Monday, July 22, 2024

The Harry Potter Film Rewatch Project: #7 Harry Potter and the Unfinished Business

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Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One and the corresponding first half of the seventh book.

Well, here we are everybody. The penultimate film, and the only one of the books to get split into parts for the movie. I will not lie, this is going to be…interesting. Simply put, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is my least favorite of the books. I hate it. I just plain and simple hate it. But fortunately for all of you, most of what I hate about the book was either put into Part 2 or, more commonly, just completely left out. So we can safely focus largely on the movie as a movie, and more to the point, we can be slightly more positive than we would need to be otherwise!

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We open up with the new Minister of Magic—Rufus Scrimgeour played by Billy Nighy (who is, of course, wasted here since he only gets two scenes in the movie and his scenes from the previous book were cut out)—addressing the wizarding public, assuring them that the Ministry of Magic will not cave in to Voldemort. This is followed by scenes of the Dursleys packing up and leaving Privet Drive, and of Hermione erasing the memories of her parents, making them forget that they have a daughter at all for their own protection.

The latter is a powerful scene, and Yates continues to demonstrate his understanding of ‘show don’t tell’, having the scene play out without dialogue. It loses a bit of its power since we’ve never seen Hermione’s parents before and have no real knowledge of their relationship with their daughter and if it was good or not, but Emma Watson’s performance is able to make up for that.

The former scene…is more than I expected to see of the Dursleys I suppose, so I guess there’s that. After not appearing at all in the fourth or sixth movies, at least this time they got a cameo. Their farewell was nice from a character standpoint, but not truly necessary at the end of the day.

Speaking of not truly necessary scenes, we move to a gathering of the Death Eaters at Malfoy Manor where a few things happen. We learn that Snape is working directly for Voldemort, which we already knew. We learn that the Death Eaters are infiltrating the Ministry, which I guess we didn’t directly know, but doesn’t justify a scene and could have been brought up in the next scene. We uhm…we do find out the reason for the strange reaction Harry and Voldemort’s wands had to each other at the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire I guess, so I suppose that that’s important. It’ll never truly come up again after the scene after next, and it was a strange decision to not bring it up before this, but better late than never. We now know that the two wands have twin cores, and cannot kill the wielder of their twin. So there’s that!

Sorry it’s just that this scene is basically useless, guys. And that’s not the fault of the movie; it was in the book with only a few differences, and it was arguably more useless there. At least here we have the explanation of the twin cores, which was necessary, and I suppose I can’t think of a better place to have that happen. But aside from that, everything here is information we already know and/or could have inferred, or the gratuitous murder of a character we never met whose death will never matter.

It’s…I don’t like it. It’s a casualty of an attempt to be really edgy and serious now that a war is happening, and in my opinion it slips perilously close to grimdark. It’s just killing a character for the sake of killing a character. Nothing happens because of her death, no information is gained by killing her, we never knew her so there’s no emotional significance to it…it happens and then it’s never mentioned again.

And then after that we move back to Harry, as he packs up to leave the Dursleys’ house for the last time with Hedwig. As he does so he is met by a large group of his friends, as well as Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour, the latter of whom Harry for some reason does not question the presence of. Look, I vented about this in the last piece, so I won’t go into too much detail about it, but not having Bill present in any of the previous movies, and not mentioning the wedding that will be the end of the first act for this movie in the last movie, was a dumb move. They manage to get the relevant information out in a way that feels awkward and obviously shoehorned in, but at the very least doesn’t take too long.

Oh, and Tonks is here too! She calls Lupin her husband, and starts to make reference to something, but before she can get into details, Moody interrupts her, saying they have more important things to deal with. And while he’s likely right, the framing and staging of this, with him physically blocking her from view, feels like a very appropriate metaphor for how the film makers have treated Tonks.

And to be frank? This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but given how they treat her, how little she contributes, and how things end up with her, I think the films would have been better served by just completely excising Tonks as a character. No, really. She contributes nothing to any of the films. Nothing is ever changed by her presence, nor is anything furthered. She’s only ever present so that they can say ‘oh hey, look, Tonks is here!’. Even her marriage to Lupin doesn’t wind up mattering, not really. He’s going to disappear from this movie after the wedding too after all, so…yeah. They should have saved the money they paid Natalia Tena and put it towards something else. Well, no, they should have put the effort into making her a memorable character rather than a bunch of 5 second cameos, but if they weren’t going to do that then cutting her would have been preferable to what they did do.

Anyway, Moody explains the plan. They’re going to use the Polyjuice Potion to disguise half the group as Harry, then fly off in separate directions to confuse the Death Eaters. Harry protests the plan, but most of the others shoot him down. One member, a guy named Mundungus Fletcher who we’ve never seen before, does attempt to get out of it, but Moody shuts him down. And then, rather amusingly, Hermione just yanks out some of Harry’s hair without his consent and hands it to Moody (who prompts this attack by telling her to act ‘as discussed’ in a funny little throwaway line).

They have six members of the order (the Twins, Fletcher, Fleur, Ron, and Hermione) drink the potion in order to act as Harry. And, unfortunately, I must now give credit to what is objectively the worst film of the franchise, and say that Goblet of Fire did something better than this movie. Namely, in the fourth film Polyjuice Potion changed your vocal chords so that you had the voice of whoever you were impersonating because…well, why wouldn’t it? It changes everything else about you, from your height to your build to your eyesight, why wouldn’t it change your vocal chords? Chamber of Secrets also had the Polyjuice leave your voice as your original voice, but Goblet fixed that so why not leave it fixed?

Well, regardless of that, they set off on their journey, each of the seven Harrys (six fake, one real) flying in different directions. Harry goes with Hagrid in Sirius’ old motorcycle, the one Hagrid drove to take him to the Dursleys’ in a nice bit of symbolism. Almost immediately they’re attacked by Death Eaters, leading to a high octane, high speed chase. I could go on a rant about how this is destroying the Statue of Secrecy, but the Death Eaters don’t care about that and I can’t blame Harry for doing everything he can to stay alive without being like Fudge, so I’ll allow it this once.

There are really only two things of note about this chase sequence. One is that Hagrid gets knocked unconscious fairly early into it, leaving Harry (who was in a sidecar) to do most of the actual driving/flying. And the second thing is that what gives Harry away is Hedwig escaping her cage to attack a Death Eater in the defense of Harry, leading to her own tragic death. Voldemort shows up, apparently able to fly under his own power…somehow (don’t look at me like that, the books never explained it either, I’m not taking a jab at the movie) and he attacks Harry. But, just like at the graveyard, their wands connect, this time breaking the wand Voldemort was using (he took Lucius’ wand in an attempt to get around the twin thing) and since Voldemort can fly without a wand but can’t, I don’t know, strangle Harry with his own hands, this makes him stop his pursuit and scream a loud ‘No’, while Harry hits the magical fire booster on the motorcycle to properly escape.

Harry and Hagrid land just in front of the Burrow, where they meet Mrs. Weasley and Ginny,  who’re waiting for them and the others. Unfortunately nobody has made it back quite yet. Another pair does though, very soon, with Lupin apparating in, carrying an unconscious and bleeding George Weasley. They get him inside, where Mrs. Weasley can start tending to him, but once he’s secured Lupin immediately pins Harry against the wall and starts questioning him, asking him a question only he would know the answer to to make sure that he’s not an impostor. Rather amusingly though, they use the question Lupin asked in the book, which references a scene from the third book that did not occur in the third movie. Look Yates, sometimes it’s better to be loyal to the previous films then it is the books, okay?

The others slowly trickle in, giving us a very touching moment of Harry running to hug Ron and Hermione when the former arrives, and they gather in the Burrow where Bill relays the news that, due to Fletcher freaking out at Voldemort making a personal appearance, Moody has died. Insert joke about Hux killing Moody for learning about the First Order’s infiltration of Earth here.

The next morning, as everyone dresses up for the wedding, Harry and Ginny share a moment, when Ginny asks him to zip up her dress. It is…about as awkward as any other scene the two share, since Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright don’t have the best chemistry, but it isn’t god-awful, and George arrives just in time to note them making out and make it awkward, which gets a chuckle.

The levity is lessened by the arrival of Scrimgeour though, who comes bearing the items Dumbledore left to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in his will. Ron gets an item called the Deluminator (the cigarette lighter that turns off lights Dumbledore had in the first movie), Hermione gets a collection of fairy tales called ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’, and Harry gets…the first Snitch he ever caught, also back in the first movie. Dumbledore did also bequeath the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry, but he doesn’t get it. Why? It’s gone missing apparently and, well…see…he doesn’t get it in the book or in the movie, but the reasons why not are changed, and in so doing they changed a later scene pretty dramatically. Let’s just put a pin in that for now, shall we?

Instead, we move on to the wedding of Bill and Fleur. A few things happen here. First off, I would just like to say that Fleur’s wedding dress is beautiful! No, sincerely, the costume design of these movies is something that I’ve left upraised in the past, but honestly they deserve the credit. None of the costumes have been breathtaking mind you, but they’ve all at least looked good, which all things considered is not a guarantee, especially in a fantasy story.

Harry is then introduced to a trio of characters. First is Luna’s father, Xenophilius Lovegood. He doesn’t impart much information in this scene, it’s more to set up him and his strange necklace for the future. There’s also Ron’s Aunt Muriel (his great great aunt on his mother’s side) and Elphias Doge, two elderly allies of the Order with very differing opinions on Dumbledore and his legacy. Doge doesn’t contribute much, but Muriel does tell Harry that, if he wants to know more about his hero, he should seek out Bathilda Bagshot, an elderly historian. What particularly catches Harry’s attention is that said historian lives in Godric’s Hollow, the town his parents lived in before they died.

Before much more can happen though, bad news arrives in the form of a message from a member of the Order who I don’t think I’ve mentioned previously unfortunately, Kingsley Shacklebolt. The Ministry has fallen, Scrimgeour is dead, and Voldemort now more or less rules Magical Britain. Seconds later the Death Eaters attack the party, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are forced to flee.

The disapparate, appearing in London, where they quickly go to a diner. Unfortunately they are found here as well by the Death Eaters, and are attacked. They manage to win the brief skirmish that arises and make their way to Grimmauld Place, Sirius’ childhood home and former headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. It’s here that they discover the identity of the mysterious R.A.B. and…oh, wait…crap, I forgot to mention that in my Half Blood Prince  review, didn’t I? Sorry!

So, uhm, the locket that Dumbledore more or less died to retrieve? That Harry nearly died retrieving? It was a fake. Hidden inside it was a note from someone, saying that they knew about the Horcruxes and that they were going to destroy the real locket, signed R.A.B. And as they wander through the home of the Black family, they come across a door with a sign bearing the name of Sirius’ dead brother. Regulus Arcturus Black.

They find Kreacher, the Black family House Elf, who tells them that there were two lockets once, but that the one that stayed in the house was recently stolen by Mundungus Fletcher because he’s just the worst. Harry immediately sends Kreacher out to retrieve Fletcher, which he manages to do with the aid of Dobby.

Yeah, remember him? You might not, he only appeared in the second movie. He was supposed to have minor appearances in the fourth, fifth, and sixth books, but every time he was supposed to appear they swapped him out with Neville. Which…kind of would have made the penultimate scene of this movie darkly hilarious if they’d continued that trend. It would still have been sad, and it would have kind of messed up the ending of the next film, but it would have been funny, and besides, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this rewatch is that worrying about the next film was not their priority for any of these movies.

Well, unfortunately for our trio of friends, Fletcher no longer has the locket. He was forced to give it to Dolores Umbridge, the evil fascist and propaganda teacher from the fifth movie. We get a brief scene of her and the new Minister of Magic who, in a change from the book, is not under a mind control spell but apparently is just evil. I don’t know why they made that change, it doesn’t amount to much, it’s just a notable change. The scene is brief and mainly serves to show the oppressive changes to the Ministry, which we’ll see in greater detail soon.

Because, well…they kind of need to go and get the Horcrux. And to get it, that means they’ve got to break into the Ministry itself. Cue heist planning! Well, no, sadly it doesn’t turn into ‘Potter’s 11’. It’s fairly simple really. They get some Polyjuice Potion, knock out three Ministry employees (fun fact, in the background of the scene where they drag one of their victims into their hideout, you can see a person with a briefcase walk by and very determinedly not react to the obvious kidnapping) and sneak in to the Ministry.

There is immediately some derailing of their plan however, when it turns out that the man Ron is impersonating is in fact the husband of a woman who is currently being put through a sham trial on the suspicion that she is muggleborn. Yeah…this movie leans hard into the ‘Death Eaters are fascists and Nazi allegory’ angle (as does the book) and that’s a good message, it’s nice to remember a time where we could say that Nazis were evil without it being controversial, but it can get a bit heavy and dark, so be careful before you watch this movie. Like Order of the Phoenix, it feels a bit…extra miserable in the modern context.

They do manage to accomplish their objectives though, getting the locket away from Umbridge, and rescuing the muggleborns being held prisoner, and escaping free and clear. Well, mostly, Ron is injured and left unable to apparate, meaning that they need to walk everywhere for a while. And while the problems of that are somewhat mitigated by Hermione having the foresight to pack the magical tent from Goblet of Fire (TBH, I’ve been referencing that movie a lot more than I expected) in her nearly bottomless bag, there are still problems.

The biggest one is that the locket contains a piece of the dark lord’s soul which as one might imagine hurts morale quite a bit, as does their inability to destroy the thing. It doesn’t help that they insist on wearing it instead of putting it in Hermione’s bag for…reasons. I’m sure there actually is a reason, perhaps to prevent theft, but since we only ever see them walking around in open and empty areas that doesn’t feel right.

The resulting damage to morale causes Ron to leave the group though, stomping off in a huff to go think things over. I’m guessing that this is why we get to see him actually do stuff in the first half of this movie, so that we’ll, you know, actually miss him when he goes. Normally the movies are not kind to him in the slightest unfortunately, so I don’t know if they were able to salvage it for the people who don’t read the books.

On the bright side however, Hermione figures out that the Sword of Gryffindor could probably destroy the Horcruxes. It was made by Goblins, which means that it absorbs things that make it stronger and keeps them. So while the sword wouldn’t normally be able to destroy the extraordinarily resilient Horcruxes, when Harry stabbed the Basilisk with the sword way back in Chamber of Secrets he gave it the ability to do so. This convinces Hermione to go to Godric’s Hollow with Harry, since the town was named after Godric Gryffindor and they know that the sword went missing not long ago, so there’s a chance it’ll be there (no, this isn’t the part where the change matters, give it time, we’re almost there).

The trip to Godric’s Hollow is a bit of a mixed bag for our heroes. On the one hand, they get to see the graves of Harry’s parents, as well as the ruins of their house. On the other hand…apparently Voldemort’s snake Nagini (yes, that Nagini, please don’t bring up Crimes of Grindelwald, we can’t hold that mess against this movie) can control corpses like a mech suit somehow. I don’t know, how do you control a human body without any limbs? Magic I guess? Well, she’s inhabiting the body of Bathilda Bagshot, and she lures Harry away from Hermione before attempting to kill him. The resulting scene is quite tense and chilling, and it ends up with Hermione accidentally breaking Harry’s wand as they escape.

Not long after that harrowing experience, Harry sees a Patronus in the shape of a doe in the forest where he and Hermione are camped out. And he apparently learned absolutely nothing from the last time he followed something strange without Hermione, so he follows it into the forest. Seriously, after getting attacked by a snake wearing a person suit, you think he’d be a little more paranoid! Patronuses aren’t inherently good—I’m sure Bellatrix has lots of memories that she considers happy, same with Narcissa and Lucius (though theirs are probably of Draco), so he had no way of knowing who had sent it to him.

Fortunately, it more or less works out for him. The doe leads him to a frozen lake, at the bottom of which he sees the Sword of Gryffindor. So, after attempting to get it with magic fails, he breaks the ice and dives in after it, foolishly keeping the locket on his neck. It attempts to drown him, but he gets saved by Ron, who was led back to the two by the Deluminator. We won’t harp on Harry for that bit of foolishness though, since Ron harps on him for it.

Now armed with a means of destroying the damn thing, Harry opens the locket up so that Ron can use the Sword on it. The Horcrux uses illusions in an attempt to save itself, first with spiders and then with some scandalous images of Hermione and Harry making out while naked, but Ron manages to move past it and destroy the evil artifact.

Hermione is understandably upset with Ron, but eventually manages to forgive him. She has a new idea though, based off of the book Dumbledore left for her. More specifically, based off of the symbol on the front of it. The same symbol that was on Luna’s dad’s necklace. She wants to find out what it’s about, since it’s not something she’s ever encountered before. So they head off to do just that.

Mr. Lovegood explains to them that it’s a symbol representing ‘the Deathly Hallows’, three mysterious and powerful magical artifacts that…I really, really want to rant about, but fortunately for you guys, the movies drastically reduced the emphasis given to them, so I can’t justify doing so. Suffice it to say that they’re a trio of MacGuffins that date back to medieval times: an unbeatable wand, a stone that brings back the souls of the departed as ghosts, and a perfect invisibility cloak. According to stories, they were made by Death himself, and anyone who possesses all three will become the master of Death. And to be fair to the movie, this information is relayed in a frankly beautifully animated sequence, with a really cool puppet show aesthetic to boot.

But more importantly, Mr. Lovegood reveals that Luna has been taken by the Death Eaters, and that he plans to hand Harry over to them to get his daughter back. He proceeds to quickly summon the villains, but the trio of heroes manage to escape…apparating directly in front of a crowd of random ‘snatchers’ (not quite Death Eaters, but still aligned with Voldemort. Aspiring Death Eaters I guess). The odds of this happening are frankly astronomical, but oh well. Maybe Mr. Lovegood put some sort of tracker on them and nobody ever thought to mention it. And in this situation, outnumbered as they are and unable to afford being caught the three proceed to run away. Not apparate, run. Because, uhm, they needed the shot for the poster? I guess?

Well, because they decided to just run instead of teleporting (seriously, even if they were afraid of splitting up, they all have the same goal and the same amount of information, so splitting up wouldn’t have been worse than getting captured) they get caught, Hermione’s attempt to disguise Harry’s face failing. They’re brought to Malfoy Manor, and Bellatrix quickly drags out Draco to have him identify Harry. He stalls, claiming to not be sure due to Hermione’s spell, which made Harry’s face swell up.

More importantly though, we have the change that I’ve been alluding to. Bellatrix notices that one of the ‘snatchers’ has the Sword of Gryffindor, and proceeds to freak out, because said sword is supposed to be in her vault at Gringotts, alongside a Horcrux that Voldemort gave her (not that she knows that’s what it is, just that Voldemort gave it to her for safe keeping). Only…okay, see, that’s what happened in the book. Also in the book was that the Ministry had the sword and was examining it when Voldemort succeeded in taking over. He gave it to Snape, since it was a Hogwarts thing (Snape is the new Headmaster of Hogwarts by the way) but Ginny, Luna, and Neville kept trying to break in to his office to steal it, so it was moved to Gringotts.

In the movie though, it went missing before the fall of the Ministry. It’s never explained what happened to it, but it can be assumed that Snape took it, either to use it himself or to eventually give it to Harry (spoilers, sorry, but Snape is a…well, he’s not a Death Eater, I don’t know that I can go so far as to call him a good guy though). There’s no reason for him to have given it to Voldemort, not even a fake! I’m sorry, but this makes no sense! It’s just so weird and pointless! Either have Scrimgeour say that they’re keeping it, or have Bellatrix interrogate Hermione about the trio’s plans, not the sword!

I know, I know, this is me being pedantic. It’s not the biggest change the films have ever made. And i wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m angry about it either. Still though still. This is a weird change that doesn’t add up, and it bugs me.

Regardless, Hermione is interrogated by Bellatrix in a scene that launched the Bellamione ship like a rocket, while Ron and Harry are sent down to the dungeons, where they find Luna, Ollivander (he was kidnapped at the beginning of the previous movie) and a goblin, Griphook. Griphook is taken upstairs to evaluate the Sword, and Harry pulls a piece of glass out of his sock and asks it for help, and rather immediately Dobby appears to provide said help.

I..uhm…okay, so once again, it’s better to stick to your own continuity when sticking to the source material just raises further questions Yates! Okay, so, let me get into this real quick. In the fifth book, Sirius gives Harry a two way mirror, so that they can pull off the magical equivalent of Skype conversation without needing a fire for Floo Powder. Since Harry is dealing with some shit at the time, and not thinking clearly, he doesn’t even open it until after Sirius dies. The mirror later breaks, but Dumbledore’s brother has the twin mirror and can use it to help Harry, though Harry doesn’t know that it’s him.

The only problem is that none of that happened in the movies! The mirror was completely excised from the fifth movie, and unless I blinked really hard, they never took the time to establish it in this movie either! So this comes right the heck out of nowhere, and if you don’t read the books, which not everyone does, it makes no sense! Okay, yes, this is how he contacts Dobby, but guess what? There’s a way around that! Have Kreacher relate Regulus’s full story, so that Harry knows House Elves can get in and out of any place if called. There, now he just has to call out Dobby’s name, and you have your excuse! Instead you brought up the mirror, because you decided that book loyalty was important in this one instant!

Dobby evacuates Luna and Ollivander to Bill and Fleur’s place, and then Ron and Harry subdue Pettigrew who never appears after this scene, but also very clearly does not die. Huh. Guess the extreme book loyalty didn’t even last a full scene. Well, regardless, the boys get upstairs, Harry gets Draco’s wand from him (that’ll sort of be important in the last movie), and with Dobby’s help they rescue Hermione, though sadly Dobby takes a dagger to the chest before they can get free and clear.

The death of Dobby, when he gets a short little speech about how he’s not sad, but happy he could help and be with his friends, is very, very touching, and quite moving. It’s hurt a bit by the decision to cut out Dobby’s presence in the past movies, meaning we as an audience don’t have quite the investment in the character that we the book readers did, but still, it works.

And, continuing on the downward emotional trend, the final scene is of Voldemort breaking into Dumbledore’s tomb and stealing his wand, which is revealed to have been the Elder Wand, and thrusting it into the air triumphantly, laughing.

Overall Thoughts

This movie is…very clearly part one of two, and it doesn’t really have a clear three act structure. Rather like Infinity War on that front honestly. Still, it’s not remotely a bad film, even if I have my own frustrations with it. I’ll put it with the very first film, a firm ‘meh’.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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