And here it is at last: the final chapter so big it took two movies to get it in the door. That's right—after much hemming and hawing, the filmmakers decided to split the massive novel into two distinct films: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. With a whopping 276 minutes (4.5 hours!) to work with, director David Yates had some options, and boy did he use them.
So how did he do with twice the time to tackle one book? As it turns out, pretty stinkin' good. Let's break down how close the movie comes to author J.K. Rowling's vision.
Run for your life! Like the book, the movie completely upends Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) previous existence, as the gang first flees wholesale persecution, then jumps into overdrive to find and destroy Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) pesky horcruxes. Their path leads them back to Hogwarts, where an army of whackadoodle Death Eaters attacks in hopes of settling Harry's hash for good. So far so good.
Like Rowling, Yates tries to keep us off-balance at all times. The early wedding party of the first film slips into complete chaos—and not the happy too-much-to-drink kind—before Harry becomes "Undesirable No. 1." In the early scenes, Yates stresses how boxed in the heroes feel: the streets of London seem to press close against them and their initial hideout at Sirius Black's place—an actual rich people's mansion—features rooms smaller than your average outhouse. It doesn't get any better when they crash the Ministry of Magic, constantly being watched by Dementors in the ceilings and crammed into a tiny elevator that doesn't exactly scream "easy escape route." The sense of persecution is almost too much to bear, as is the nerve-wracking feeling that Harry's just a rat in a maze without even a piece of cheese to keep him warm.
Yates then shifts gears during the second half of the first film. Oh, they're still on the run all right. Only now they're out in the wilderness: cliffs, woods, abandoned trailer parks, and lakes that look like no one has so much as skipped a stone across them. In the first half, we were crowded with people—all of them enemies. Now, Harry and his friends are all alone—and it's still just as scary because there's no one there to help them. So each half of the first film conveys what it feels like to be desperate and on the run. Even the arrival of the doe Patronus is more freaky and unknowable than comforting.
And yet the Scooby Gang makes progress. Secrets are revealed, sacrifices are made, and Voldemort is ultimately dispatched in the appropriately prescribed manner. Let's pause on the secrets, though; mainly the one involving Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), who loved Harry's mom so much that he engaged in decades of calculated deception just to get revenge on Voldemort for killing her. Yates delivers it all in a seven-minute flashback that exposes Snape's anguish and pain at losing his one true love. Not only does the movie maintain Rowling's blow-your-socks-off factor, but it highlights her notion that people are rarely as awful as we think. Snape, who always hated Harry's guts, was actively working toward the same goal all along. And he actually gives Harry the final clue he needs to put Voldemort down for good.
The theme of deceptive first impressions plays out in a few less jaw-dropping terms, too; though admittedly, the set-up for some of them comes along in earlier books. Look at Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) for example. He goes from King Dork in the first movie to a pretty serious butt-kicker here. He even proves it by stepping up against Voldemort when everyone thinks Harry is dead.
Bottom line: even when he cuts to the chase—and in these two movies, there's a whole lotta chase—Yates keeps his eye on the prize, focusing on Rowling's characters, and more importantly, on the surprising way they turn out to be much more than we think.
You might expecting our usual "of course, Yates had to cut a few scenes…." And yes, we'll get there. But this time, we're going to hit you with some crazy news: our director actually adds some scenes to these movies? An example? How about that early press conference at the besieged Ministry of Magic where the losing side is telling everyone to keep calm? Don't remember that one from the book, right? Again, this scene stressed the major ideas in Rowling's book: things are pretty bad and they're going to get a whole lot worse. The difference? The movies cut away from Harry to show it, which Rowling almost never does in her books.
But back to those cuts. First, in the form of minor characters bowing out rather than cluttering up an already packed scene with their messy, messy subplots. For example, we don't see much of nice-guy werewolf Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and his punky witch wife Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena). At one point, they actually get interrupted by another character when they're trying to break the news that they're expecting a baby. It doesn't sound like much, but it puts a damper on Rowling's huge scope; you know, the idea that other people are in danger too (even folks who aren't born yet) and that life is moving forward even while Voldemort is trying to bring it all to a screeching halt. When these two lovebirds die in the book, it really takes away your happy face. Here, you don't feel so bad because, well, you just didn't know 'em that well. Rowling's book wanted you to feel the tragedy: the sense that bad things happen and no amount of magic in the world will change them. The movie gives it a nod, but—through fault of omission—blunts that message considerably.
We also lose a bit of another Rowling takeaway: that everyone deserves love. For instance, when Harry first wakes up after "dying," the evil Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory) lies to Voldemort about it. Why? To protect her son, whom she loves. The book stresses that moment pretty heavily because we know a lot more about Narcissa as a character. But the movie has to cut out those details, softening the edge of Rowling's lesson.
Of course, none of that makes these movies a failure. It just highlights the fact that no matter how much running time you have to work with, books can still do some things that movies just can't. Do you agree? Shmoop amongst yourselves.