This post contains major spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the novel and both films.
Part 1 and Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are two solid films that, when put together, create a marvelous adaptation of the end of the Harry Potter series. Both have magnificent art direction, cinematography, and music. Both boast some of the best performances of the series. Both balance humor with the grim tone of the story. Both get some scenes down perfectly, and both don’t quite know how to handle others. Nevertheless, one of them sparked an intense satisfaction within me, prompting me to see it three times within the first five days of its opening – and the other left me cold.
I may as well just say this and get it out of the way: Part 1 is the one that impressed me, whereas Part 2 is the one that left me disappointed. Now, you would expect – and I had hoped – that it would be the other way around. Part 2, after all, contains the climax of eight films’ worth of story. But something about Part 2 felt off. After the superb adaptation presented in Part 1, I was expecting Part 2 to be along the same vein. But it wasn’t, and why that is so is a question that has been troubling me over the past several weeks.
I’ll start with the pace. Part 1 moves very slowly, prompting several critics to wonder if splitting the final book was justified. I, however, enjoyed the more pensive pace of the film. Too many of the previous films had covered nothing more than the bare essentials of the books, zipping through the story as though trying to win an imaginary race. Part 1, however, retains the slow pace of the first half of Deathly Hallows. Sure, it doesn’t include everything – the details of Kreacher’s tale and Dumbledore’s past are chiefly absent – but it keeps most of the key scenes related to the development of the characters of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
I’ll pause here to admit another reason why Part 1 is so satisfying to me. I’ve never related to a fictional character more than I have to Hermione. And Part 1 seems to be more about Hermione than it is about Harry himself. We see her before we see Harry, and she’s the instigator of the majority of the events. Furthermore, this is the film where I finally thought they got Hermione right; there is a marriage between Steve Kloves’s writing and Emma Watson’s performance in this film that was missing from previous films.
So, for the most part, Part 1 is right on target with pacing and characterization. Of course, there are moments when Ron’s character is not as it should be – chiefly his reactions to destroying the locket and to Hermione’s torture – but such is the case in every film that it’s silly to only criticize Part 1 for this. Part 1 devotes time to fleshing out these characters while carefully setting the pieces in motion for Part 2.
It is in Part 2 that this methodical pace and attention to character is lost. Everyone who isn’t Harry or Snape is left in the dust. Neville is once again relegated to comic relief. Fred’s death is very nearly brushed under the rug; in fact, it’s unclear that it actually is Fred, not George, who died. And the editing leaves much to be desired. Case in point: after the tender moment of Ron and Hermione’s kiss, there is a harsh cut to Voldemort yelling, and it couldn’t be more jarring. Furthermore, even though there are a series of slower moments to break all the action of the final battle, every scene is over so quickly. The film is the shortest of the series. It makes me wonder why five minutes of screen time couldn’t have been added either to slow down the pace of certain scenes or to include certain bits of the book that were sacrificed.
That’s another strange thing about Part 2. They cut some scenes, add some, and change some. Of course, that’s not out of the ordinary for adaptations – especially for the Harry Potter films. Part 1 cuts out things like PotterWatch (in addition to details about Kreacher and Dumbledore, as mentioned above) and changes things like the events in the Malfoy Manor. It also adds two intriguing scenes: Hermione’s near encounter with the Snatchers and Harry and Hermione’s dance. The former adds tension to the story, and the latter strengthens character development. The choice of what to cut, add, and change in Part 1 is generally positive.
But what Part 2 cuts, adds, and changes are details related directly to the climax. For the first hour and a half of the film, it does great. Aside from the quibble about Voldemort being able to feel when his horcruxes are destroyed (can you say plot hole?), none of the changes are too out there. Furthermore, several of the scenes – the Gringotts sequence, the fortification of Hogwarts, the Prince’s Tale, and Harry using the Resurrection Stone spring to mind – are executed beautifully. But once the procession brings Harry’s presumed-dead body back to Hogwarts, everything suddenly gets all funny. Neville delivers a heartwarming speech, but then Harry scampers away, and Neville is blown back. Harry and Voldemort begin a ridiculous chase, as Ron and Hermione begin to chase Nagini. Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to create some more tension, but what’s more epic than Neville proclaiming, “I’ll join you when hell freezes over!” and then proceeding to cut off Nagini’s head? Instead, we get chase sequences. Like there aren’t already enough of those.
And finally, there’s the climax itself. I would have been fine with the Harry/Voldemort chase sequence if it had been followed by some of the dialogue from the book. The way Harry belittles Voldemort in front of everyone, I think, would have still translated well to the screen. Watching Voldemort realize that Snape had been fooling him all along would have been brilliant. But we don’t see any of that. Instead, we see Neville kill Nagini in front of only Ron and Hermione – and then Harry kill Voldemort without any living person in sight.
Perhaps I’m too much of a purist. Perhaps I should learn to separate the books from the films. But it’s very difficult to do so with something that I know and love as much as Harry Potter. The high standard set by Part 1 and by bits of Part 2 made me excited for the epic climax – and it never came. And all in all, that’s why Part 2 left me underwhelmed the first time I saw it. What I have to remind myself is that the book was split into two films; had it been one, the result would have been too horrible for words. And that’s what I reminded myself the next times I watched Part 2. I focused on the many, many, many things that it does right, not what mistakes it makes. The third time around, the film played a bit better. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good adaptation of the end of a splendid novel. Why focus on the negative when there’s so much to appreciate?