Love is stronger than death. – Unknown
The power of love over death has been a major theme of Harry Potter ever since his mother’s self-sacrifice first saved Harry’s life and caused Voldemort’s initial downfall. Throughout the series, Harry’s love for and trust in his friends were also critical in many of their narrow escapes and victories, though cruelly exploited in the Order of the Phoenix. In fact, the whole thrust of the series can be seen as a profound meditation on what it means to truly overcome death, and this theme comes to a head in the Deathly Hallows (or die Heiligtümer des Todes, since I watched it in German).
Without giving any Part 2 spoilers for the sake of the one or two people left in the world who haven’t read the book, the film admirably emphasizes the power of self-sacrificial love. This is seen not only in the resolution of various love-interests (and I’m convinced that showing that love wins out is one of the major purposes of the infamous epilogue), but most especially in the climactic scenes involving Harry, Voldemort and a professor who will go unnamed. No, the film does not quite live up to the book in the latter case, but it comes close enough.
That love is stronger than death does not, in this story, mean that no one dies, but that love wins out through death, indeed that love is most perfectly expressed through bravely facing death for the sake of one’s friends, not cowardly killing to preserve one’s own life. This is, of course, one of the many ways that Harry Potter reflects the Christian story, and it is embodied not only in the climax of the the Deathly Hallows but also in the scene from Part 1 involving the Slytherine Horcrux and the cross-shaped Sword of Gryffindore. Closely mirroring a baptism, here it is only by diving to the depths of the deathly cold pool that the sword can be retrieved and evil destroyed. Harry cannot save himself in this instance, but must be saved by another, as he so often was before, just as he also does for others. One could hardly find a better image of the communal nature of salvation.
Thus it was especially satisfying to see both halves of the film back to back (our theater played them as a double-feature, with the second half beginning at midnight). I haven’t been in as full and enthusiastic a theater since The Return of the King, and the audience clapped and cheered and laughed out loud on numerous occasions. Between the two halves, they fit in most everything important from the book, with just a handful of explicit changes, many intended (it seems) simply to limit the amount of time the characters spent under the Cloak of Invisibility or disguised with Polyjuice Potion. Logically, this strains the credibility of the plot a bit, but emotionally you really want to be able to see your character’s faces, so I don’t begrudge them the change. That they expanded many of the duels is also understandable, though somewhat unbelievable in a world in which one unblockable curse can end any fight in a second (though the same complaint could be raised about the books as well).
A few of the other changes were less necessary and therefore puzzling (for instance, why move the Voldemort-Snape scene from the Shrieking Shack to the boathouse?), but all around they were much more faithful to the book than any other adaptation I’ve seen. The main thing to get cut down was the material about Dumbledore’s past and Harry’s resulting doubts, which left the King’s Cross scene less moving than it should have been, but it didn’t overly detract from the story. The only change that really bothered me involved Voldemort’s use of the Elder Wand in the final battle, but now I’m getting too close to spoilers, so I’d better move on to more technical aspects of the film (feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments though!).
The acting was all around very good, as was clear even through the excellent German translation. Germans are quite proud of their dubbing, and rightly so. The voice actors all fit and did an outstanding job, and the only time I even noticed the dubbing was in the opening scene of Part 1 with its extreme close-up of the Minister of Magic giving a speech. There were a couple of scenes where I found the German difficult to follow, but I’m sure that says more about me than the film. There were also a couple of one-liners that I could understand in German, but would rather have heard in the original English. For instance, Molly Weasley’s last line (if you’ve read the book, you know which one I’m talking about) always seemed more deliciously startling in a series that almost everywhere else avoided profanity. It just doesn’t have the same punch in a foreign language.
Finally, as this was my first experience with modern 3D I should say a word about that as well. All around the 3D conversion seemed to be very well done, certainly better than I had been lead to expect of the genre. This was true not only of the full-blown action scenes but also of more mundane settings. The Gringotts sequence was particularly impressive in 3D, though sitting one row from the back of the theater significantly diminished the effect, since I could easily see the edges of the screen. I sat that far away intentionally, as did not want to risk a headache, but next time I would sit closer to the middle of the theater.
Whether because of this or despite it, I found the 3D overall more distracting than immersive, and it did not feel any more realistic than 2D. But neither did it feel boxy, and unlike some forms of 3D, I was able to look anywhere on the screen at any time, without finding it blurred or hard on the eyes. Our theater used Real-D 3D (without even charging extra for it!), and the glasses fit just fine over my normal ones. Certainly the 3D did not ruin the movie for me, nor was the picture too dark, but I wouldn’t have paid extra for it. Indeed with 3D or without, the special effects where phenomenal, and the action and magical warfare were every bit as exciting and imaginative as you could hope.
In short, it deserves every bit of the 97% it is currently getting on Rotten Tomatoes. It is exciting, moving, thrilling and at times hilarious, and as brilliant and fitting a conclusion to the franchise as anyone could hope for, surpassed only by the book itself in scope and depth.