The seventh Harry Potter film was split into two because it was decided that practically nothing from the book could be cut, resulting in a 500 page script that would have run 5 1/2 hours.
I dunno. A five hour final film sounds awesome to me.
The result leaves part the first remarkably close to the book. Very little of the plot is sacrificed, very little is artistically altered unless the desired affect is something more cinematic. It’s honestly better for it in my mind, though as a movie it’s a bit jarring because you’re immediate response on finishing it is hey, where’s the rest?
The opening may be one of my favorite bits in the whole film because it perfectly distills down essential information through visuals, allowing a movie to be a movie. We see Rufus Scrimgeour insist on the Ministry’s strength even as Death Eaters are wrecking havoc, we see Harry watch the Durlseys drive away and Ron take a moment for himself away from his family. We watch Hermione erasing her parents’ memories of her, rather than hearing about it later, and it is so much more effective. Watching her disappear from family photographs, watching her parents grow vacant as she holds back tears, nothing could better illustrate the pain of those actions. It messes me up just thinking about that scene.
Poor Harry Melling was given special face prosthetics to pad him out for Dudley again, and all his stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. The final words from Aunt Petunia in the deleted scenes are a nice alternate take on how she might have handled her departure, and the lines written for her are excellent—an acknowledgement of the damage done to her family by these magical wars, visited upon her by a world that she could never take part in. On the other hand, I do prefer Rowling’s version, as it is more in keeping with her characters and themes for the series.
I remember assuming that the sequence with the seven Harrys was going to be cut, and was elated when they kept it. The choice really shows off Daniel Radcliffe’s performance chops; his body language as each decoy changes into more Harry-appropriate outfits is hilarious and worth the price of admission alone. A decade of acting in these films has led up to this moment, and I am so here for it.
Only problem is, since they do omit the bit with Tonks’s parents, Harry is careening toward the Burrow. You know, the same house that Death Eaters set on fire in the last movie? The house that should probably not even be standing because everyone was standing around watching it burn down, the house that was clearly super easy for the bad guys to locate and infiltrate? All I’m saying is that we were owed a throwaway line to that end. Something about extra protections or what-have-you. Especially since they show up right at the end of the wedding a day or two later, like it’s no biggie. Pretty easy to get in. Pretty obvious whoops there.
Instead of having Harry say that he thinks he should leave and getting shouted down by people, the film has him try to escape all stealthy. It kind of goes against Harry’s character, but it’s nice to see Ron get a chance to be Harry’s best friend for a change and pull him back. Then it’s all about wedding prep, and a visit from Scrimgeour. Bill Nighy’s portrayal of the man, though sadly limited to one substantial scene, is like a master class in character acting. He imbues Scrimgeour with just enough to make him fascinating to watch without distracting from the trio. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% book-accurate (he’s missing some of that simmering anger), but I love what he does all the same.
The wedding is adorable, but Krum’s dance with Hermione was another bit that ended up cut from the final product. Boo. The dance done by Luna and her father was reportedly developed by Evanna Lynch herself, taking Rowling’s description of the dance (keeping wrackspurts away) to heart. While I understand the desire to not have other actors playing Harry throughout a good portion of the film, the choice not to have him disguised by Polyjuice Potion feels a bit reckless, both here and in Godric’s Hollow. The moment where Kingsley’s Patronus appears to warn everyone out gives me chills the same way the book does, so that’s all well done, and so is the trio’s escape to my mind. Watching them walk down a Muggle street in their wedding garb really throws their displacement into sharp relief, and the whole thing is paced out well from the time they run off to the eerie moment of quiet when they finally make it to Grimmauld Place.
It’s too bad that more couldn’t have been done with Kreacher, though having him give his infodump about Regulus would have slowed the movie down too much. The whole Ministry sequence is expertly done. Watching other actors try to emulate what Daniel, Rupert, and Emma do is such fun, and in a film with plenty of heartache, it’s always nice to get something of a break. Having the callback to Harry’s “I mustn’t tell lies” throw down with Umbridge is equally satisfying.
In terms of emotional beats this film is harrowing, but spot on. And because the trio have grown up playing these roles, they’ve never been more comfortable in them. Hermione’s distress over Ron’s injury when they first escape into the woods is raw and full of panic, effectively communicating the difference between being physically and logically prepared for this journey versus having true emotional readiness to handle turmoil. Ron’s bitter moods and Harry’s silence, the pervading sense of isolation and loneliness in the wilderness, all of these things are even easier to communicate on film. Because we don’t get those occasional breaks of mundanity or even the distraction of other travelers the way we do on the page, the “camping section” feels even more dour, more empty.
But I can’t help but wondering if the effectiveness of the film in this regard only contributes to the fan complaint of Deathly Hallows being ‘all about camping in the woods.’ There is a lot more focus given to the woodsy section by breaking the story into two films, and I feel like it gives more credence to the idea of the book being clunky and slow-going.
We get Harry’s flashes of Voldy-vision, which culminates in a glimpse of Grindelwald stealing the Elder Wand back when he was a young man, and that’s when you realize that it’s Jamie Campbell Bower playing baby Grindelwald and no wonder Albus had a crush, how dare the universe visit him with such cruelty. I’m pretty sure he never heard a word of what Grindelwald said about taking over the world, he just nodded and blinked hazily at him for two months. Right, Hallows, mm-hm, greater good stuff, yeah, I’m there, I’m with you….
Ron flips out and leaves, and that leads to what might be the most awkward moment in Potter shipping history, where Harry and Hermione handle their devastation over losing him by dancing in a tent to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I have diametrically opposed feelings about the sequence. Because to a certain extent, this scene is beautiful. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are great friends in real life, and that bond utterly shines here—you can’t help but adore them both. It’s also an excellent way to impart how loss impacts people in trying times; we have this perfect moment where they both forget that they’ve essentially lost someone, but as soon as the music is over, the magic is gone. It was a brief reprieve from grief that can’t bear up under how terrible everything is, and they both know that, but it was worth it to have one moment where they could be a comfort to each other. (Which is a sight better than Hermione crying at night while Harry pretends not to hear her.) But then we run into the problem of romantic film cues, and this scene manages to hit every. single. one. Your average audience member, especially one who hasn’t read the books, will only get a romantic setup from this moment. Even I’m tempted to do so because Radcliffe and Watson have great chemistry as people and actors.
We can’t fault ourselves as an audience for seeing the cliches that have been hammered into us by Hollywood since the dawn of movie time. But it bugs me so much because I don’t want to be bothered by it when I watch that scene. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge proponent for the elevated friendship that Harry and Hermione get in these movies, and I want to be able to enjoy that moment without the niggling sensation that comes from standard Hollywood tropes. But it’s there. And boy did it get fans arguing, as though this scene alone negated everything that had been built between Ron and Hermione in the movies and books together. I can’t fault them for it, though.
Harry’s moment at the graves of his parents is another well-rendered point in the film that hits me every time. But Nagini-as-Bathilda-Bagshot is way over the top in my opinion. If the book doesn’t go far out of its way to assure you there’s nothing fishy going on, then the film might as well put a neon sign over this old woman’s head saying: PLZ ENJOY EVIL HERE. It’s just too much, and doesn’t really add much to the already-creepy atmosphere.
The retrieval of the sword and Ron’s return contain some glorious special effects, and did originally lead to the suspicion that the film might get a higher rating for nudity (since locket!Harry and Hermione appear to be naked during their sexy kiss). I honestly love some of the rewrites here. Hermione rushing Harry to get her wand back and his terrified retreat, Ron’s discussion of that “little ball of light” that went into his heart, and Harry teasing him about it later. The dialogue has an extra touch of realism to it that comes from having Ron explain far less upon his return. It helps that Rupert Grint is great at playing the part of the besotted puppy, who would now prefer to follow Hermione Granger around for the rest of his life.
Moving onto Lovegood residence, while Rhys Ifans is an excellent Xenophilius, my eyes are only for the animation of the The Tale of the Three Brothers. Guh. It’s so gorgeous it makes me angry. It also reminds me a bit of the animation we get in Hellboy 2, though it wasn’t done by the same effects house, it seems. They should just take all the tales from Beetle the Bard and animate them in the same style with Emma Watson narrating. I would happily buy a set of those.
The foot chase sequence following this reminds me that I would like more foot chase sequences in films overall, especially now that we’ve reached an era in which action scenes usually ignore common human mobility in favor of something a bit more super. FOOT CHASES ARE RAD. Anywho. In other appreciations, it’s nice that we don’t have to have that “Harry is an idiot who said Voldemort’s name” moment, and just move straight into peril. But I still hate watching the Snatchers get all up in Hermione’s face just as much as I hate Greyback leering over her in the books. Nope. Don’t want it.
A word on the torture sequence at Malfoy Manor: it turns out that the choice to have Bellatrix carve the word ‘Mudblood’ on Hermione’s arm was something that Helena Bonham-Carter and Emma Watson worked out in their rehearsals. Apparently, the sequence was so intense to film that Bonham-Carter approached Watson afterward to make sure they were okay. It’s a smart addition in my opinion, and for more reason than one. First, it makes it clearer to the audience how Hermione is being hurt in a way that doesn’t involve a brutal (and unnecessary) beating or endless curse torture. Second, it gives her an interesting parallel to Harry, being similar to the injury he sustained at Umbridge’s hands. Third, it has a ring of truth to it, a similarity to the tattoos given to those in concentration camps—it’s even placed similarly on her arm, as an identifying marker. It’s deeply disturbing to witness, difficult to stomach, but works on many levels to fully impart the horror of their situation.
And then Dobby returns.
He showed up at the start of the movie alongside Kreacher and Mundungus, of course, but here is his last stand, as it were. There’s something deeply satisfying about having Dobby come back after all this time. Because his part was cut from the other films he might have appeared in, his return is more of a homecoming, a moment where someone who was formerly an important part of Harry’s story miraculously appears to him when he’s most needed. It feels a little extra magical that way. Which in turn makes everything hurt more when we lose him.
Daniel Radcliffe acts the hell out of this scene too. I’m crying, you’re crying, everyone’s crying. (I don’t care if you didn’t cry, now you’re crying anyway. Join the group cry.) It makes sense for the film to end here, as it is the final moment of respite these characters get before launching themselves back into the thick of it. They bury Dobby, and know that the plan is almost resolved.
Of course, they bury Dobby in sand, which is ridiculous. But we’ll give it to them, just this once.
No. Never mind, we won’t. They bury Dobby in sand, like they don’t know what sand is and how it works, and the only thing that prevents yet another awful movie ending was the super bright choice to instead close on Voldemort possessing the Elder Wand. Literally saves the whole movie.
Because now we have a reason to be scared.