I promise to include only one spoiler in this review, and I’ll include it right in the beginning – *Spoiler Alert*- the book is still better than the movie. Frankly, that’s saying something, because I loved this movie. While I’m being frank, allow me also to say that I was nonplussed with many elements of the J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment of the Potter saga the first time I read it – which should add a little extra chutzpah to my claim that the book is still better. Those constitute a whole lot of unqualified claims, so allow me to elaborate for a moment.
First, when I received the book, I received it at my home at the earliest possible moment that Amazon could get it there. For days leading up to the release, I did not go out and buy it. I did not watch the television. I did not listen to the radio. I surfed the web as if I genuinely appreciated the present danger of the perverts that lurk on the internet. Perverts that had already been going to all varieties of places, public and private, doing their dead best to leak key plot points that they had stolen. I was cloistered in my home pacing the floors, waiting for the UPS truck. When the book finally arrived, I barely restrained myself from kissing the delivery man. He gave me a wary look that revealed he had already narrowly dodged one too many exuberant outbursts for the day. I brought the box to the kitchen table, and tore into the package greedily. I tossed the bubble wrap to my sons as a kind of consolation toy, a weak apology for the fact that daddy would not be interacting with anyone for twenty-four hours.
I started reading at 5:00 pm on the Saturday after release, and seven hours later my eyes ached and I had to go to bed. I woke up Sunday morning and groaned at the day ahead of me: church and a pot-luck luncheon where I would have to interact with friends that had bought the book at release thirty-six hours earlier. I feel guilty now, but had no shame then – I read through the sermon, I read while standing in the foyer “greeting” parishioners. I made my wife drive, and I read in the car. After approximately thirteen hours of reading, I finished the book. I will say that next to frantic Greek expositions and theological responses to journal articles, I have never read as voraciously, as determinedly. It held my attention, and I ached to know what would happen. No movie has ever had such an impact on me. However, one thought, more than any other, ran through my head the entire time I was reading: “We’re camping in the forest again? Seriously?”
This is a great place to transition to the movie, because this is the kind of pacing issue that the movie handles much better than the book. The movie opens on an ominous note, the Minister of Magic is assuring the wizarding world that everything is under control. What ensues, the movie captures better than the book did (at least, what I remember of the book in my paranoia driven, frantic reading of the text); there is an obvious homage being paid to the horrors that befell those on the wrong end of ethnic cleansing in places like Russia and Germany in the twentieth century. The movie uses props, leaflets and propaganda, which are eerily similar to those of Russian provenance, proclaiming the dangers of life with “Muggles” and “Mudbloods.”
In fact, next to the pacing of the lonely foray into camping (and make no mistake, there is still a lull in the middle of the movie for this element) I was most impressed with the movie for bringing new elements into focus. J.K. Rowling has not received enough acclaim for her clear messages of human rights and social justice. I have been frustrated with the movies up until TDH part 1, because they seemed to ignore completely the fact that Harry is battling against an ideology of racial supremacy as much as he is battling against “dark” magic. However, there is gold to be mined in the visual extravaganza that modern movies can produce – and there is no better candidate than the fantasy genre for such displays. The film is beautiful, like the others, but instead of an action packed, adventure ride, you get a film full of emotional tension. The film produces a genuine sense of dread; in fact, I felt that some of the flashy, action sequences interrupted the story being told.
The movie stumbles a little with its focus on the three friends. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson perform amiably (actually, one of the movies’ most touching scenes has Radcliffe acting opposite a CGI puppet), but the absence of the supporting cast is felt. Still, Emma Watson performs the hell out of her role as Hermione. There is a particularly gut wrenching scene where Bellatrix is torturing Hermione in the Malfoy mansion that left me squirming in my seat. Once the know-it-all, Watson’s Hermione is light years more mature than Harry and Ron, which makes the romance between Ron and Hermione endearing instead of tiresome. The performances capture a genuine, and deep love between all three friends.
Finally, Dobby the elf steals the movie. I was sitting in the theater watching Dobby stare the Malfoys down and proclaim that he was a free elf, rescuing his friends, thinking “it’s about time we see this theme in the movies.” For those that have seen the movie or read the book, you know what happens next. It was absolutely “the moment” in the film, when he proclaimed that he was with his friends and was finally a happy, free elf. I cried. I “misted up,” reading the book – but the scene is done so well that I absolutely cried in the theater. Though, I did not cry for Dobby as much as I cried for what his sacrifice represented, and I was relieved to finally see the real value of Rowling’s literature played out on the big screen.