Standing in line for the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I realized it had been over a decade since I’d been able to catch a movie with the hardcore faithful. The last time I was able to do that was opening night for The Phantom Menace, and do I really need to tell you the antics of the diehard fan crowd ended up being more entertaining than the limp noodles on the screen? Though the Loews cineplex was mobbed — I think five screens were playing simultaneously — and the excitement in the crowd was palpable, it was a very restrained enthusiasm. Maybe everybody was keeping something in abeyance for July, when the second installment of Deathly Hallows will hit theaters and the movie curtain will come down on the decade of watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up in public.
I found myself waiting at the ticket kiosk behind a red-headed woman in a Slytherin robe. “Home field advantage?” I asked her, and she laughed. “I’m just bummed that I’m not going to be able to use this robe much longer,” she said. Turned out she did appearances at Potter-related events.
“At least with Harry Potter you got your money’s worth,” I pointed out. “Eight movies, all together. If you’d bought a hobbit costume, you’d have been done after only three movies.”
“I did get a costume for that,” she said. “Only it was a Legolas costume. I was very convincing with the bow.”
I’m sure she was. When The Hobbit makes its long overdue appearance in the plexes, I hope she’ll be at Loew’s on opening night.
One of the things I liked best about Deathly Hallows the novel was the big-hearted generosity of J.K. Rowling’s storytelling. She made sure every important character got a proper send-off — even the appalling Dudley Dursley was allowed to show a few glints of humanity as he said farewell to Harry. Draco Malfoy, the most odious little creep outside a Roald Dahl novel, was shown wrestling with stirrings of a wan, barely functioning conscience that led him to save Harry’s bacon at one crucial moment, then attempt to fry it in another. The second biggest mistake committed by the Half-Blood Prince film was to shorten the lead-up to Dumbledore’s death. Not only did Rowling’s scene show the headmaster’s coolness and courage in a desperate situation, it also certified that he thought Draco had a soul worth saving.
That soul is glimpsed fleetingly in Deathly Hallows the film, and while Dudley’s big moment is absent, the film makes up for it with a quietly devastating scene in which Hermione protects her parents by surreptitiously removing all memories of her existence. The sight of Hermione disappearing from years of family snapshots, and the blend of grief and resolve on Emma Watson’s face, demonstrates how high the stakes have become far better than the umpteenth Death Eater attack.
Part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looks great and manages to handle the immense challenges posed by Rowling’s novel capably, if not always very gracefully. But what really impressed me was the silence. Given enough elbow room to tell the story, rather than scramble to hit all the relevant plot points within a two-hour window, Deathly Hallows allows significant stretches of time to pass without an explosion, an action beat, or even background noise. The novel’s long, pensive passages in which Team Potter can only hide out and try to regroup in the face of Voldemort’s near-total victory, get their equivalent on screen, which is downright revolutionary for a big-ticket blockbuster like this.
I can only wish Half-Blood Prince had been given a two-film adaptation like this; alone among the latter Potter novels, it earned its bulk with storytelling muscle and a wealth of necessary detail. But the good news about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is that it honors its source material and sets the stage for — dare we hope — a great resolution. The young actors who devoted their childhoods to embodying these characters and maturing along with them will, I think, be able to look back over these films and feel their time was well spent. I remember walking out of The Return of the King feeling a little pang of regret that a fourth film wasn’t on the horizon. I don’t know if part two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will give me the same feeling, but I’m prepared to be surprised.