Tue
Jul 5 2011 3:17pm

Rewatching the Potter Films: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

And so the Harry Potter film rewatch comes to a close. It’s been quite an experience, with a couple large-ish surprises: one, I had remembered Goblet of Fire kind of fondly as a movie, only to discover to that was actually godawful (I probably would have failed a field sobriety test when I saw it in theaters, to be fair), and two, the David Yates movies—Order of the Phoenix onward—really are remarkably tight pieces of mainstream studio filmmaking.

Deathly Hallows Part 1 picks up right where Half-Blood Prince left off in terms of economical adaptations that take advantage of what cinema has to offer storytelling rather than simply photocopying the book. I reviewed it upon its release last November, which means less time has passed since the first viewing than it has with any of the other movies in the series. Despite that relatively short passage of time, it still was, necessarily, a different experience.

The first viewing of Deathly Hallows Part 1 left me extremely impatient to get on with the rest of the story. The decision to break Deathly Hallows up into two movies annoyed me at first, it seeming a bit of a money grab on the part of Warner Bros, but gradually I came around to the silver-lining perspective that two movies meant less had to be cut from the book, which I adored. That being said, the first time I saw it I was simultaneously impressed by how well it was directed, sardonically amused by the fact that we had to be introduced to Bill Weasley and Mundungus Fletcher for the first time due to cuts in the previous movies, and only disappointed really that it had to end.

Rewatching it, I was struck by just how skillful David Yates’ direction really is. It would have been nice if it hadn’t taken until the sixth movie for the series to find its cinematic voice, but the fact that it eventually did deserves recognition. The fact that Yates hitting his stride leads to there being a car chase—a car chase! Oh loving, generous gods—in a Harry Potter movie, and such a nicely shot and cut one at that, makes me very happy. After all, if Hagrid is going to be driving Harry around in Sirius Black’s old flying motorcycle... it doesn’t just have to fly, you know? Using it as a motorcycle is perfectly acceptable.

Another scene toward the beginning of the picture that jumped out is the scene when, after the Death Eaters break up Bill and Fleur’s wedding and Hermione zaps the trio to a London cafe, the two Death Eaters show up and start a ruckus, and how said ruckus feels like a gun fight. All too often, in previous Potter movies, scenes of wizard dueling were too reliant on actors squaring off, holding their wands out, and making determined, constipated faces while dumb-looking CG electricity crackled all over the place. The cutting was a little sluggish, I imagine because the producers were saying “we spent so much on these special effects, let’s get our money’s worth,” and this led to inert action scenes. This cafe shootout is deliberately shot and cut as if the Death Eaters and our heroes are firing guns at each other, and it has the same visceral impact.

Because of what happens in the part of the book that Deathly Hallows Part 1 covers, there’s necessarily a bit of a slow stretch where the action is pretty much Harry, Hermione, and (for part of the time) Ron wandering around the English countryside wondering where to start looking for Horcruxes. If anything, this sequence benefits from being trimmed a bit in the movie, as Rowling handled it nicely in the book, but Ron was grumpy for longer and I’ve personally never been particularly fond of a grumpy Ron.

Ron’s (temporary) departure from the cohort leads to a scene that I found rather sweet the first time I saw it, and actually kind of brilliant the second time around: the part where Harry puts some music on the wizard radio to cheer Hermione up and then gets her to dance in an attempt to cheer her up. Since the first movie — which went into production somewhere around the time Goblet of Fire hit bookstores — the movies have been dying to pair off Harry and Hermione romantically. It’s ancient movie wisdom: the main hero and the main heroine are the ones who get together. It has ever been thus. It didn’t matter that the whole Yule Ball fiasco in Goblet of Fire might as well have been in a chapter entitled “Ron & Hermione Like Each Other And Are Eventually Going To Become A Couple But He’s Too Immature To Realize It Yet,” the movies were deadset on nudging Harry and Hermione together. The dance scene, coming as it does in the first part of the last movie, functions as kind of a tribute to this amusingly thwarted plot, as well as being an expression of Harry wanting to cheer his friend up. Fittingly for both motivations, it doesn’t work.

The movie itself does, though. While a number of lovely bits from the book were cut for length, their absence resonated less the second time, because while I’ve maintained this in less elegant form for some time, this rewatch has led to me to totally embrace and apply to the Potter movies what Sir Ian McKellen once said about Lord of the Rings: “the book is the book and the film is the film.” Compromises must be made with regards to one’s favorite parts of any book when adapting it into a movie, all the more so when they’re as packed with detail as the Potter books. Personally, I’ll accept things like losing Kreacher going from mean old Death Eater-sympathizing ghoul to lovable old breakfast-making curmudgeon (and don’t get me wrong, I loved that) just as long as the movies don’t have stuff like Harry and Hermione dating.

On the whole, given Part 1’s success as a piece of filmmaking, I’m looking forward to Part 2. The acting, as always (another surprising realization in this rewatch), is first rate, with Dan Radcliffe having progressed from competent to legitimately impressive over the course of the series, and Rupert Grint and Emma Watson progressing from erratic to solid. The grownups haven’t much to do in this installment, with so much of the movie given over to the kids wandering around on the Horcrux hunt, with series newcomer Rhys Ifans a bit normal as Xenophilius Lovegood, and Ralph Fiennes a more Ralph Fiennes-y Voldemort than he had been before. Helena Bonham Carter puts in another solidly insane turn as the loathsome Bellatrix Lestrange. But, of course, there’s always Part 2 for the old folks (and, not a spoiler to anyone who’s read the book, but man am I looking forward to seeing Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix, that promises to be great fun).

The rewatch ends here, but Part 2 remains. Fittingly, I’ll end on a bit of a cliffhanger, though not as dramatic a one as Voldemort finding the Elder Wand (which worked really well the second time around). For the thrilling, edge-of-your-seat conclusion, stay tuned for the review of Deathly Hallows Part 2!


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

11 comments
Edgewalker
1. Edgewalker
Respectfully, I couldn't disagree more. I long defended the decision to cut the book into 2 movies, but after watching this, I was furious. It was long, slow and boring, full of too many pointless action sequences and red herrings that did little to propel the story.

I'm not one to get excited about the movies, but I always go and always end up enjoying myself. But this one I hated.
James Whitehead
2. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I was OK with the decision to make the final book a two part film. I couldn't see how they could do it otherwise.

This also one of my favorite films in the HP cycle. Not for any particular reason really, just felt it captured the feeling of the book really well.

I was sad to 'see' Bill Nighy die, even offscreen, as Scrimgeour.

Kato
Noneo Yourbusiness
3. Longtimefan
While it is true that "the book is the book and the movie is the movie" I have to agree with Edgewalker that this movie in two parts could have been a bit less visually drifty and a bit more story based.

There are some very good and dramatic scenes in the film and David Yates has an excellent visual command in most cases but he tends to enjoy the longing glance over the tight layered storytelling that Guillermo Del Toro favored in Prisoner of Azkaban.

I am all for a beautiful shot and I enjoy parts of this film. (one has to as it is made and will not change.) I cannot however just accept this kind of filmmaking with out some critical observation.

Not that I think anyone making a film will read this but there is still that part of my mind that thinks any unspoken concern is silent consent and I just cannot fully get behind taking a very dense story and streamlining it to the point that parts of the movie are just drifting around visually when those minutes could have been used for telling the freaking story.

This was not an original work, it is based on a very well read series. There is story there. Lots of story and while it is true that some of it may have to get cut for time constraints it is not very comforting to find the parts are cut when other parts that are included are a bit drawn out for the visual feel.

I am very glad that it is a movie in two parts. I kind of hoped that they would have come to that conclusion earlier as I felt that Half-Blood Prince could have been filmed in two parts as well.

I do not hate the movie but I am dissapointed in the Director's lingering hand. It happens.

So looking forward to the second half this month. Thanks for writing the rewatch. It has really been a fun read even if we do not always agree on the details we can agree it is a fun series of films. :)
Danny Bowes
4. DannyBowes
I'm glad you all liked these posts. This rewatch was quite an experience. (But, Longtimefan, I hate to do this to you when you've been so nice, but Prisoner of Azkaban was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, not Guillermo del Tor....though the idea of Guillermo del Toro directing Harry Potter movies is quite a good one.)
Dave Thompson
5. DKT
I honestly think David Yates was the best thing that happened to this franchise. It has some nice moments before with the Defense Against the Dark Arts Guest Stars and different directors (specifically: Cuaron), but wow, Yates really started to blow it open with Order of the Phoenix, and I thought cinematically, Part 1 of Deathly Hallows looked and felt so much more real than any of the other movies and directors had managed. The kids have almost grown up. I loved the direction and cinematography, and although I was disappointed when it ended because I had six months to go until the next one, I was so excited to have a next one to look forward to.
Noneo Yourbusiness
6. Longtimefan
Thanks for the correction. I was typing with distractions and confused my Directors. I have no problem with admiting I mad a mistake.
Eric Scharf
7. EricScharf
I still think Yates could have spared 45 seconds to let Dudley shake Harry's hand.
Zayne Forehand
9. ShiningArmor
Yay Danny, you and I finally agree ! :) I was very confused initially about how book fans were throwing so much hate towards DH1. I see their point now but still don't agree.

I've enjoyed being with these characters so much and since all 3 actors have grown completely into their roles, I just loved spending time with them in this movie, even during the slower parts.

All that said, it doesn't mean that the book fan in me wasn't a little disappointed by a couple of points. Mostly, it was things that I wished they would have changed from the books due to not having to stick strictly with Harry's perspective like the books. I wish we could have seen Mad Eye die on screen and I wish that battle overall could have been shown from more perspectives. This has me concerned about two characters (Lupin and Tonks) deaths not being put on screen in the film either. This was my biggest complaint about the book was those two dying off screen, mainly because of who they left behind.

Overall though, I really enjoyed every second of this movie. I saw it at midnight initially and didn't have any problems staying awake for the whole thing. The skirmish in the diner was fantastic and I thought the chase scene in the woods was an excellent addition.

Danny, these rewatch posts have been great. Thanks for taking the time to give us all a great perspective on the movies.
Edgewalker
10. sofrina
more than anything, that dance scene illuminates the importance of ron in the trio. he was separated from them for a couple of months at least and during that time harry and hermione were completely unable to fill the void. they barely spoke to eachother. ron weasley brings the fun and forces stern hermione and brooding harry to lighten up. when harry and ron tiffed in GOF, harry spent a lot more time in the library b/c that is hermione's idea of a good time.

their's really is an equal three-part friendship. the hole left by ron weasley was only filled by his return.

the best part of this movie is that they (mostly) leave the kid games behind and treat a deadly serious situation with respect. the movie acknowledges that death eaters duel to kill. they aren't wielding schoolyard jinxes against people. people are dying and expelliarmus just won't cut it anymore.
Cait Glasson
11. CaitieCat
I actually like that there was a progression of directors, whatever the qualities of the movies themselves: for me, there's a clear movement from the very YA first movie, a sort of almost cartoony quality, that slowly grows up and becomes more realistic and frightening, culminating in the DH pair. For me, this successfully mirrors the progress of Harry's own understanding and sense of wonder at his introduction to the wizarding world. It's like we started off with the kids' cover of the books, and slowly have come to the adult-covered DH.

Thanks for the wonderful re-watch, I'm very much looking forward to resuming watching the Deathly Hallows.
Phil Boswell
12. NotACat
@Eric #7, there is a deleted scene (which I found on YouTube) showing Dudley defying Vernon to shake Harry's hand. As to why they deleted it…

It turns out that Harry Melling who plays Dudley has managed an impressive loss of weight, to the point where they needed to clothe him in a massive "fat-suit" to even approximate Dudley's build. You can easily tell this watching the clip, and even worse you can hear the suit squeaking.

Maybe it was just me, but I could swear Dan and Harry were hard put to it not to giggle throughout.

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