*** SPOILERS ABOUND ***
I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 at midnight at Loews Lincoln Square in all its 80’ x 100’ IMAX glory and it was one of the greatest, most electric and bizarre movie theatre experiences I’ve ever had. The crowd was a wild mix of costumed Potter fanatics, wizard rockers and geeks of all kinds. It was a madhouse as we waited impatiently for this most-anticipated penultimate Potter film to begin, but once the lights went down, a reverent hush fell over the crowd and we were enraptured into the wee hours of the night.
To say that the movie is a unquestionable triumph of epic awesomeness would be an understatement. To say that it’s the best Potter film yet would be overly simplistic. In many ways, it is a miracle of a film -- finally, after ten years and six films, all the stars have fallen into perfect alignment, and they figured out how to make a perfect Harry Potter film. All of the techniques & ideas that they’ve been tweaking and experimenting with for the first six films finally fell into place. Tremendous acting, direction & writing. Truly epic in scope and tonally perfect. The perfect balance of near-slavish devotion to the book and thinking outside the box. Easily the best musical score since John Williams left the series after AZKABAN. Gorgeous cinematography that I have to imagine will garner another Oscar nomination. More brilliant casting decisions. Fixing continuity issues. Etc., etc., etc.
I have no idea if Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson will ever be able to shake free of these roles that they have lived & breathed for the past decade-plus. Who knows if they will follow the path of, say, Harrison Ford or that of Mark Hamill. But regardless, they have come into their own as actors far beyond what anyone could ever have expected. I mean, it was a casting coup when they found these three to play Harry, Ron and Hermione because they just LOOKED perfect. But who could have guessed that they (1) would continue to look perfect as they got older, and (2) would actually become really good actors? Some tremendous performances on display in this film that really boggle the mind. The supporting cast, too, continues to be as good as any that has ever been assembled. Aside from looking as if they were literally sprinkled from the pages of the books, it is a veritable who’s who of some of the best actors Britain has to offer. From the evil creepiness of Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort and the complexities of Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape, to the protective mom-ness of Julie Walters’ Molly Weasley and the kids they found to play Fred, George, Ginny, Luna, Neville, etc.… everyone just continues to be jaw-droppingly perfect. New additions such as Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood and Bill Nighy as Scrimgeour keep the streak of impeccable casting decisions alive. My biggest dream is that in Part 2, they hire every other British actor & actress who hasn’t yet appeared in the series to cameo as warring wizards during the Battle of Hogwarts -- that would rule.
DEATHLY HALLOWS is also a very different Potter film (and story) because it is no longer restricted to the confines of Hogwarts and the usual pattern, i.e., Harry leaves Dursleys, goes to school, gets into trouble, saves the day. Now, suddenly, the Dursleys are fleeing town, Hermione erases her parents’ minds for their own safety, the Weasleys are in hiding, and Harry’s own protective charm is about to wear off -- yeah, shit has officially gotten real. The fact that we now see these characters out there in the world, wielding magic at will (no longer restricted by underage magic laws) and going up against unspeakable evil with possible death at every turn -- it’s both thrilling and scary as hell. The story is so much more epic and the movie does a ridiculously good job of dialing everything up a few notches.
It’s also two and a half hours of almost unrelenting darkness, horror, misery and pain. It is a harsh film in every sense.
Now, let’s take a look at some specific scenes & moments that I loved about this movie:
Hermione’s Parents -- In the book, it was mentioned that Hermione obliviated her parents in order to protect them. But actually seeing this in the movie -- in the opening scene, no less -- is powerful stuff. Perfect example of how thinking outside the confines of the written word isn’t always a bad thing, when it’s done right.
Voldemort and his Minions -- Really friggin’ creepy stuff. I’ve seen Harry Potter detractors condemn the books & movies because the #1 bad guy is so rarely seen and hasn’t personally killed many people and so on. But that’s the whole thing! It’s the very THOUGHT of Voldemort and his rise to power that scares people. So on the rare occasion that we actually see him, whether it’s him sitting at the head of a table of Death Eaters and torturing a Hogwarts teacher, or glimpses of him searching for the Elder Wand, it’s all the more terrifying. The payoff in Part 2, when Voldemort comes front & center to wage war against Harry and Hogwarts… it’s gonna be huge.
Escape from the Dursleys -- Kick-ass action scene here. Love seeing the Order of the Phoenix in action. Love Hagrid and his motorcycle. Heartbreaking when Hedwig sacrifices herself to save Harry from the death curse. Scary when Voldemort appears. Good stuff.
Harry and Ginny -- Yowza! Ginny asking Harry to zip her dress, showing off her bare back, and then the two of them going at it right there in the kitchen? That was something. (Hilarious when George catches them in the act, too). Ginny is cute but not in a traditional way. She’s kind of aggressive and sassy and athletic. And, apparently, a saucy little minx. Go Harry!
The Diner Attack -- Harry, Ron & Hermione square off against some Death Eaters in the middle of a Muggle diner! Great little battle scene that shows just how much danger they’re in.
Ja wohl, mein Umbridge! -- The Ministry break-in and escape was cool (though I am glad that’s the last we’ll see of the overused Polyjuice Potion)… but best of all was the return of Dolores Umbridge. God, she is so evil… and as depicted in this movie, she’s not only evil, but she really is a goddamn Nazi! From the giant sculpture of Muggles carrying wizards on their shoulders, to all the anti-Muggle propaganda, to the folder containing profiles of Harry & his allies, to the McCarthy-esque Muggle-born registration hearings, they really went all-out with the imagery here, and it was incredible. When Harry finally lost it and stupefied her ass, it was an exultant moment!
Camping -- Like many people, I wasn’t a huge fan of 200+ pages of LOTR-style camping and hiking through the woods in the book. Wondered how they would handle that in the movie, and I think it worked exceptionally well. The cinematography was a big part of that -- it somehow felt sweeping & epic, yet appropriately isolated at the same time. There was also plenty of action to break things up… which, I suppose, was also the case in the book… so really, let’s all just shut up and stop complaining about the camping already. It’s not so bad.
NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM IS GOING TO KICK SO MCH ASS IN PART 2 -- He was only in one scene in part one, mouthing off to the Death Eaters on the Hogwarts Express, and it elicited cheers from the crowd. When his heroic character arc is fulfilled in part 2… sweet jeebus, it’s going to rule.
Harry & Hermione’s Dance -- What a brilliant addition this was. Harry and Hermione have always been close friends, and this scene added more depth to their relationship than the books ever did. Their friendship has always been somewhat physical -- holding hands when scared, hugging when sad, etc. But this dance was something so much more intimate and personal and the fact that it very nearly resulted in a kiss -- well, let’s face it, they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, very possibly on the brink of death without ever seeing their friends (or anyone) again -- why wouldn’t they consider, even for the briefest of seconds, taking things to another level? But it didn’t happen and the true power of their friendship was clear. Plus the dance was just plain fun. Meanwhile, on the other hand, there’s…
Ron & Hermione -- Tension between them is palpable at this point. Their big moment in Part 2 is going to raise the goddamn roof. But I digress.
Godric’s Hollow -- What a gamut of emotions I experienced here. First I was tearing up as Harry stood over his parents’ grave. Then it turned into a goddamn horror movie when Bathilda Bagshot appeared. Holy shit, that was creepy. And when Nagini revealed himself and all hell broke loose, I nearly shat myself.
Ron’s Horcrux Vision -- In the book, when Voldemort’s soul tried to corrupt Ron’s mind in a last-ditch effort to save itself, it was f’d up. But in the movie, actually seeing these demonic visions, complete with naked Harry & Hermione snogging and groping each other, it was just… wow. This scene alone added more depth to Ron’s character than the previous six films combined.
The Return of Dobby -- Dobby was kind of annoying in CHAMBER OF SECRETS (still the weakest installment, both in book & movie form), but he is a key character and it was odd that they chose not to bring him back in later films. Had to bring him back for HP7, though, and they did it very well, having him join forces with Kreacher to apprehend Mundungus (which I don’t think happened in the book…?). Then of course his heroic, fateful rescue of Harry & Co. in Malfoy Manor. I admit it, I shed a tear for Dobby, a free elf who only cared about helping his friends! (That being said, I’m still glad they left out the S.P.E.W. / house elf stuff in GOBLET OF FIRE.)
The Tale of the Three Brothers -- I’ve been wielding the words “perfect” and “brilliant” throughout this review like they’re going out of style, but they are just so fitting… and here’s another example. If Chris Columbus had directed this film, they probably would have simply showed Hermione sitting there reading the story -- instead, we got this breathtaking animated sequence. David Yates, you are the man.
Malfoy Manor -- One of the my favorite scenes in any of the books, and it was supremely awesome on screen. Bellatrix torturing Hermione is intense… Draco’s uncertainty… the overall sense of “holy shit, how the fuck are they going to get out of this??” even though we are well aware of how they get out of it. Tremendous climax to the first half of this story!
Heh, I guess that pretty much covers everything, doesn’t it? Honestly, I can’t even really think of anything specific that DIDN’T work. Kinda would’ve liked to have seen “Kreacher’s Tale,” in which he told the story of how he was forced to help Regulus find the locket Horcrux. Also, I really liked the scene in the book where, as the Dursleys are leaving, Dudley finally shows Harry some respect. Those are the only two omissions from the book that stick out in my mind (not counting the Dumbledore family/Grindelwald backstory, which I believe they will cover in the Part 2.)
Oh, I also kind of wish that they would have given a better send-off to Mad-Eye. I realize that in the book, he died “off screen.” But this is a MOVIE. Easily could’ve thrown in a shot of him going down in a blaze of glory. I hope they keep this in mind during the big Battle of Hogwarts (where even more major deaths happened off-screen in the book) -- we’ve grown to know, love AND hate these characters over the past decade in action, and if they must fall, we’re going to want to SEE it happen. But again, these are minor quibbles.
In fact, if I had to pick the two worst things about HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1, they’d be: (1) As much as I love the existing GOBLET OF FIRE, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE films, now I kinda wish they could go back and redo them as two-parters, and (2) We have to wait eight long months for the epic conclusion! I want to watch it noooowww!
But until then, let’s talk about what we’ve got. What are some of your favorites parts? Thoughts on what we’ve seen and what’s to come? Random, incoherent gushing over this epic slice of awesomeness? Please share!