Evaluating Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts One and Two

**Spoilers ahead. This is a discussion and evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of Deathly Hallows, with special focus on Part Two. If you haven’t seen Part Two, proceed no further. If you haven’t read the book, proceed no further. If you do anyway, well, you deserve to be spoiled.**


I attended Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two at the midnight showing. Now that I have seen the finished work, I would like to evaluate it as a whole, viewing both parts of Hallows as a whole cloth. Overall, the film was wonderful, and hit the right notes almost every time, but there were several significant stumbles.

Firstly, the heart of the book Deathly Hallows is, well, the deathly hallows. The Hallows are almost entirely shunted out of the film, appearing only in the last few minutes of Part One, and play almost no role at all in the second part. Yes, Voldemort has the Elder Wand, and yes the Resurrection Stone comes out of the Snitch at the end. But this is not at all the same. The core of the book was Harry’s temptation about the Hallows, one which he must overcome. This temptation is non-existent in either part one or part two of the film. This has been a perennial problem with the film adaptations – Hollywood is more interested in the graphics and explosions than in preserving the true narrative and thematic core of the books. That these core narrative hearts are all explicitly Christian may have something to do with that fact.

Secondly, both parts of the film introduce the questions about Dumbledore, raising issues of his past and his motivations concerning Harry – but unlike the book, which provides the other side of the Dumbledore’s backstory – the film avoids everything not considered “essential” to the story, like the history of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and the death of Ariana. You would think an explanation concerning Dumbledore’s motivation would count towards being “important” for the story. Because we don’t get any part of the heart-rending story of Dumbledore and his lust for power with Grindelwald, we get no glimpse of his repentance, nor of his genuine love for Harry. He is left in a huge motivational dead-space, with gaping holes in his character. If he weren’t tempted by the Resurrection Stone to see his sister again, who he feared he had accidentally killed, he would never have put on the ring, never would have been dying all through the Half-Blood Prince, would never have arranged with Snape to be killed. Without the lesson of the Elder Wand, Dumbledore would never have become the man he became. And particularly, without that side of his character, he comes across in the film as a manipulative, cold bastard. I attended with some friends who had not read the books, and they came away feeling very much that Dumbledore was a conniving, manipulative jerk, and I had to explain the rest to them.

Indeed, I cannot help wondering why on earth they introduced so many questions without bothering to answer them – a problem that has long plagued the Potter films. The explanations wouldn’t take more than a minute or two of screen time, so it just tends to come across as lazy or poor decision making. Why raise questions about Dumbledore at all if you’re not going to bother answering them, or at least leave out key answers that make him appear human and not a cold-hearted man who lied and manipulated to get his way?

Thirdly, the question of the Hallows involves the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. Voldemort seized at power, and lost it. Harry willingly let go of power and through humility was bestowed with the ability to be the master of death itself. This is entirely lost and distorted in the film. The interesting, unique, and intense face-off between Harry and Voldemort in the Great Hall becomes a stereotypical duel all through the castle, and then there’s an incredibly stupid flying scene through Hogwarts, and then they face off in the courtyard, and Harry kills Voldemort without a single word of explanation. And then only a few words of explanation are offered after the fact. I was left feeling flat and completely unsatisfied by the showdown, and couldn’t help wondering exactly what was the problem with the version in the book? Part of the book’s satisfaction came from all the questions being answered before Harry kills Voldemort, because then it is clear that Voldemort’s pride and arrogance destroyed him – he destroyed himself. We get none of this in the film, where Voldemort simply disintegrated into ash very slowly and with no music at all.

Given the utterly unsatisfying nature of the end, we must ask ourselves, why change it? The answer, I think, is clear. The filmmakers wanted a chase scene and wand duel, because that’s what you do in action movies, right? It’s no nevermind to them that you’re completely destroying the point of the bloody story, or that Voldemort and Harry couldn’t have dueled because the moment they tried, the Elder Wand would have rebounded on Voldemort.

But for all of this, Part Two really was a spectacular finish. They handle everything else really well. The music, story, script, and characters are all well done otherwise. Snape’s send off will bring tears to your eyes. I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the house. Yes, I wept. Big man tears. The “19 Years Later” was handled very well also, and they ended the film with the finale music from the Sorcerer’s Stone and ran the original John Williams suite over the end credits, which was also wonderful.

Even more excellent analysis of Part Two can be found here.

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