Harry Potter 7 pt1 – A Letdown with High Hopes

SPOILERS!!!!  You have been warned…

This is it. It all ends here. Part of your childhood and mine ends this Friday. We must say goodbye to the Boy Who Lived – the boy who taught us to believe in ourselves, to be courageous in the face of overwhelming odds, and to understand the power of love. I am not sure I can fully explain the depth of my passion and my appreciation for J.K. Rowling and her amazing fantasy which has captured my heart and the hearts of millions around the world. But I shall try. I shall try 🙂 LUMOS!!!

Leading up to this review, I was really nervous because i thought I might have to give as sub-5 rating to a Potter film. Seriously. My first viewing of HP 7.1 at the midnight showing in Oakhurst, CA left me sorely disappointed. It wasn’t bad but I had been expecting a 10. Instead I gave it a 4 that night. Seriously.

Luckily I decided that one viewing wasn’t enough to give a fair review. So, I watched it again….yesterday. Yup. Took my time on that one. Yet it paid off. No, I can’t say I discovered my original opinion to be incorrect. However I did made a break-through which helped me understand why I felt how I did. So with that I enter into the review I have been waiting years to write.

First, what I liked.

This was BY FAR the best film of the series VISUALLY. It was gorgeous to look at. I loved the color choices of deep blues and greens for the dark Ministry, the bold whites of the snowy hills of Dean, the amber cloth for the intimacy of the trio’s tent. The canted angles, the effects for both spells and disapparations, the snake! Oh my goodness! That whole scene with the Fake Bathilda was fantastic! The way the light in the kid’s room played around – Masterful!

A few more notes on the visuals. I liked how David Yates figured out that it isn’t about showing us what happened verbatim to book. In particular, I refer to the trio’s disapparation from the Ministry of Magic which ends in the woods. Yates makes the right call there in showing us how it would have seemed from Harry’s perspective, not how it plays out in the book. Thus we, the audience, follow the action as well as see it from our hero’s POV.

I also love the cinematography which had several nice devices that connected the film. After the apparition from the Ministry and the one to Shell Cottage at the end, the first shot was straight down and then panned up to show those who had made it.  I thought it was a nice visual connection between major events of the story. The other that I noticed was the revolving shot, used at both the Seven Potters scene and the first run-in with the Snatchers. It was just a beautiful display of technical prowess on the filmmakers side, and it represented magic to fans and cinematographers alike.

I will say it again, this film LOOKED AMAZING!!! I also loved some of the changes they made, such as Hedwig’s death. I was nervous when I heard a rumor that it doesn’t go down the way it does in the books but Yates gave us something far better. Same with the locket. I know others have said it so I will be suffice to say that he got it absolutely right. And finally, though it was a gutsy call, the animated version of the Three Brothers story was a nice touch on a beautiful film. Good calls that paid off well for the film.

Now…having said that, I have to get to why this film fell short for me.

It all comes down to something I discovered in my second viewing.  My issue from the beginning has been with the pacing of Deathly Hallows pt.1.  It seemed to be a series of vignettes rather than one complete and connected story. In some places that really worked such as the opening scene with the trio taking quiet, private moments to reflect and prepare for what they must go through. However, it diminishes the emotional impact of the story and left me with a disconnected, uninspiring ending.  It killed the mojo, you might say, of the film.

HOWEVER…

I think I know what has caused this.  It is the struggle of all adaptations from book to film to visually capture the essence of the work on screen.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt.1 takes this fight and goes a bit too far.  It visually represents that which we already know is coming.  At this point, most of the viewers are fully caught up on the story so instead of being surprised by each and every twist and turn of the movie, we simply check off each item on our list as the film gets there.  Obviously I don’t mean this literally, but mentally we are simply fulfilling our expectations rather than exceeding them.  Thus, the film seems to lack that which I was hoping for – something spectacular and new – something magical.

Let me give some examples.  The scene which I was most looking forward to most in part 1 was the break-in at the Ministry of Magic. While I thought the “During” was fantastic, I was really disappointed that they didn’t make it the planned out heist it was in the book.  The trio spent weeks preparing themselves for the task, yet in the film they just get the idea and make a dash for it without much preparation.  While I understand the need to cut down on the time, and think the choice works for comprehension, the scene becomes a “well why not” rather than something crafted and connected to HP & Crew’s ultimate journey.

Another example:  The Ending. I’ll just jump right into it. The reason the ending doesn’t work falls to the expected and the actual. As Pirates 2 taught us, if you are going to split a story you need to have what I shall call a Strong Emotional Question Mark. Here’s what I mean: you need two elements to drive me, the audience, to see the second film. First you need a strong emotional moment, such as the death of “witty Jack” or the understanding that Luke must face his Father and the Emperor. Or….say….the death of a beloved character in tragic fashion and emotional turmoil in the protagonist’s mind?

The ending of Part 1 didn’t work because of the SECOND MAJOR FLAW with the film: Yates totally missed the major conflict of the book.  Since Alfonso Cuarón, Potter directors have sought to tell Harry’s story rather than follow the books verbatim.  The focus is on Harry and his mind, his struggles.  Having said that, David Yates simply misses what the major battle in Harry’s mind is for the first half of the final book.  Harry is not nearly as focused on beating Voldemort as he is on the internal struggle of:

HALLOWS VERSUS HORCRUXES!!!

When I heard that the split was to be after the escape from Malfoy Manor and the death of Dobby, I was ecstatic. It is the perfect splitting point because it is the turning point of the book and a major character point for Harry.  Dealing with the death of his beloved childhood friend, struggling with the leadership role he has been thrust into, still reeling from the harrowing escape, Harry is MOST torn up by his indecision over whether to fly out to get the Elder wand from Dumbledore before Voldy gets it or whether to stay the course and continue to seek and destroy Horcruxes.  THAT is what his mind is running through in that moment.

Instead, we get a super sad moment at which we all cried and then a scene which made little sense (btw- Mugglecast got it right when they criticized the tomb as “designed by Ikea”. It just looks stupid.) There wasn’t any connection between the two.  I wrote immediately after seeing it a second time that “I am scared and curious about what happens now that Voldy has the wand. But is Harry?”  Because we don’t see him wrestle with this, we have no clue whether he cares about it at all.  And then the transition from the emotional high(er) point of Voldemort getting the wand to the credits was dreadful, which causes everyone I watch it with to say, “so that’s it?” Seriously.  They build it up to be huge, climactic point and then let it drop completely. We get a tangent graph of emotion that really doesn’t work at all towards inspiring me to see Part 2. It had the emotions but didn’t execute.

Dobby = UP. Drop. Voldy & Wand = Up. Drop.

It becomes a case of “then they…..then they…..then they…..” It’s like a bad “What I did on my Summer Vacation” report. They spend time on scenes that they don’t really need to (the chase, the fight in the cafe, finding Mundungus) and cut several important or at least interesting bits (Resolution with the Dursley’s, Wormtail’s death). Ultimately the vignette style of the film really doesn’t work and leaves me sorely wanting. But enough about that.

I wanted to take just a moment to talk acting.  I know there have been lots of comments on just about every actors work in this film so I will keep it brief.

Dan – Uggh. Dan. Buddy. You have come a long way from the little kid that you were back in Sorcerer’s Stone. You have grown quite a bit and have become quite the theatre man. But when you are in the movie biz it isn’t about the 90% of your body that matters. It is the 10% which makes up your face that must be mastered for the camera. I love him and know he loves the role but I can never see it in his EYES! Ron leaves, his wand snaps, Ron comes back – at no point do his eyes sell to me that he cares. To be honest that puts him one step above line reading, which is really sad.  However I must give him his due for the scene with Dobby. That was by far the best acting he has ever done in the films.  His sorrow poured out of every orifice (but particularly his eyes), comes through the lens, and delves into my soul. I hope he can take that moment of total emersion and learn to channel that for any film acting he does in the future.

Rupert Grint. The first time I watched it I was mad at the director, writer and editor because they made him a form of comic relief, robbing him of the depth of character Jo had given him. However on my second screening I got it – that’s just Ron. He is the ever doting friend who cheers us all up. And when his moment comes to shine (the fight with Harry) he rocks my socks off! I got goosebumps at how deeply angry he was! You could tell he was all in it and I came to appreciate his humor for what is was – his very nature. Great job, Rupert!

Emma Watson steals the show by far! Every line is delivered perfectly and in every scene you can see the depth of Hermione’s character through her performance. Her sorrow goes deep in, her joy muted beautifully by her anxiety and stress. I think her shining moment was at the grave of Harry’s parents with her little hesitation before laying her head on his shoulder. Such a real moment! Sorting Hats off to you, Emma!

One final note – I am not a fan of this Voldemort. Ralph Fiennes is a great actor but Voldemort is described as “part snake” and I see none of that from his character.  He comes off as too human, which makes hating him a little difficult. His cruelty is muted (see – taking Lucius’s wand) and his anger is more comical than terrifying. I just wish he were more…villian-like:

Terrifying!!!

So with that I will make one last critic and then I will rap it up.  I know it is a contested issue so again I will try to keep it brief but I must address it:  The Awkward Dance.

In case you don’t know what I mean, there is a scene between Harry and Hermione which seems to have divided fans. It is just after Ron leaves and Hermione is in a slump. She and Harry sit in the tent one night listening to a song on the radio, and Harry decides to try to cheer her up. So he goes over, gets her up, and starts to dance with her. What is so controversial about this is some (like me) think this is too flirtatious, too romantic for the pair.  Here is why I think it doesn’t work: from the perspective of a filmmaker and a film reviewer, I have seen this scene many times:

  • Boy and Girl sitting alone, both a little sad.
  • One decides to cheer the other up, so they start to dance slowly.
  • Other joins in laughing.
  • Pace quickens and they laugh some more.
  • Finally they end up slow-dancing very close to each other, followed by the make-up and make-out bit.

That is exactly how the scene between Harry and Hermione plays out, which leads the audience to believe it will follow the natural progression of that sequence – them kissing and/or having sex…which is really awkward because we all know they don’t end up together.  I can see what they were going for (and this might have been made less had Dan’s face showed his true and pure intentions) but ultimately it just doesn’t work.

So to recap — the Visuals are phenomenal and right where they should be, the Pacing is vignette-esque and not the spectacular thing which we want it to be, the Acting is best from the supporting cast but lacking from the Leads. I went in expecting to be blown away by a spectacular display of cinematic magic that would capture my imagination as the book did, but ultimately felt it was only just…passible. Decent. Meh.

FINAL ASSESSMENT — 6/10

I truly wish I could give it a better review, because it deserves to be great, but I just can’t say that it was magical. Sorry. I am still excited about Part 2 (thus the “High Hopes”) and know it will deliver the catharsis we all need. Though I won’t be there opening night, I know we can expect great thing from you, Mr. Yates. Great things 😉

*****************

This past week a book arrived in the mail for me, one that I ordered as soon as I had found it – Dear Mr. Potter: Letters of Love, Loss, & Magic. It was created by fans like us, trying to do exactly what I am trying here.  We all want to express, to record our love for this series so that our kids someday might begin to understand this incredible global phenomenon and how it has touched each of us. The forward of that book ends thus: “You have created a generation, Jo. Let this book serve as proof.” I couldn’t agree more. We are the Potter Generation, and I am proud to claim that title.  I look forward to not an end, but a beginning of some new, grand adventure. Let this review stand as proof to that. Stay thirsty for adventure, fellow members of Dumbledore’s Army, and let us send Harry out with the bang he so rightly deserves – with wands held high, happy thoughts in our heads, screaming “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” one last time.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Thanks for checking out my review!  Please let me know what you think in the comments, feel free to debate and share your story there, and join me again for my analysis of the trailer for Part 2.

Thank you so much and I’ll see you on the other side of July 15.

Mischief Managed!

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Author: Tyler D. Welch

Filmmaker, Storyteller, Scholar

4 thoughts on “Harry Potter 7 pt1 – A Letdown with High Hopes”

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