Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

My husband and I did finally get to go see the latest Harry Potter film recently.  I hadn't read any of the reviews, so I had no expectations.  My take:  I thought it was terrific.  Depressing, but terrific.   I'm going to discuss some of my favorite bits of the movie, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to read any spoilers, you might want to go read another article here and come back once you have seen it.  But before I spill the beans, I will say this:  I don't advise seeing this film unless you've read the books and/or seen the previous movies.  This movie is drawing characters from the previous six films with little or no explanation, and I'm not sure you would know what was going on if you aren't familiar with who these people are and what their backgrounds in the previous stories are.  Oh, and one other thing I will say for those who haven't seen the film yet--if you have a younger and/or more sensitive middle schooler, it may be too intense for them.  Our son didn't go see it with us, and after just the first few minutes, I was so glad he hadn't.  The film is very dark and can be quite scary, even for those who have read the books and know what is coming.  I don't think our son, who has read all the books multiple times, will be ready to see this film for quite a while.

I started getting teary from the very beginning, where Hermione was protecting her parents by changing their memories and removing her presence from their lives in a wonderfully visual way.  It was a small thing, but that is what I love about they can take something that is mentioned in a fantastic book, but demonstrate it in a way I never imagined (and wasn't explained in the book) and make it so much more powerful than I ever thought when I was reading the book.  I love those kinds of moments in movies!

Another example like that was some scene where the heroes are wondering around and listening to the rebel radio, which says that the good news is that the list of deaths is so short today...and proceeds to read off name after name after name.  Again, that was not taken directly from the book, but made for a really emotional realization of the toll of this war between Voldemort and the wizard world.

One other scene that the film makers invented that I really liked was another early sequence where Harry is trying to sneak off to start his quest on his own, but he is discovered by Ron.  When questioned, Harry says he has to do this by himself because he doesn't want anyone else dying for him.  But Ron responds by informing Harry that if people die, they aren't dying for Harry--they are dying for something much, much bigger than him.   Then he tells Harry if he leaves alone, he won't last a day without Hermione's help and he might just as well surrender himself to Voldemort to be killed.  I thought that was a great scene--a wake up call for Harry, who does have a tendency to be the Savior/Martyr, and a wonderful moment for Ron to be something besides the always-encouraging sidekick (well, most of the time, anyways).

Another part that worked SO WELL on film was Hermione's reading of  "The Tale of the Three Brothers," which was depicted in a graphic cartoon as you hear Hermione's narration.  It was a very stark, stylized visual rendering of the story, and I thought it was very well done.

On the whole, though, the movie sticks very close to the book.  And it has to, because even in splitting it into two films, there is so much material packed into the final book that there is no time to linger over most of it.  So events zoom by, and are presented with minimal explanation and streamlined action, as the writer and director try to convey all the essentials into a family-friendly movie length time.

On the whole, I think they did a great job.  There are wonderful sections of the book that I hate to see left out, but I think they hit upon most of the crucial ones.  The main thing that is missing so far is the whole backstory about Dumbledore's history and life choices, which were crucial elements of the book, but may be hard to work into a movie format.  We'll see...

To be clear, I still prefer the books.  They just have so much more than the films can ever present.  But this movie, I think, is very true to the novel.  And it teaches valuable lessons about friendship, and perseverance, and courage, and doing the right thing, rather than the easy or convenient thing.   It deals with a number of middle school level themes, and so is a great resource for early adolescents who aren't too upset over some intense visual sequences.

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