Harry Potter goes camping.
The seventh Potter film proves that the quest for more money is alive and well. The decision to split the last book into two films is as inexplicable as it is unfitting to the rest of the series. This time, we follow Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they go on the least exciting camping trip ever.
Perhaps I am being too nit-picky about the splitting into two. In a lot of ways, it makes the movie a bit better—it isn’t beholden to fit the entire arc into one chunk. However, this was the first film (I believe) to do this, and now we have too many movies breaking into part one and part two. Or, in the case of the Hobbit, we have three films that should have never been made.
The Deathly Hallows adds a lot of stuff into the narrative that disrupts the flow, a lot. The opening of the film is fine, and the same can be said for large chunks of the narrative. We get to see possibly the longest scene in the series without Potter present, and here we get a bit of insight into the inner circle of Voldemort. While this is a welcome scene, it also introduces a growing problem with the narrative.
If Voldemort is so unstable that everyone (including his followers) is terrified of him, why would anyone follow him? Later in the film, Bellatrix is convinced ol’ nosey will kill them if they are incorrect in whether they found Potter or not. Wait. What!? Noseface is such a one-dimensional villain there is no reason to help him. Sure, they might court favor—you could argue that, but time and time again he stabs his own followers in the back. Simply put, he isn’t a good villain. There is no depth or understanding around his desires, and this irritation will increasingly amplify once you realize all of this is over him wanting to control a damn high school.
Anyway, the film provides a more somber and slow-burning experience than any other film in the franchise. We get an explosive opening with the order transferring Harry to the safe-house. I like Hagrid, and I like that it is he who gets to take Harry. The action in this scene makes you wonder how the muggles don’t notice the magic around them, but otherwise it is quite exciting. The longer shots of the sequence give the viewer a decent view of the action, and there was some restraint in the editing. I think this is possibly the most effective action sequence in the series up to this point.
After being attacked at the safehouse, our trio must flee and work to find the horcruxes while hiding from the numerous snatchers. The snatchers come into the narrative at points that smack a little too conveniently, but their presence does raise the stakes. A lot of people hate the camping portion of the narrative, and this is an area I detract from most of the critics. I think we get to know the trio a lot better in these moments, and the low-key elements make it feel more like a part of a journey rather than an episodic adventure with an over-arching plot.
Another fun sequence is when our heroes must infiltrate the Ministry of Magic. Once again, I liked this part. It is tense, funny, and interesting. I can’t really ask for much more in this type of film here. Where I do have a complaint is the accuracy of magic—when used by villains anyway. A hardened Death Eater simply cannot hit any of heroes as they run from him (down a hallway). It seems a little too old generation storm-troopery for me along here. A mild complaint to an otherwise well done sequence.
Where the movie suffers is some of the unexplainable and illogical sequences. Ron deciding to abandon the group doesn’t make a lot of sense, and neither does his subsequent return. In the books, his departure allows him to return with a lot of information, but he doesn’t come with much in the film. The forced tension and irritation between the characters makes the middle section of the film a slog to get through. Of course some folks think the irritation is solely caused by our heroes wearing the horcrux around their neck (an evil item worn as a necklace impacting the way one acts, for some reason this seems so familiar…), but it still seems forced. I think there might have been a grander idea behind this moment that did not come to pass.
An increasingly problematic issue with the films is that they are more or less expecting that everyone has read the books. While this is a relatively safe assumption, it is not good filmmaking. The mirror Harry keeps looking into is given to him in Book 3, the movies make no mention of this. I don’t think leaving potential viewers marooned is a wise idea. The fact that these movies began production before the series was finished is likely why these issues seem to keep cropping up.
Harry and Hermione get to travel alone while Ron is off doing Ron things, and this portion of the narrative contains a somber trip to Harry’s birthplace. A poignant scene where they visit the graves of Lily and James Potter adds a level of gravitas to the struggle. Unfortunately, this subtle scene isn’t enough and we get to see that the Potter home is still destroyed. Seriously? Seventeen years later and no one has bought the property. In an effort to bash the audience over the head with an emotive moment turns into a laughable oversight.
The film takes a lot of risks, the ones in Godric’s Hollow don’t fully pay off, but the animated sequence of the old fable of the three brothers does. The film bounces between high-highs and low-lows. After the animated sequence we are treated to a foot chase through a forest with horribly shaky camera shots and way too tight of scenes to really have much scope of what is happening. A chase scene shouldn’t give me a headache, it should make my heart race.
Oddly, Dobby is now toned down and much more likable. Of course, he must die so the films can continue their death of a character at the end for the fourth damn time in a row. This might surprise about everyone, but Dobby’s death is one of the more powerful scenes as it doesn’t feel like a cheap trick (even if it kind of is…).
I loved parts of this movie. Honestly, for large chunks it might be the best Potter film, but too many problems and narrative oddities will make it more uneven than anything else. The last-minute addition of the Deathly Hallows makes it feel a little bit too much like a video game. We have an absurdly long fetch-quest—more or less. A bunch of horcruxes, a sword, a wand, and a ring. It is hard to keep straight what all they are trying to do. Further complicating this issue is that we don’t even know what all of the horcruxes are at this point in the narrative. The series has abandoned its high school genre moorings and delved directly into fantasy. While this genre shift has done some good, it also does a bit of bad.
I have teased the child actors about their acting, but in this film I think they really pulled it up a level. Each member of the trio is sent through an emotional rollercoaster this time around, and I have to applaud the actors for communicating the emotions on screen so well.
The movie feels a bit more like two episodes of a long-running drama put together. While this probably irritates some movie goers, it also gives us an insight into what this narrative could have been with more screen time. Despite the flaws, I think this is Yates’ best Potter film. 7.5/10