There are some movie spoilers in this review; if you haven’t read the books and you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to wait. If you have read the books and you haven’t seen the movie yet, you also might want to wait, because they changed things. A lot of things. As they do when they adapt books to films.
I understand that it’s impossible to condense a book into a two and a half hour film, and as a result, storylines get cut. Bill and Charlie, for example, were entirely erased. We didn’t see the Dursleys at all. The (undoubtedly expensive to film) fight at Hogwarts from the end of the book wasn’t reproduced in the movie at all. With no Bill, there’s no need for Fleur. For the most part, I think they did a decent job of preserving important storylines and trimming out dross, although there were some false steps.
This was a very mythology heavy movie, and I think that for people who haven’t read the books, some things might have been confusing. I’ve said before about the film adaptations of the books that sometimes they feel like a series of snapshots because they are trying to cram in all of the scenes readers want to see, and that was definitely true here. They also made some stylistic changes to make the movie more dynamic; showing the bridge collapse, for example, instead of letting us hear about it through other people, and shifting the plot around a bit to avoid having to go into detail. All of these changes were clearly made for pacing, to keep the movie more exciting and to push the plot forward.
But there were some things that I think might be confusing to people who haven’t read the books and are following the films casually. They might not understand, for example, that Draco is in the Room of Requirement during the scenes with the vanishing cabinet. Or what the O.W.L.S. are, and what marks the trio got on them. Or that Fenrir Greyback (for people who even realized that they were seeing Fenrir Greyback) is a werewolf, not just a Death Eater. Some things were also rushed and bumped about a bit; as a reader of the books, I filled in the blanks, but I am curious to see what people who haven’t read experienced when they saw the movie. I feel like they may have had trouble following or felt like they missed things.
Castingwise, Slughorn really did not look like I expected. I can’t pull an actor’s name out of my head as an example of who might have been better cast, but he didn’t feel right to me. Alan Rickman was, as always, awesome as Snape. I think he gave a very nuanced performance and he was very believable. The trio, on the other hand, are starting to feel a little old. Hogwarts felt more like a college dorm than ever before, and I didn’t like that they were out of robes so much, because I’m a traditionalist, and in the books, they stay in their damn robes instead of running around in street clothes. I think that the creators also did a good job of keeping the background cast kind of in our minds; we saw Remus and Tonks (although the film glided right over the rough bits and straight into their romantic relationship), and we got to see people like Flitwick and McGonagall briefly.
Some of the things that they changed were for the better, I think. In the books, you get the slow buildup of tension and doom over the course of the story, but that wasn’t really possible here, so the scene at the Weasley’s kind of stood in for that all in one blow. I also liked the shot at the very beginning of the film with Harry and Dumbledore at the Ministry. I think it kind of brought people into the mood of the film, and quietly referenced Dumbledore’s efforts to protect Harry from the Ministry, as we see Dumbledore gently escorting him away. The scenes with Draco experimenting with the bird and the Vanishing Cabinet were a bit heavy-handed, but also a bit clever: Draco kills the white (innocence) bird while testing the cabinet, while Harry finds and frees the black (evil) bird when he’s in the Room of Requirement, illustrating that the Cabinet has been fixed and the die is cast.
Other changes, however, were not so great. I didn’t like that viewers missed Voldemort’s lust for collecting things, which is what helps Harry find the Horcruxes later; now, they’re going to have to add something, because we have no idea what Harry’s supposed to be looking for. I also didn’t like that they largely left out Snape’s vindictiveness and pettiness. I think Snape is a really conflicted character, and the movies have kind of simplified him. (Likewise, I suspect that Ron’s abandonment will be cut from Deathly Hallows.) The scene in the opener with Harry in the train station just irritated me on a lot of levels, especially since I think the scene it replaced, with Dumbledore lecturing the Dursleys, was an important part of the book and I was sad to see it go. I was also sad that Harry’s cloak wasn’t more prominent, especially because it’s going to be major in the next film, although I did like the nod to the Elder Wand. The decision to cut Voldemort’s family history was also rather unfortunate. Also, and I know this sounds petty, I really hated the Peverell ring. It looked incredibly cheap and tacky. And what was up with Felix Felicious not being gold, as was clearly stated in the book?!
Two scenes in particular were totally laughable. The intervention-style scene with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny after Harry curses Draco was just painful, and I didn’t like that Harry received no punishment after nearly killing Draco. And the scene with everyone holding up their wands was, I think, supposed to be a powerful tribute with everyone united and all, but it really just made me think that everyone had Apparated to a rock concert. I mean, seriously? Did no one think about the fact that a bunch of people in the dark holding up flames really only conjures up one image? I actually started shaking with laughter when that happened.
I also disliked the heavy focus on the adolescent relationships, which I think displaced the sense of foreboding which hung over the book. The only major mention of the fear occurred in the beginning, when Ron mentions that Mrs. Weasley almost didn’t let him go back to Hogwarts, and we didn’t see any of the grim scenes from the book, like Hannah Abbot being taken out of class to be told her mother has been killed, students vanishing with no explanation, daily bad news in the paper, and, of course, Molly Weaslye’s famous clock. While the budding of love was definitely important in the book, it felt overplayed here, and the overall tone was much lighter than that in the book.
Deathly Hallows is getting split in two, so hopefully it won’t suffer from the same choppiness and lack of detail that I’ve been complaining about with the films. I also hope that they make at least one cut: the coda of Deathly Hallows, which makes me want to vomit every time I think about it.