Andre Dellamorte: Let’s start with general awareness. Speaking for me, I’ve seen all the movies, and read all the books, but as I said last night this is the first film I’ve seen in a theater since the third one, Prisoner of Azkaban.
Joshua Miller: Full disclosure ain’t a bad idea. I read all the books in one plot-blurring stretch last year, and I’ve seen all the films in the theater. Though I didn’t think Part 6 was quite the revelation that the rest of the film community did, I have enjoyed all the films since Chris Columbus’s stamp was removed from the franchise.
Renn Brown: I’m obviously a big fan of the books, and while I’ve seen all the films, I’ve never been a huge devotee of them beyond an appreciation of Azkaban. That said, I’ve enjoyed all of Yates films on one level or another, and several of them contain some genuinely incredible moments. I think for all the issues I’ve had with the treatment of specific sub-plots or relationships, Yates has done a remarkable job of escalating the tone and stakes of the series, and really earned the darkness that was so present in Half-Blood Prince and continues into Deathly Hallows. The scripts for his films have been utterly ruthless about compression and to their credit, it’s served the films well in being able to breathe a little bit. It’s occasionally led to some embarrassingly shoe-horned moments though- Snape’s inconsequential and almost random “I am the Half-Blood Prince” revelation at the end of Part 6 being a key example.
To begin the discussion of Hallows with something I touched on in my own review, I think we’ve come full circle in terms of Yates feeling free to cover events from the books with whatever amount of detail (or lack thereof) necessary to keep the film flowing. All in all, it’s led to a much more genuinely cinematic interpretation of the story, but there is a lot being punted to the second half. It’s very difficult to say Part I is its own film.
Andre: What I liked about 6 was that it seemed to be saying “yes, I’m the sixth film, but this is the start of a trilogy.” Though – to be fair – those hopes were dashed by this seventh film. But calling it a film isn’t exactly fair. It’s not really a film, it’s half of one, and quite literally. It just stops.
Joshua: Yeah, not a lot of true plot happens in the film. No denying that. Harry Potter and the Endless Camping Trip.
Andre: It’s funny, the plot of this movie is that Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) continues the quest from the last film – he must destroy Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) hordichucks? Hordicruxes? Crucifuxes? and this film concerns him turning seventeen, and getting some of the things that will help him finds those, but this feels like a first act. A very engaging first act, but a first act and some change.
Renn: I’ll certainly agree the end could have been more graceful, perhaps structured around a more strongly built-up decision on Harry’s part. The film doesn’t even bring up pursuing the Hallows as an option though, just as an evil thing Voldemort is doing, so that’s out. In any event, I don’t think it’s fair to categorize the film as plotless or boring. Even once the “camping trip” starts (which is after all of the film’s opening act updates, transporting Potter, the wedding, and the escape scenes in the city) there’s still a mission through the ministry, a trip to Godric’s Hollow, and the jaunt to the Lovegood’s that gives us the wonderful animated Hallows story. The countryside journey itself contains some really solid stuff concerning the Horcrux and Ron’s departure. This film doesn’t have the luxury of a fantasy castle filled with dozens of diverse magical rooms at its disposal, but it is far from inert. Every one of those sequences contributes something important to the final mystery, or allows us a moment at a location that holds a lot of weight in the mythos. It would be silly to say that Part I isn’t ultimately an appendage of the sure-to-be-bigger Part II, but there is some great filmmaking going on and after 6 films, who is this for but fans that care deeply about each of these moments and places? I still think the ending is the biggest problem and again, because of the thematic ball that’s dropped rather than the actual moment chosen.
Joshua: That was a cheap joke on my part, re: the endless camping trip. The truth is I absolutely loved the first half of the film. It was taking the time to breathe that it needed (something I didn’t think the past two films did enough of), and letting us get wrapped up in the characters again before throwing the shit into the fan. But I felt my general engagement unraveling as the film progressed. The tension triangle between the three main kids wasn’t really working for me like it was supposed to. And the way the movies need to gloss over backstory and copious details while keeping the main tip-of-the-iceberg plot points, made the second half of P7P1 feel like an old Lucas Arts adventure game, with our trio hopping from one random location to the next, trying to acquire a new item that they can then pair with an item they’d previously acquired.
Renn: The structure is certainly set up in such a way that they go to a place, retreat to a beautiful vista, go to a place, retreat to a beautiful vista, got to a place, etc… But again, if you’re invested in these characters –and I think the film is allowed to take that for granted at this point– the meat is there to chew. I was floored by the pay-off to Ron’s long-standing jealousy when the Horcrux gets horfuxed, and I love how bravely they acknowledged the tension between Harry and Hermione more than even the books did. Rowling took it for granted that Hermione and Ron were fated for each other and everyone accepted that. And while I think it played out the way it should have, it’s undeniable that there’s been some desire in the back of fans heads for the two most powerful wizards of their generation to bump uglies. That idea starts treading dangerously close to slashfic, but these are long-form stories about young people growing up and becoming adults so… the subtext has been there. Between those invented little cinematic flourishes, the top notch filmmaking, and the strong character work going on, I think the two-and-a-half-hour beast functions as a film- but that wouldn’t even remotely be the case if it was pulled out of the Potter garden. As Dre mentions, the logline of this film isn’t particular electric, even if everything that’s happening is cool.
Andre: I liked the breathing room at the start. It was there were the film got great mileage out of our collected nostalgia for both the characters and the actors. The sequence where Harry inspects his old living quarters is a moment where you’re supposed to think about the first film, and it works pretty brilliantly. We’ve watched a lot of these actors grow up on screen and off, and we’re coming to the end. There is a weight to that. And from the start, the pressure of an ongoing war is made personal in the wedding sequence. Though it can’t compare to similar set pieces in The Godfather (or The Leopard), the sense of persevering in the face of war and possible death is a strong theme, and this is where the series gets to rest in that. In that way it reminded me of some similar “calm before the storm” sequences in the last season of The Shield. I think mostly in the sense that we’ve invested so much time and energy with these characters that the film can stop to smell the roses here. But for all that breathing room there are seriously ten to fifteen of the finest actors in the world in this film, and none of them, not David Thewlis, Imelda Staunton, Peter Mulan, Brendan Gleeson, Peter Nighy, Julie Walters, Jason Issac, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, Timothy Spall, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes nor Michael Gambon have very much to do in this film at all – Nighy gives an unhinged, but self-contained performance where you can see a lot of things almost bubbling to the surface but never quite making it, but he’s on screen for about five minutes or less. Rhys Ifans – a newcomer – gets slightly more as Luna Lovegood’s father, but what he’s doing in the film is self-contained (exposition, mostly). The latter films reminded me of films like The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far in that you’ve got a lot of name players, but they serve more as totems than performances. It’s all about Harry/Radcliffe, Hermoine Granger/Emma Watson and Ron Weasley/Rupert Grint.
Joshua Miller: It truly is the most talented series of cameos since The Player. Don’t forget Miranda Richardson, who we see for but a fleeting half-second smiling on the back of the book her character wrote. So much does indeed get glossed over in these films that I can’t really comprehend how someone who hasn’t read the books can truly enjoy the films beyond mere spectacle. I’ve read the books, yet I still found myself repeatedly puzzling back through my memory, trying to figure out what character I was looking at, if we’d seen them before, etc.
Speaking of cameos… was that Nick Cave Harry and Hermione were dancing to? [It was indeed, the tune “O Children” which you can find here. Melancholy as hell, but perfect for the scene. –Renn]
Andre: Ultimately, though I liked it, I have to take points away from this enterprise for not being a movie. I mean, Kill Bill did a better job of breaking in half, The Lord of the Rings films at least felt like a chapter, that enough important things happened and were resolved to make a narrative. Here, I felt like there was no point in watching this by itself. That’s sort of terrible, but I guess these films are simply for the faithful any more, and no fan is going to get too upset about paying to see the final film’s prologue.
Renn: At this point it’s Harry Potter, and it’s not really comparable to much else. Lord of the Rings is similarly divided up between a continuous story adapted from a huge source, but since the Potter films started before the books concluded and the fervor for the franchise has been so constant across all of its iterations, there’s a unique harmony and symbiosis between the books and the films. I consider myself pretty much the pinnacle Harry Potter fan- not in the sense that I’m the most enthusiastic, but because the first book was read to me a chapter a day by my 3rd grade teacher, and my childhood and adolescence were almost perfectly timed with Harry’s. Similarly, the prose of the novels and the quality of the movies have (roughly) evolved alongside my own maturation. So when I say there’s never really been anything like Harry Potter, I mean that a film like Deathly Hallows enjoys a completely unique historical precedence along with mega-successful, phenomenon status to back it up. I don’t know what that ultimately means for critiquing a film like Deathly Hallows, Part I, but I do know that it all worked on me, even with flaws apparent. That probably murders my talkbacker credibility, but it is what it is.
Joshua: Renn, I definitely get what you’re saying. In a sense I feel like Deathly Hallows is such a behemoth, a culmination of a heretofore unheard of kind of cultural juggernaut, that it is almost beyond criticism in a lot of ways. The Potter franchise (movies and books) is awesome, and I mean that in the old fashion usage of the word – as in, dauntingly impressive. I can nitpick over small things that didn’t work for me – like the over-convenience of Ron’s magical gizmo, Dobby’s silly final speech, or the way the film rode roughshod over a lot of emotional beats – but there is so much fucking stuff happening, so many years of collective emotional involvement, that I find my small complaints washed away by the general tidal wave of the film. Though I also completely agree with Dre’s sentiments that the film lacks any kind of arc, but I suppose that also doesn’t really matter since we all know we’ll soon be watching Part 2.
Not to pull us away from serious discussion, but are we seriously never going to get to see Hagrid punch or throw anyone in the movies? Is this a juvenile desire on my part? Sure. But we’re also talking about a movie with a half-giant in it. None of his physical altercations from the books seem to make it on screen, despite the obvious cinematic appeal of seeing Robbie Coltrane thump a Death Eater’s skull. I’m just sayin’.
Renn: The Battle of Hogwarts could certainly contain some serious Hagrid action.
Joshua: Don’t get my hopes up Renn!
Back on topic, I must say I’ve never liked Emma Watson as an actress. She was appropriately cute in the first film, then I felt like I could see her struggling valiantly with the material as she got older. Yet I quite liked her in this film. She brought a lot of the grace she has in real life to the part and made Hermione the emotional center of the trio she needs to be for the film to work. Rupert Grint continues to impress me with each film. He was always the best actor of the kids, and it has stayed that way. Radcliffe continues to be Radcliffe. Like Mark Hamill did with Skywalker, he so thoroughly is fused in my mind with his character that I don’t seem to mind his objectively average performance.
Andre: Josh, you hit on something that I find vaguely insulting with this movie. I guess with this being the seventh year and all we’re in the “I’m wearing sweatpants all day” phase of dating. It’s not so much that the audience is being taken advantage of, but there’s no illusion here any more also. They don’t even bother trying to give this an ending, but they know we’ll be back for the real one. I liked the primary cast, and I like how both Grint and Radcliffle can look like children and adults from the shot to shot. I guess the dancing sequence was supposed to up the stakes of the non-love triangle, but I didn’t really buy it. In fact their dance was the moment I sort of turned on the film a little bit. On some level it’s impressive that the film moves as fast as it does for how long it breathes, but that’s also because we’re just building up momentum. Alas, we’re building up momentum for a film that’s seven months away, which conjures another image of a relationship, albeit one that involves blue-balls.
Renn: When applied to the structure of the script, I think you’re absolutely right Dre. I truly believe everyone is bringing their A-Game in terms of acting, direction, effects, etc… but the inherent structure of the movie makes no serious attempt at being self-contained. It’s almost admirable (in an “I love your balls” sense) how they ignore any instinct to cut things at a downbeat. I think they picked the right place in the story to end- that particular death holds some weight as the innocence and simplicity of the early stories is shed (it also mirrors the first death in the film, which is of another non-human “comfort” character). But even if the chosen moment is correct, they don’t buttress the ramp to the next film with a serious emotional pay-off or even a forward-looking decision (the kind that has let the last few films end with resolved looks into the distance). It’s what keeps Deathly Hallows, which is as well made and sophisticated as any in the series or any blockbuster in general, from becoming a mid-story classic along the lines of an Empire Strikes Back.
Joshua: I also forgot to chime in on what Renn said about the relationships being more clearly defined in the movies than the books. I completely agree. The various romantic angles from the books were always one of Rowling’s major weak spots, in particular her seeming refusal to ever address any true sexual tension between Hermione and Harry – basically just telling us there is none. If we’re treating these characters as real, I can buy that Hermione prefers Ron to Harry. That would imply to me that she wants a man slightly beneath her mentally, one she can maybe fix up and more importantly, one who really needs her. But there would be SOMETHING between Harry and Hermione. Maybe they’d only allow it to come to the surface if they got shitfaced (later horribly regretting their hook up), because they’re such good friends. But there is no way they couldn’t have flirted with the idea of being together. They’re the same age, both decent looking, both like each other, and are two of the most powerful magical beings of their generation. That’s how fuckin’ happens people. So I liked the goofy dance scene for this reason. You could see in their eyes that feelings were there, but they weren’t the kinds of feelings that was going to gravitationally suck them into a kiss.
Oh, and I have to bring up an important question Dre brought up last night… have Harry and Ginny boned already? Renn, it seems like you’d know.
Renn: They certainly reached the vague physically affectionate zone that Rowling created for all of her characters to inhabit once in a relation- the one that implied teen romantic activity without getting detailed. It was a weird, mostly untouched bubble that let a little bit of ‘snogging’ sit in a place of a whole lot more kinky shit you knew had to be going on in that castle. Whether or not Harry has shoved parts with Ginny is unclear, but the guy is the chosen one… I would say definitely not in the film universe though.
Joshua: Speaking of chosen ones, I’ve always found the contrast between Harry and Radcliffe humorous – Harry is so chaste, whereas Radcliffe has always been openly giddy about plowing the fertile fields his “chosen one” stardom has allotted him. Of course, he doesn’t actually need to save the world, I suppose.
Andre: I’ll be interested to see if Watson can convincingly show us that she’s super into Ron in the next film. In this movie it’s like they’re already married in some ways. I think there are a lot of things to like here, but ultimately, my opinion of this film hinges on what happens in the next film. As a stand-alone film this is terrible, but it isn’t, and it isn’t. IT’s still better than Chamber of Secrets.
Renn: Yep, it all comes down to Part II. There’s a ton of shit to cover, but there’s the added benefit of pretty much all of it being extremely entertaining and action-based. Snape should get his due, Voldemort will get to rock ass for more than 60 consecutive seconds. Dragons. Castle-scaled battles. Should be a lot of fun if they can manage everything. They definitely need to get a double-feature arrangement going for Part II’s release though, because they sure as hell meant the “one film, split in two” thing.
Andre: 7.9 out of 10 (as a Potter film) 4.5 out of 10 (as a stand-alone)
Joshua: 8 out of 10
Renn: 8 out of 10