No surprises here: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One has routed the opposition in its first weekend, raking in US$330 million globally, $125 million in the US alone. In Britain, film 7 (and ¾?) in the Potter franchise smashed the previous record for an opening weekend held by Quantum of Solace with a remarkable $28 million. In terms of Box Office takings alone it appears that director David Yates will top off the Harry Potter saga in a positively epic manner. Given the enthusiasm for Part 1, Part 2, due in July 2011, is sure to leapfrog these remarkable results.
Deathly Hallows takes up the adventure of Harry Potter in the wake of Dumbledore’s death and the revelation that Lord Voldemort has shattered his soul into seven pieces, concealing them in virtually indestructible objects. While any of these so-called horcruxes remain intact, the Dark Lord cannot be destroyed. Harry has been left with the seemingly impossible task of locating and destroying the horcruxes before the inevitable final confrontation with Lord Voldemort.
And the Deathly Hallows themselves? Three objects of great power, the Resurrection Stone (a stone with the power to recall the dead to the world of the living), the Elder Wand (reputedly an unbeatable wand), and an infallible Invisibility Cloak. Voldemort, who has failed to kill Harry time and again, searches for the Elder Wand believing that it will succeed where other wands have failed, but in his arrogance he fails to appreciate the significance of the Hallows.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is not a movie for everyone, and certainly not for some of our more weighty critics who complain with apparent surprise that the Potter movies just aren’t fun anymore, that they’re too grim and lack the levity of the earlier episodes. One can only assume that they’re unfamiliar with Rowling’s novels or fail to appreciate that the grimness of Rowling’s world was always there, it’s just that the children are now young adults and perceive the world as it is.
In fact it is quite likely that these critics of the film are not numbered amongst the many millions who are familiar with Rowling’s books. More so than any other book-to-film adaptation I can think of, enjoyment of the Potter movies has relied on the audience’s familiarity with the source material. For those unfamiliar with Rowling’s narrative, the films must appear somehow incomplete. Screenwriter Steve Kloves has worked on five of the six previous movies (all except Order of the Phoenix) and his handling of Rowling’s material has gone from strength to strength, as has his appreciation of what can be left out of the big screen adaptation: Kloves has become an expert in identifying which gaps in the narrative the fans of the Potter books will readily fill in.
The irony, of course, is that even though Kloves’ adaptation of The Deathly Hallows is given the luxury of two movies, it is even more dependent on the assumed knowledge of the audience. Rowling’s novel is immense. For the first time the bulk of the story takes place outside the familiar walls of Hogwarts School of Magic and Rowling introduces us to a far more expansive world. But more significantly the narrative is complex, with many threads carried through from the preceding novels that need to be resolved. So much is missing or compressed in the adaptation that only those in the know can truly enjoy the film, actively filling in the gaps that for everyone else must appear to be gaping holes. [SPOILER ALERT] A good example is Ron’s change of heart under the evil influence of a horcrux which turns him against Harry. In the novel this comes about over an extended period with considerable attention given to it, almost all of which is absent from the movie. So much so that anyone unfamiliar with the novel should be surprised by the apparent ease with which Ron turns on Harry.
Increasingly the Potter films are intended exclusively for the fans of the books. Fortunately for the filmmakers there are a lot of us. None of the later films could stand alone and they’re increasingly reliant on the audiences’ familiarity with Rowling’s writing. Is this good adaptation? Possibly not, but I have no doubt that Yates and Kloves know exactly what they’re doing and how fortunate they are to have such a large and knowledgeable audience: if they’ve taken shortcuts with the adaptation, they’ve done so with skill and fully aware that the bulk of the audience is bringing the missing elements with them.
When the critics dismiss Deathly Hallows for its apparent lack of motivating or profound themes they forget that Rowling is first and foremost an outstanding story-teller. There are in fact weighty themes at play in her series but when all is said and done this saga is a plot driven narrative, an adventure no less: the Potter series is great story telling, not great literature. Something similar could be said of the movie adaptations: they’re not great films, but they are great entertainment. What the intended audience is looking for is the enactment on screen of a beloved adventure and the resolution of a thrilling saga, and that is what we get. For many adults, like myself, who have happily shared the journey with the young adult audience the author had in mind when she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this is the movie we have been waiting for: the suitably dramatic and exciting conclusion to an ever more realistically grim fantasy.
Highly recommended for fans of Rowling’s novels.
Part 2 is due in July 2011, possibly also in 3D if Warner Brothers can successfully convert it. I’ll be seeing it in 2D…
Here is the first official trailer: