For a while, there was a trend in which when you’ve got a movie series based on a series of books, the last one is split into two movies. It happened with The Hunger Games, which resulted in two very slow, boring movies that could have worked with a single movie. It happened with Twilight, which resulted in two very slow movies, of which, well … I won’t comment any further. The Hobbit turned one book into a full trilogy and one that was overly long and feels like it needs some serious editing down. It’s also happened in the animated world, with The Dark Night Returns’ adaptation of Frank Miller’s series that was split into two movies. The third book in the Divergent series was planned for a two-part finale, but after Allegiant bombed, they cancelled Ascendant. And while Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are very different from the Infinity Gauntlet comic event from the 80’s, it too was split into two parts. Two parts which each earned over $2 billion and were both very well received. But the series that started this trend is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and Part 2.
Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2 were filmed back to back, from February 2009 to June of 2010. They started filming the two-parter before Half-Blood Prince released in July of 2009. Early on, director David Yates described Part 1 as “quite real”, and a “road movie that’s almost like a vérité documentary.” In other words, they went for a similar filming technique as Saving Private Ryan or The Blair Witch Project. The idea to split the final book into two movies came from executive producer Lionel Wigram. David Heyman, the main producer, was originally against the idea. Wigram responded with “No, David. How are we going to do it?” They re-read the book, trying to figure out how they could possibly compress the story into a single volume, but they couldn’t make it work. Eventually they agreed to split it into two movies, to which J.K. Rowling agreed. Along with that decision, they gave the public this press release.
“In concluding the film franchise, we recognized that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is packed with vital plot points that complete the story arcs of all of its beloved characters. That said, we feel that the best way to do the book, and its many fans, justice is to expand the screen adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and release the film in two parts.”
Several other directors expressed interest in The Deathly Hallows. Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban) was tempted to return to direct. Guillermo Del Toro, who passed on Prisoner, expressed interest in Deathly Hallows. However he was involved in the production for The Hobbit and at the time was expected to direct it, which made him too busy. Also, while Rowling’s level of personal involvement in the movie didn’t change all that much, this is the first movie in the series where she’s officially listed as a producer.
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) described the first part as a road movie. “People have been so used to seeing Harry Potter at Hogwarts and we’re just not there for the first part of the film. That seems to have really freshened things up, and hopefully will get people seeing the films with fresh eyes again.”
Ultimately both parts were treated as one big production, but each movie would carry its own tones and styles, connected only by the narrative. Yates also described the first part as a road movie, while part 2 would be more operatic, colourful and fantasy-oriented. Although they don’t seem to mention it all that much, you could also describe both parts as war movies.
Both parts used a lot of handheld cameras, which leads to a bit of shaky cam in some of the action scenes. That said, it’s never overwhelming, and you can still clearly see what’s happening. A lot of part 1 was filmed in the outdoors, like Swinley Forest, and also shots in villages like Lavenham, which represents Godric’s Hollow. Godric’s Hollow is the place where Potter’s parents died, and also apparently where Godric Gryffindor was born. Although there are some external shots there, the actors never actually visited the village while filming, but all their scenes were filmed in studio.
I won’t talk too much else about the film’s production, save for a bit of a tragic note. Radcliffe’s stunt double David Holmes suffered a spinal injury that left him paralyzed. Thankfully he’s managed to take up stunt driving using a modified car, and now has his own production company. But yeah, the injury happened with some sort of aerial stunt when he fell.
Nicolas Hopper, who scored the previous two movies, didn’t return for Deathly Hallows. Instead, Alexandre Desplat came on board. Some of his other credits include Twilight Saga: New Moon (didn’t know I’d be referencing that series twice in one blog post), The King’s Speech, Godzilla 2014, The Queen, and Del Toro’s upcoming Pinocchio adaptation. His work is very good at capturing the emotional elements in both movies, although I would argue that the soundtrack in Part 2 is far more memorable and balanced than Part 1.
Deathly Hallows Part 1 released in November of 2010, and earned $976 million worldwide, compared to its $250 million budget. By the way, that’s the combined budget for Part 1 and 2. This movie earned enough money on its own to make both parts profitable. At the time, it had the third highest midnight earnings of all-time, behind Twilight: Eclipse and Twilight: New Moon. There you go; three Twilight references in one post. The movie also broke records for highest midnight gross in IMAX at the time. All of these would later be topped by Deathly Hallows Part 2, but we’ll get to that. It also topped the Philosopher’s Stone’s overseas profits. Overall it was the third highest earning movie of 2010, behind Toy Story 3 and Alice In Wonderland, and at the time, second only to Philosopher’s Stone in the Harry Potter series.
The movie is generally well received, with a 77% Rotten Tomatoes rating and an average score of 7.11/10. Most critics commented that it’s a satisfying penultimate chapter, but that if you haven’t seen any of the movies before it, you’d be completely lost. Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars, calling it “a handsome and sometimes harrowing film … completely unintelligible for anyone coming to the series for the first time.” USA Today called it “Menacing and meditative, Hallows is arguably the best installment of the planned eight-film franchise.” Entertainment Weekly called it “the most cinematically rewarding chapter yet.” Newsweek’s review on the other hand was quite negative, saying “They’ve taken one of the most enchanting series in contemporary fiction and sucked out all the magic.”
As for my own thoughts, I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about this one, but I do overall enjoy it. On the one hand, this is the most action heavy movie in the series yet. The action scenes are well choreographed, fast, and intense. By nature of the story, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermoine Granger are doing their best to stay out of the fight, but they still find themselves in a couple of quick battles here and there. In most of these fights, the soundtrack isn’t present at all, adding to the intense feel.
The movie also carries a very consistent tone. It’s overall dark, tense and somewhat depressing. It feels appropriate in a strange way to watch this movie in December of 2020. There’s a scene about two thirds through that takes place on Christmas Eve. Before that scene, Ron left the group after being emotionally compromised by an object of very dark magic. At this point, it’s just Harry and Hermoine on the run around Christmas time. They have nobody else to call, and they don’t even have time to celebrate anyway. The movie captures this depressing moment quite well, and seeing how a lot of people are going to have smaller Christmas parties this year, it just feels appropriate.
The acting also perfectly captures the movie’s tone. All three of the main actors have fantastic emotional moments, and they’ve all clearly grown from the young, inexperienced actors they were in the first movie. For Radcliffe, his main “Oscar moment” is after a close friend of his dies. This friend hasn’t been seen in the movies since his introduction in Chamber of Secrets, so some of the emotional value is lost if you’ve only seen the movies, but you still feel Harry’s pain just from Radcliffe’s performance alone. For Ron, it’s the previously mentioned part where he’s compromised by dark magic. Rupert Grint perfectly captures the look of someone who’s become angry, tired, and paranoid. His return is equally well acted. Hermoine has several moments, but the best is probably when Ron returns to the group. Emma Watson shows a lot of subtleties without saying anything while Ron explains how long he’s been searching for them, from someone who is clearly angry, to someone who is emotionally moved by his speech, but not quite ready to forgive him yet.
The previous movie didn’t do a good job at selling their relationship, but this one does, and the same goes for Part 2.
While this movie isn’t a complete story, it does end on a strong emotional note. It still features a climax of sorts, which includes what is probably the hardest sequence to watch in the series. Part of the reason it’s hard to watch is because of Watson’s performance while being tortured, even if most of it is audio only.
Part 1’s main downside is the pacing. The first act of the movie is fast, full of action, and also has a good deal of storytelling going on. It’s also where most of this movie’s comedy takes place. The conclusion is also fairly intense. But everything between the trio’s mission in the Ministry of Magic and when the trio joins back up again is slow, mostly humourless and depressing in tone. The Godric’s Hollow fight helps a bit, but there’s a lot of walking, the trio clearly not knowing which direction to go next, and only Ron listening to the radio to give us any other voices.
Don’t get me wrong, these moments are still well acted, written and filmed. The soundtrack also helps keep the tone consistent. But it makes this part of the movie feel like it drags on. You could cut this part of the movie down quite a bit and still get the same effect, while also giving more focus to the story, the mythos, and giving us more information on how the war is going with the rest of the Wizarding world. We could have seen more of the wedding sequence near the start, which could help give the opening a lighter tone to balance things out. They could have included the brilliant deleted scene that gives two of the Dursleys a redemption moment. Or better yet, include the lighthearted deleted scene where Ron teaches Hermoine to skip rocks to lighten the mood for even a moment.
There are multiple directions they could have gone to balance this movie out better, and I’m not sure which would be the best option, but the biggest criticism Part 1 usually gets is that it’s slow. It doesn’t really affect my personal enjoyment that much, and I do find this to be a satisfying movie on multiple levels, but it could have used more lighthearted moments and more even pacing to balance things out better. Even so, this is still an overall good penultimate chapter, and it perfectly sets up the noticeably better Part 2. Deathly Hallows Part 1 is definitely not the best Harry Potter movie, but it’s far from the worst.
I plan on uploading my review of Part 2 tomorrow. After that we’ll look at the Fantastic Beasts movies, and then perhaps some sort of weird Christmas movie as a surprise. Next month will be Sean Connery month, and I’ll be looking at two of his best movies, Never Say Never Again, and at one very strange movie. I’ve already decided what that strange movie will be, but I’ll save that for the final week of Connery month.