Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J.K. Rowling

Genre: YA Fantasy

Read: 21 July 2007, Watched (part 1): 20 Nov, 2010

Summary: Satisfying but obligatory conclusion to the epic series.

Retarded title aside, this is a pretty good film. Caveats, however, abound. If you haven’t seen all the previous installments, or at least the last several – forget it. The film just roles right into the action, with nary an attempt to explain past events, or even to introduce the rather vast array of characters, some of whom die after only a few moments of screen time. This reliance on the previous chunks of the story I find perfectly reasonable, to do anything else would be difficult and boring.

What is odd, however, is that I’m not sure this film series would make a whole lot of sense to the fifty people on earth who haven’t read the books. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. I know a few of those people, and they seem to be universally baffled by the films, and don’t particularly enjoy them. Now I enjoyed my 2.8 hours, but I’ve read all the books, and seen each film at least once (as they came out in almost all cases). The books and films enjoy an peculiar symbiotic relationship. The films rely on the books completely for the sense of the rhythm of Hogwarts (not present in DH part 1 anyway), true understanding of the complexity of the plot, anything beyond names and faces for the secondary characters, etc. They just don’t have time to include it. The movies, on the other hand, prop up the visual world of the series. Now I first read the first four books BEFORE any of the films came out, but when I went back to reread book one this year (it’s still great) I realized how little description is actually in the novel, and how I now visualized exactly the lush and detailed visual world of the films. Most of the viewers in the theatre weren’t even old enough for it to have been possible for them to have read before being exposed to the film imagery. It also seems a bit odd that the films aren’t really made to stand on their own. To the non reader they offer up characters that they never explain. I guess the gravitational pull of the source material is too strong.

Back to DH part 1. Like the book it has an entirely different feel than the rest of the series. Particularly, given how the writers have split it. There’s no Hogwarts at all. No teachers (except a brief glimpse of Snape). Almost none of the other students (Draco and Luna only). It’s a movie about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. That isn’t bad, but it’s different. It’s also a film about Voldemort, because we see a lot more of him – or at least of the CG that completely hides Fiennes. The decision to split the film – beside making the studios et all an extra billion dollars – has given them five hours to work with instead of three. This means that this film is the most faithful to the book since number 3 (my favorite). It feels less rushed, darker and more deliberate. But even having read and seen everything, I had the feeling several times that I just had to take the logical leaps for granted. There still isn’t enough time to really explain the byzantine backstory.

Ron continues to be the weakest of the three core actors, with Harry being fine, and Emma Watson shining as Hermione. I want to see what she can do in a totally different role. Helena Bonham Carter is too over the top. The opening scene with the council of baddies was kinda cheesy, and the death of Dobby felt forced and lacked proper emotional weight. Draco just stands around and looks like he doesn’t know his lines. Hardly anyone else matters. As I said, it’s basically the gang of three in the tent vs the world.

But hell, on top it felt pretty satisfying, and now we have to wait for the last one.