Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the penultimate instalment in the cinematic adaptation of the hugely popular book series. Harry and his pals Ron and Hermione leave Hogwarts behind and go on a scavenger hunt to find the five pieces of Voldemort’s soul so that they can stop his plans for world domination. Or thereabouts.
After trimming the content of the past few books to fit the confines of a two hour film format, Warner Brothers made the puzzling decision to chop the adaptation of this final book into two parts. It’s a strange decision that forgoes the consistent approach they had taken up to now. If they really felt they had to get in all the content from the books, why not do this will all the previous films adaptations? There’s already a prescedent and template they can follow: The Lord of the Rings distribution model which had a two hour cinematic release which was followed up by an extended DVD cut that included extra scenes for fans to indulge in.
It’s also a strange decision since the final book, unlike some of the other lengthy instalments, has a soporific pace that is completely out of step with the rest of the series. The Deathly Hallows often gets mocked for being an exhaustive and meandering tale about Harry and his friends on a camping trip. There is some validity to this criticism. I think the director David Yates has done an excellent job with the previous two films but even he struggles to spice up these parts of The Deathly Hallows where the characters wander around aimlessly for long periods of time and the storyline progression is mostly driven by happenstance.
Given the broad and wide-reaching appeal of the Harry Potter book series, it was always going to be an impossible task to be appease everyone. The primary appeal of the series for me has been the development of the three main characters as they go through adolescence. For that reason, I really enjoyed Yates’ work on the fifth and sixth films particularly where he really plays up the hormonally-charged dynamic between Ron and Hermione. I’m less interested in the Harry Potter lore and was never one for remembering the names of the spells, the magical artifacts and so forth.
With The Deathly Hallows, I feel that Yates has shifted his focus and now targets the core Harry Potter audience and made a film that is not so much a teenage coming of age story but more of a Heroes Journey that indulges in the minutae of the Harry Potter universe. A key revelation Hermione has that drives the story forward is a realisation that “the sword of Godrick Griffindor is goblin-made so… it can be used to destroy the horcruxes”. While this may be a Earth-shattering revelation to dedicated fans of the books, I personally had only a vague understanding of what she was on about. I don’t think many other casual fans of the series will really follow whats going on either.
I don’t know if it was JK Rowling or David Yates’ intention but I felt that the recently deceased Dumbledore did a lousy job setting a trail for Harry to follow and it is only through laboured expositions and an awful lot of serendipitous discoveries of secret symbols that the heroes find out what they must do.
There are other little things that bugged me about this film too. I really hate it when characters die offscreen. I always feel that its a sign that a film is too rushed and is trying to cram in more content than it should. I didn’t like it when it happened to Saruman in the theatrical cut of The Return Of The King, I didn’t like it when it happened to Cyclops in the third X-Men film and I didn’t like it here when a character who appears in several of the previous films is killed in battle, somewhere off in the distance.
There are other moments that don’t feel right either. The audience I was watching with ended up snickering when Harry cheers up a despondent Hermione by dancing with her. It’s not intended to be a funny scene but it looked awkward as hell and is out of character. Since when did Harry ever dance? There is also a rather unexpected scene portraying a nude CGI Harry and Hermione getting it on that I think is slightly misguided.
Normally, I’m not one to nitpick and I could always easily suspend disbelief with the Harry Potter films but I think my lack of engagement during the slow middle portion of this film drew me out of a state of immersion. This all sounds like a lot of negativity but I think thats mostly because the previous two instalments directed by Yates were probably my favourite of the entire series. I also think that it was a very difficult book to adapt in the first place and by chopping the film into two pieces, you’re left with the problem of having to adapt a rather turgid first half.
This film still has some entertaining action scenes and all the main cast absolutely nail their roles as expected. Unfortunately its just padded out by an awful lot of camping and wandering around. I don’t think they could have done much more with the material than what they did.