies showed, though, 3 hours is fine.  Even some of the prior Harry Potter movies approached 2 hours and 45 minutes in length.

The thing is, the total run time of the two movies would have been nowhere near as long if they had the same kind of focus on the important parts of the story that the prior four movies had.  The Part 1 movie could have easily had 50 minutes cut out of it, and with a little bit of pain another 20-30 minutes on top of that.  That would have resulted in a combined total of 2 hours 50 minutes.  Credits would bring it to the same 3 hour length as the Lord of the Rings movies.  And this is without removing a thing from the Part 2 movie when 5-10 minutes could probably be cut with no problem (i.e. repeating the final scene from Part 1; explaining things already explained in Part 1, etc).  This would bring a combined movie down to a length that one other Potter movie (The Chamber of Secrets) had.

As I mentioned in my original Part 2 review, this would have made for one hellacious, kick-ass movie.  What might have been.

Old rating vs. new rating:  I originally rated Part 1 at 3 out of 5 stars because even though I felt it dragged, it still had an effective beginning and touching ending.  I am keeping it there.  I originally rated Part 2 at 4 out of 5 stars.  If I gave half star ratings I would now put it at 4 ½ stars.  Reading the book right before seeing it made it more understandable and even better.  It is definitely the best of the eight films.  [See my upcoming Harry Potter Final Thoughts post for rankings of the books and movies, plus other things of interest.]

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars for Part 1
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars for Part 2

           DVD                      Blu-ray                 Instant Video

           DVD                      Blu-ray                 Instant Video


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