Harry Potter Week: Comparing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the Book and the Movie

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie poster. Indeed, it all ends.

While I didn’t expect to be first in line for the final Harry Potter movie, at 11 p.m. last night, we had made a last-minute decision and were indeed pulling into the drive-in an hour from home with two sleeping kids in the back seat. After one quick trailer for the next Sherlock Holmes, the outdoor screen under a bright full moon dove right into Part Two of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows right where Part One left off, with Voldemort lifting the Elder Wand triumphantly from Dumbledore’s grave.

Seeing the final Potter has to be a different movie experience simply because of what it is. When you walk into any other movie, you have about two hours to become acquainted enough with the characters to care about their conclusion–and sometimes it doesn’t work out. But with Potter, we met these kids a decade ago when they really were kids. Now they’re all grown up, with the actors moving on to nude scenes on Broadway, modeling for Burberry, and launching design careers. We’ve had a long time to care about the ends they meet. We’re invested in how things turn out. Of course, most of last night’s theater-goers likely knew what to expect, having read the finale — perhaps more than once — before seeing it on screen.

We also all know going in that things might be different, as happens when pages make it to film. For those who haven’t read the books, the pace is much quicker than Part One’s navel-gazing woods-wandering was, with swiftly waving wands, spells flying about, and the hunt for the last horcruxes rushing by. (Now is the part where things will start getting spoilery, so if you’d like to see the film unsullied, you should stop here.)

:: SPOILER ALERT::

For the most part, the story is faithful to the book and vividly brought to life tempered by the darkness appropriate to this point in the story. (I’ve waited years to see how the Room of Requirement would look on fire, and it didn’t disappoint.)

However, the expected deaths are handled unevenly, and favorite characters are killed unceremoniously. Casual movie-only fans may hardly even notice Remus’ and Nymphadora’s bodies, or George mourning Fred as Harry surveys the battle’s damage.

Another difference from the book is in Harry’s time in the not-quite-death limbo space with Dumbledore. In the movie, Dumbledore explains less and leaves more mystery. He does manage to explain that Harry has the option to go back, but you may be left wondering about the world’s rules–did this semi-death destroy the horcrux in Harry, leaving him Voldie-free when he returns? You assume so when Voldemort is finally defeated, but as sometimes happens in any fantasy world, you’re left with questions about the details. (The book does explain most of this, so it’s a good reason to read it if you’ve been movie-only.)

Some other omissions:

  • Harry is much smarter in the book about his dealings with Griphook, and you already know that goblins are notorious for going back on their word. In the movie, it all happens so quickly, you’ll be saying, “Silly boy! Of course he never said he’d get you out!” without much context over the sudden switch.
  • You don’t see Remus and Tonks or meet Teddy or know that Harry is Teddy’s godfather. It’s one of my favorite minor bits, probably because I love Tonks so much.
  • Aberforth doesn’t have a chance to tell Ariana’s story, but she is there in a painting to help the trio into Hogwarts.
  • Harry acquiring Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem plays out quite differently. In the book, he and Luna go to see it and are caught by Alecto Carrow, which results in Amycus Carrow and McGonagall arriving, and Harry using the Cruciatus Curse on Amycus. In the movie, we skip ahead to his going to the Grey Lady, the ghost of Rowena’s daughter, for help, whose scene stretches on until she’s reminiscent of a better-dressed Moaning Myrtle.
  • McGonagall, Shacklebolt, and the other adults really get the shaft for what is a much larger role in the book. One of my favorite movie moments, however, is when McGonagall calls the massive magical statues down for the castle’s defense, smiles with childlike satisfaction, and says, “I always wanted to use that spell.”
  • Dumbledore’s in-limbo confessions of his story with Grindelwald and the search for the Hallows are deep insight into this character that were eliminated but I think keeping them could have added to the film, particularly after Dumbledore’s image becomes colored in both directions by his brother Aberford’s comments and Snape’s memories in the Pensieve.
  • Neville doesn’t get tortured with the Sorting Hat on fire.
  • After Voldemort is gone, wrap-up is hasty. Harry offers a quick Elder Wand explanation to Ron and Hermione, but you don’t know that Shacklebolt becomes Minister of Magic, and they don’t go visit Dumbledore’s portrait.

Actual changes, as opposed to omissions, are generally minor and aesthetic or meant to move the story along. Things like finding the diadem on a table versus a bust, the building where Snape dies, or who suggests using the dragon to escape Gringott’s. Or in the case of Crabbe’s absence in the Room of Requirement, because of drug charges against the actor. (But Blaise Zabini taking his place is an amusing addition if you’ve read Methods of Rationality.) One of the few I’d call a really significant story change is the changes and additions to Snape’s memories that Harry pulls from the pensieve.

The biggest shortcoming for me was in how Neville was treated. In the book’s final battle, Neville really comes into his own at last, pulling the sword from the Sorting Hat when it was needed and thus proving himself as a true, brave Gryffindor. This all happens in the movie, but if you blink, you’ll miss it, and you haven’t spent the time that the pages devote to it, you might not even consider the significance to the character.

The change most likely to strike those waiting for the ultimate battle will be in its details. For example, the duel takes place in the courtyard rather than the Great Hall, and Voldemort’s flying-ash death may not have been quite what you imagined. Harry concludes not by using the Elder Wand to repair his own, or by saying he hopes to destroy it, but by simply snapping it in two and throwing it off the bridge.

If you’re interested in the other details that changed, the Harry Potter wiki has a lengthy list.

::END SPOILERS::

In the end–and as the poster tells us, it all ends–it was a conclusion that did justice to our decade-and-a-half journey. It will serve you well whether you’ve followed each book and bought every branded accessory or only casually caught the movies as they came out. It is, however, definitely important to have read or seen the rest, or you will likely be quite confused. But even then, you’ll have plenty of magical battle scenes to watch, so if you’re just there for the fireworks and strange Volde-fetus, you’re still in luck, but you’re missing out on a lot of great storytelling. See the movie, but don’t forget to read the books as well.

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By day, Ruth works to make open source software communities better. The rest of the time, she makes things, which means her husband and kids know to watch out for stray sewing pins and to ask before eating anything made of fondant.