Here’s Your Deathly Hallows on IMAX

Click to see Severus Snape walking through the AWESOME gate

“These are dark times, there’s no denying”

I saw it this morning, in the IMAX theater at Tyson’s Corner. And, in a word, it was AWESOME!!! (like the WB promo shown above)

It’s hardly a secret that Deathly Hallows is my favorite Harry Potter book. It’s also not a secret that I found the Half-Blood Prince movie… disappointing.

In HPB, the filmmakers wasted precious time burning the Burrow, when they could have been giving us another Pensieve memory of Tom Riddle’s family background or some additional face time with the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.

I feared that, given the complexity of the DH narrative, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves would trash the story, chop it up, render it incomprehensible in an attempt to simplify it for movie-only viewers. I wondered if, in the end, moviegoers would understand who Dumbledore was, who Snape was, and how the twin themes of redemption and remorse that play out in these men’s lives ultimately help Harry confront Voldemort with the things the Dark Lord doesn’t understand.

Well, we won’t know the answer to that question until we reach the end of DH2. But DH1 gives me good reason to hope that the filmmakers will capture much of the richness of this narrative… and offer up a successful resolution to the Harry Potter saga.

For me, the DH movies carry the biggest stakes because they also carry the most profound part of Harry Potter’s story. I already knew going in to DH1 that the split would occur at Dumbledore’s tomb. And I knew just from watching the trailers that DH1 would include both Malfoy Manor sequences, the 7 Potters, Bill and Fleur’s wedding, the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, the splinching scene, Ron’s confrontation with Harry, at least some of the visit to Godric’s Hollow, the destruction of the locket horcrux, the visit to Xenophilius Lovegood, and Voldemort’s retrieval of the wand.

Here are some other elements that I was hoping to see in DH1:

  • Dudley’s attempt to reconcile with Harry
  • Kreacher’s Tale (including a flashback to the Cave and Regulus’ heroism)
  • Some of Dumbledore’s backstory (and Harry’s struggle to come to grips with it)
  • Hermione’s conversations with the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black (including a flashback of Snape catching Neville, Ginny, and Luna trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor)
  • Harry’s dialogue with Ron after Ron confronts his fears and destroys the locket horcrux
  • Grindelwald’s refusal to betray Dumbledore’s possession of the Elder Wand to Voldemort
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers

Okay, so one of those wishes came true. But we missed Dudley, most of Kreacher’s Tale, nearly all of Dumbledore’s backstory, Phineas’ portrait, and (alas) Harry’s awesome “I thought you knew.”

I understand some of those decisions. Really, I do. Flashbacks would have dragged out the film (no matter how gratifying I find those strands of plot to be). And Dumbledore’s backstory can be covered more fully in DH2 at the Hogs Head and in King’s Cross.

But why not include the Dudley scene or Phineas’ portrait or Harry’s dialogue with Ron? And why, WHY, WHY violate the character of Gellert Grindelwald? (more on that in another post).

Regardless, the movie overall does about as fine a job with DH1 as I could have hoped. Here are some of the highlights:

  • An absolutely wrenching scene (told, not shown, in the book) in which Hermione obliviates her parents
  • Nearly the entire opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – with stunning performances by Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, and – really – the whole Death Eater cast
  • A truly creepy Bathilda Bagshot sequence
  • A beautiful Silver Doe/Retrieval of the Sword sequence – almost exactly as I had pictured it
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers – an EPIC WIN animation – including a narrative containing, I think, every word in the story

And of course, it sure didn’t hurt to be viewing all of this on an IMAX screen. I’ll be back later with a bit more analysis. But for now, I’ll just say that, overall, this film is TEH AWESOME!!! (And I wasn’t saying that after the last one).

From the Hut on the Rock to the Leaky Cauldron

Rowling started setting up the Wizarding World as early as Chapter 1. But even though Wizards descended on a Muggle neighborhood, leaving an orphaned Wizard child, we were still firmly planted in the Muggle World. Rowling’s foreshadowing only hinted at the hidden reality

Chapter 5 (“Diagon Alley”) finally begins to change all that. In fact, you could almost call Chapter 5 a “Wizarding World Grand Tour.”

The chapter is so jam-packed with information that I’m going to have to take it in small chunks. In fact, we’re not even going to get all the way to Diagon Alley in this post. We’re going to stop at the doors of the Leaky Cauldron.

Goblins, Dragons, and Gringotts

The morning after the Wizarding World descends again on Harry’s newest Muggle location (the Hut on the Rock), Harry wakes up thinking he’s in one fairy tale, only to find that he’s in a completely new one. No longer the abused stephchild, Harry has awakened to find himself the wealthy prince, and he’s even got a magic-making giant (or half-giant) for a protector. Cool!

His first instruction on re-entering the Wizarding World is how to buy a newspaper. It’s 5 knuts to pay the owl post.

(Geek Note: One knut = 1/493 of a Galleon and 1/29 of a Sickle. So the price of the paper is 5/493 of a Galleon, or roughly .01 Galleons.)

Yes, Wizards have their own postal system, their own newspaper delivery, their own monetary system, their own bank. With goblins running the Gringotts Bank and dragons guarding the vaults, “yeh’d be mad ter try an’ rob it.” Just the Gringotts dialog alone foreshadows a collection of future gags and plotlines.

We’ll later find assorted Weasleys working in Egypt at Gringotts or in Romania with dragons. Goblin rebellions will become a standing joke whenever our hero and his best friends get stuck in History of Magic class. Hagrid will soon try, unsuccessfully, to raise a baby dragon. Harry will be required in his 4th year to steal an egg from a mama dragon. And robbing Gringotts? Even though that idea sits on the backburner for six books, Harry and friends actually will pull off a Gringotts heist… for the purpose of saving the world from Voldemort, of course.

The Daily Prophet and the Ministry of Magic

One of the delights of this chapter is to listen to Hagrid reads The Daily Prophet and comment about how the Ministry of Magic is “messin’ things up as usual.

[The Ministry of Magic] wanted Dumbledore fer Minister, o’ course [Hagrid explains], but he’d never leave Hogwarts, so old Cornelius Fudge got the job. Bungler if ever there was one. So he pelts Dumbledore with owls every morning, askin’ fer advice.”

“But what does a Ministry of Magic do?” [Harry inquires].

“Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there’s still witches an’ wizards up an’ down the country.”

As with the Gringotts dialog, these few lines foreshadow a great deal of future plot. Though Cornelius Fudge seems like a kindly, if not terribly competent, Minister of Magic early on in the series, he turns viciously on Harry when the boy reports at the end of the TriWizard Tournament that Voldemort has returned. And Fudge uses this very newspaper, The Daily Prophet, to run a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore.

(The Daily Prophet itself plays a big role in this story, often becoming a mere mouthpiece for whoever is running the Ministry – including Voldemort himself).

And just as Hagrid has incomplete information on why Voldemort tried to kill Harry, he has equally inadequate information on why Dumbledore has repeatedly refused the Minister of Magic job. It’s not simply that he would never leave Hogwarts. Rather, he does not want the temptation of power – which is why he sought refuge at Hogwarts in the first place. As we know from DH, Dumbledore in his youth became friends with the Dark Wizard Gellert Grindelwald and flirted with the same ideas of Muggle subservience that Grindelwald put into place. As Dumbledore tells Harry flatly in the “King’s Cross” chapter of DH: “I was not to be trusted with power.”

As for the role of the Ministry of Magic… keeping magic from Muggles is such a huge topic that books on the topic could fill a small library. Wizards are restricted from using magic on Muggles, in the presence of Muggles, and on “Muggle artifacts.” Hogwarts students are restricted from using magic away from school. The existence of the magical world is hidden from Muggles by enchantments that prevent them from seeing some things that any Wizard can see. Hogwarts, in fact, looks to Muggle eyes like an old, abandoned ruin – not a vibrant, lively castle.

The Leaky Cauldron

The Leaky Cauldron is one of those magical places concealed by spells from Muggle eyes:

“This is it,” said Hagrid, coming to a halt, “the Leaky Cauldron. It’s a famous place.”

It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn’t pointed it out, Harry wouldn’t have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn’t glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big bookshop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn’t see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it.

About 50 years earlier, Albus Dumbledore mentioned this very phenomenon to young Tom Riddle when telling the boy how to get to the Leaky Cauldron:

“You will be able to see it, although Muggles around you – non-magical people, that is – will not.”

Given that the Wizarding World opts to keep itself concealed (according to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy of 1689), the Leaky Cauldron would be one of the most desirable locations to hide from Muggle eyes. It’s the gateway to Diagon Alley – the great shopping district of the English Wizarding World, the district that proves the existence of magic.