As a general rule, if I think a book is eventually going to be made into a movie, I’ll hold off on reading it until I’ve seen the movie. How many times have you heard someone come out of a movie theater saying, “The book was so much better!” or “They cut out so many parts that were in the book!” or something similar? This is mainly because we’ll give more time to a book than to a movie. It typically takes me 8-12 hours to read a normal length book. A movie gets 2 hours, maybe a little more. Watching a movie after you’ve read the book is almost always a disappointing experience. But if you watch the movie and then read the book, you can enjoy both; the movie for telling a compelling story, and the book for expanding and enriching that story.
The exception to this rule might be the Harry Potter books. I haven’t read them, and now I’m starting to regret it. I enjoyed the first few movies, but the further we progress, the more serious and involved things become, the more confused and lost I feel. The filmmakers are expecting the viewers to come in with knowledge of the books; they’re letting the books do the storytelling for them, and the movies serve as a sort of visual shorthand for the books.
So I write this review fully aware that I don’t get it, that I’m of the unitiated, and that the way I saw the movie will be different from the way someone who read the book (which is, apparently, everyone else in the universe) will see it. Plot spoilers follow, but hey, you read the book, so…
The sixth and penultimate movie in the Harry Potter series finds us in dark times, and Voldemort and his council of Death Eaters (and others?) has grown quite powerful. Mad Eye Moody, one of the most easily recognizable characters in the confusing mass of Harry’s friends and enemies, gets killed in the first ten minutes of the film. There’s a wedding, and then everyone runs away, and Harry, Ron and Hermione are on their own, trying to find the horcruxes that contain Voldemort’s soul and destroying them. One of them is in the possession of Imelda Staunton, J.K. Rowling’s villainous symbol for all the fundamental Christians who boycotted her books. Staunton is situated in the Ministry of Magic, which looks like a fortress, all marble and steel, columns and balustrades. But apparently the Ministry isn’t very secure at all, because Harry and friends are able to use a fairly simple disguising spell to waltz in and take the horcrux right off her neck. But they’re almost caught on the way out, because apparently the spell they’ve used earlier in the movie to evaporate themselves somewhere else doesn’t work in the Ministry unless they’re standing in a toilet.
Then they go somewhere else, and sit around bickering and trying to figure out how to destroy the horcrux, which operates awfully similar to the One Ring, in that whoever wears it finds themself in a really foul mood. Ron gets particularly foul and leaves, and then Harry and Hermione evaporate to a really beautiful rocky place in New Zealand somewhere. This place seems to be in the movie so that we, the viewers, can see how beautiful it is, and so that we can see that the characters don’t even notice how beautiful it is. They’re too busy brooding and being sad and discouraged. Eventually, they figure out that the Sword of Gryffindor will be able to destroy the Horcrux, but they don’t know where the sword is, so that doesn’t help them much.
They go to visit an old woman who knew Dumbledore, but almost get eaten by a giant snake disguised as the old woman. As far as I can gather, the snake was using the same spell Harry and crew used to sneak into the Ministry; it’s also the same spell used for the mad dash at the beginning of the film. Seems like it would be useful to everyone if someone could develop a counterspell that unmasks people. Nobody is who they seem in Deathly Hallows 1; maybe that’s a theme.
After escaping the snake, they evaporate to a new campsite that in a great (and extremely unlikely) stroke of fortune, happens to be only a few hundred yards away from the frozen pond where the Sword is hidden. Harry and Hermione dance to a song on the radio, in an unsuccessful attempt to stop being brooding, moody teenagers. In the night, a glowing thing appears to Harry in the night and leads him to the Sword, and instead of going and telling Hermione and getting her help, he decides to dive into a frozen pond in the middle of the night without telling anybody. When he gets in trouble, Ron reappears and rescues him. They climb out of the pond, and, instead of freezing to death, enjoy a warm, friendly reunion. (I remember something like this happening in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” too. Apparently, in fantasy worlds, water freezes at a much higher temperature.) Hermione is mad at Ron, but that’s nothing new.
Next they visit Luna’s father, who’s a few bats short of a batcave; he tells them a story about three brothers who obtain three magical objects from Death himself. It’s a great story, and I love how it’s animated, but ultimately it’s just a stalling ploy, because he’s trying to turn them over to Voldemort in exchange for his imprisoned daughter. So they have to evaporate away again. But this time they randomly evaporate right into the clutches of Bellatrix Lestrange’s thugs. For some reason they can’t just evaporate somewhere else, so they run, and get caught.
Bellatrix throws them in a magical dungeon instead of just killing them, which seems to be what she does to everyone else she meets. And at their darkest hour, a minor character I just barely remember from one of the previous movies appears and rescues them, because apparently Bellatrix’s spells don’t work on him. She is able to kill him with a knife as they evaporate away to a beach, leading to a tearful conclusion. Harry, Hermione and Ron weep over the death of a minor character who was introduced to the movie not ten minutes ago (oh wait – he was in an earlier scene, for about ten seconds) and I have a hard time caring, because this ending feels so contrived and the emotion so forced. The end.
Come on, seriously, that’s the end? OK, I know this is only half of the last book, but there’s just no way this ending feels at all satisfying. Instead it feels like, “well, we killed Dumbledore at the end of the last movie, and Sirius Black at the end of the one before, and Cedric Diggory at the end of the one before that, so who are we going to kill in this one? We’re running out of characters we can spare….hey, I know! Let’s kill an elf!”
Yeesh. Here’s hoping the ending is better.