We assume you’ve read the book, so consider this your spoiler alert.
Part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does retain much of the dialogue and essence of the book, if not every character and scene. With a corroding Warner Bros. sign, the filmmakers immediately nod to the darkness of the seventh novel. It starts with Scrimgeour holding a press conference, reminding us that the wizarding world is in turmoil. Hermione leaves her parents’ lives and memories. The Dursleys pack up, leaving Harry in an empty house; in the movie, they don’t learn how important he is to the wizarding world, and Dudley does not get to say goodbye to Harry. But Ron stands outside the Burrow with his family visible in the background, for he is the member of the trio with the most family to risk.
After this beginning montage, the movie better mirrors the book, only occasionally streamlining or embellishing scenes, and retains the novel’s humorous moments, occasionally adding more. Romantic tensions are increased for the screen: Ginny is more explicit in her overture to Harry, while Harry and Hermione’s relationship is depicted more ambiguously than in the book. The Horcrux’s “Riddle-Harry” and “Riddle-Hermione” have a surprisingly steamy scene, and Harry never reassures Ron that his feelings are platonic.
Meanwhile, the council of Death Eaters, the chaotic attack on the decoys, Bathilda Bagshot’s transformation and the drowning scene convey the life-and-death stakes for the trio and their allies. Torture and violence are both more visible and less prolonged here than in the book. The personal cost of Harry, Hermione and Ron’s physical and emotional journey overshadows the story of the widespread destruction caused by Lord Voldemort.
The beautifully lit but deserted landscapes reinforce the travelers’ isolation. The film acknowledges the loss of lives and emphasizes the loss of innocence—characters die, and Harry and his companions discover their ignorance. The trio is more ill-prepared in the film than in the book, including the scenes in which Harry openly attends the wedding party and their disguises fade too early in the Ministry, and when Harry and Hermione enter Godric’s Hollow unconcealed. The film also relies on newspapers, radio and props to show rather than simply tell the story, therefore eliminating characters like Dedalus Diggle, Stanley Shunpike, Viktor Krum, Gornuk, the Tonks family and Dean Thomas.
The movie also uses fade-to-black visuals to signal tempo and tone changes to end scenes, and the recounting of the story of the Deathly Hallows is done in distinctive, Tim Burton-esque animation. But then there are moments, as when Harry looks a this old cupboard, in which the movie invites viewers to remember all the earlier books and films. Minor alterations aside, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 should please fans of the novels and whet appetites for the final installment, due out in 2011.
Movie poster courtesy of Warner Bros.