When I started this blog twelve years ago, most of the Harry Potter films had already been released, so they were not featured posts here, with the exception of the final film in the original series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2". I did visit a 20th Anniversary screening of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" just last year, so even though it was a revival visit, there is a post on it. I continue to write about the Fantastic Beasts series, but probably with less enthusiasm as I go along, next months entry does not have me particularly excited. Today however, I saw "Deathly Hallows Part 1" and this gives me an opportunity to go back to the original series and fill in another entry for this blog.
Starting with "Goblet of Fire", the Potter series grew grimmer with each episode. Of the last five films, this movie is the most despairing and saddest of the movies. It impressed me when it first came out in 2010, and I must have watched it at home four or five times over the last decade. Upon first viewing I felt it was a bit incomplete, but this is a movie that gets better with each additional visit. When the book of the Deathly Hallows came out, we complained about the three hundred page camping trip in the middle. It seemed long in the film as well, but on reflection it is handled extremely well by screenwriter Steven Kloves who did all but one of the original films. This is an adaptation that should have received awards attention because they ended up spitting the book perfectly into two films and each one got all of the essential information into the story, in spite of some of the complex written paths that had been laid out.
It is true that a large segment of the movie is essentially the three main protagonists in a tent, it doesn't feel that way. First of all, the movie starts with two great sequences, one of which is so sad it might bring a tear to your eye. When Hermione obliviates her parents memory of her and she walks away from her home, you know this will not be a happy story. The escape from Privet Drive with all of the Harry poly juice variations is thrilling and contains a great deal of humor. It is finished off however with the loss of a beloved animal and maybe my favorite character in the series. When the story transitions to more narrative and exposition moments, it does not linger over all the talk. The wedding scene has enough snippets of information without bogging down the story, that we will be able to follow some of the threads later in this film and in the next.
The raid on Gringot's happens in part Two, but we do get a very effective sequence where Harry, Ron and Hermione, penetrate the now conquered Ministry of Magic, to recover the locket Horcrux. There is tension and humor and some great special effects moments in this segment, and it all happens before the camping trip. Even when they are hiding out in the woods, there are some good scenes. The dance of sadness between Harry and Hermione is a moment of relief from the doomsday scenario the characters are feeling. The trip to Godric's Hollow is also in this part of the film and it is atmospheric as heck and just what the movie needed at that point, and finally, when Ron returns to the fold and he and Harry destroy their first Horcrux, it is visualized in a disturbing manner that also suggests how adult the story has become.
Hogwarts is a memory at most in this film, we never visit there directly, although there is a brief moment on the Hogwarts' Express. We are as isolated as the characters are from what is happening in the world, with the director and screenwriter deciding to hint at those events only through some headlines in the Daily Prophet and the radio signal from other outcasts from the school. The most beautiful moments in a bleak film are done in animation, telling the tragic story of the three Brothers and the origin of the Deathly Hallows, it is a terrific sequence that stands out for it's creativity at exposition in an interesting manner.
The most dramatic moments of the film come at the conclusion as a narrow escape is accomplished at an exorbitant cost. The antagonist of the film has achieved his goal and our heroes are dejected at the conclusion of the film. In spite of how dismal the horizon looks, the story still suggests there is a path to success and that is, the only thing the audience can cling to at the end. I will add that the score by Alexandre Desplat, who was new to the series, was amazing. The music matched the mood throughout the story and it often made some of the tougher sequences emotionally bearable.
So this is probably a little late for most of you, but as I said, I did not get the opportunity the first time around. "Half Blood Prince" is my personal favorite of the original eight films, followed closely by "Order of the Phoenix". "Deathly Hallows Part 1" would be next and as I wrote earlier, it gets better every time I see it. Next week, a second shot at "Deathly Hallows Part 2" .