Harry Potter Retrospective Part VII - "The Deathly Hallows Part I"

With the end of the "Harry Potter" film franchise quickly approaching, I've decided to dedicate The Soap Box Office to this wonder filled series for the next week. We'll call it the "Harry Potter Retrospective" because I really like the word "retrospective." Each day, I'll briefly take a look at one of the films, compare them to each other (and the books, too), and delve into my personal experience with each. I invite you to join in the discussion as we prepare for the final chapter of Rowling's wizarding world.

"The Deathly Hallows Part I"

I can't even begin to describe to you, dear readers, how happy I was with Warner Brothers' decision to cut the final "Potter" book into two parts. Some who didn't read the books complained that it was just a gimmick designed to bring the studio an extra $800 million (I'm sure that factor didn't hurt). But fans of Rowling's tremendous series were thrilled because, not only did it mean an extension of the Potter experience, it meant more of the book could make it to the film. Personally, I would have been happy to have "Order of the Phoenix" and "Half-Blood Prince" cut into two films each as well if it meant properly conveying more of the book's story. I stood in line for approximately four hours outside a local theater, braving the cold and annoying teenagers in order to be one of the first to see the "DH Part 1" and I was oh so glad I did.

My experience with the "Deathly Hallows" book was a new one. It was the first book that I read "live", so to speak. Volumes 1-6 were already available (in paperback form, no less) when I started reading them after the "Goblet of Fire" film opened. "Hallows" was my first opportunity to revel in the nerdery of a midnight book release and reading along with everyone else in the world. It is also the only book that I didn't plow through in a matter of days. This isn't because of lesser content but because I wanted to extend my "Potter" experience, to savor every page. I didn't let myself read more than a chapter or two at a time and I was almost sad when I realized I had only a couple hundred pages left before there would be no more new "Potter" stories. I genuinely wished I had gotten on board with the series from the very beginning. Curse my refusal to fall in line with the crowd!

I do think that "Hallows" has some flaws, whereas "Prince", "Phoenix", and "Azkaban" are almost perfect. The length of time that Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend alone in a tent, Apparating from place to place is overwhelming. It's not that I find it boring, I just think it's a bit redundant and it leads to a rushed feeling when the trio goes from doing very little for 400 pages and then suddenly break into a bank, free a dragon, and head to Hogwarts within 50 pages. Likewise, the scene in which Harry ostensibly dies and ends up speaking with Dumbledore in a sort-of Purgatory is a little unsatisfying for me. I'm honestly not sure what I expected from that moment but I didn't love it upon first reading. But these flaws are minimal in the grand scheme of things and I truly love the way in which Rowling wrapped up her series.

With all that in mind, in my opinion there's no question that, at least from an adaptation standpoint, "DH1" is the best of the films thus far. Having the same director-writer team for the first time since films one and two absolutely makes for a cohesive storytelling experience. Yates and Kloves are, quite simply, in a serious groove throughout "DH1." It feels comfortable and I think that lends itself to brilliant moviemaking. Chopping the book in half did exactly what all fans of the series had hoped in that it allowed for SO MUCH MORE of Rowling's content to make it to the screen. "DH1" is almost an abridged version of the book rather than an adaptation of it.

Better than in any of the previous installments, this film fully and wonderfully brings the scenes from the book and reimagines them onto the screen. One of the best scenes in the entire series is the shadow theater that is used to illustrate the story of the Deathly Hallows as Hermione reads it. Inspired. Elements as large as the opening chase sequence between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters and Harry and Ron's fight against the Horcrux down to the details of the Lovegood residence and the Weasley wedding are all exquisitely put together, near perfect illustrations of the words from Rowling's page. Likewise, the tones of "Hallows" (a theme I've harped on endlessly in this series) are so gloriously brought forth to the film. Ron's jealousy and general grumpiness, the haughty attitude of Minister of Magic Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy), and the pain that Harry feels while visiting the graves of his parents are all brought forth with precision. In addition, the loneliness and hopelessness our heroes feel while on the run, such a huge part of the book (to the point of redundancy as noted before), becomes a hallmark of the film; you genuinely feel lost, just like the characters on screen.

One of the best aspects of the film, though, is in its ability to elicit emotion and connection from the viewer just like the book did. The world in which Harry now lives is full of darkness, death, and evil but it is also overflowing with love and sacrifice. Hermione erasing from her parents' minds the memories of their own child, Xenophilius Lovegood's (Rhys Ifans) conflict over having to turn Harry over in order to save his daughter, the sacrifices of Hedwig and Moody, and even the look of fear and regret on Draco's face when Harry is brought to the Malfoy estate all force the audience to relate to what's happening on screen. And the final scenes, in which Dobby reappears at the time of greatest need and sacrifices himself in the process are heartbreaking and BEAUTIFULLY put together. In my "Chamber" review I called Dobby the Jar Jar Binks of these films. I never felt that way while reading the books but his on screen persona was so annoying that the existence of house elves is almost completely cut out of the films between "Chamber" and "DH1." To bring that character back five films later and put him into a moment that has the power to absolutely BREAK the viewer is a masterstroke of great writing and directing.

In short, I love this "DH1", both as a film and as an adaptation, above all the rest. I fervently hope that part two of "Deathly Hallows" is the best of the series; it should be, given the source material, and I think the rapid fan base deserves an outstanding ending. But even if it isn't, the decision to break the book up into two parts is fully and completely justified by the incredible entry that is "DH1."

Rank in the "Potter" canon: 1st of 7