Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Cinematography of Eduardo Serra

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It’s not easy to tell a story spanning seven years of adolescence, and a trial like that was almost unprecedented until these films came into fruition. One of the things that made the Harry Potter films so successful both commercially and critically is how different each film really was from one another; every entry in the series had its own distinct look and feel. The fact that each movie had a different pairing of director and cinematographer makes it easy to see why that is.

Eduardo Serra was the cinematographer behind the last two movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 & 2.

Warning: I’m probably about to start talking about the Harry Potter films like they were artistic masterpieces. But that’s because they were.

The last four Harry Potter films were directed by David Yates, who took on the series when it took its biggest turn in terms of tone after the return of Voldemort. The first two films directed by Yates were helmed by different cinematographers; one of them ended up getting nominated by the Academy for his work on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

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Eduardo Serra, however, gave the last two films a look that complemented David Yates’ direction with a tone worthy of a story’s conclusion. The challenge David and Eduardo faced with the Deathly Hallows films that separated them from the rest of the series was the fact that the setting wasn’t primarily just one place anymore. The two films followed Harry on a journey that constantly changed in landscape and location.

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When Hogwarts did come into play, it was shot completely differently.

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Given that the Deathly Hallows films were the concluding chapters of a boy’s transition into an adult, it wasn’t an accident that they were filmed in such a serene tone. When there was light, it made the world of the film glow as if we could have been dreaming it.

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When the story was kinetic and war was in play, the picture was sharp. As both Voldemort and Harry grew weaker in the life they had, the camera got closer.

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Come to think of it, this could almost have been a film by Terrence Mallick himself. The scenes capturing Severus Snape’s collection of memories look like they could have been taken directly from The Tree of Life itself.

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While each movie before it gradually got darker, Eduardo’s cinematography for the Deathly Hallows was both bleak and heavenly, and he managed to balance it all together.

His cinematography was the perfect blend of a dementor’s cold touch of hopelessnes, and a calming, bright tone that signified the light coming up at the end of the tunnel.

Because at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s story and the end that it comes to, this was a film about death.

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But it was also a film about life, and the love that makes it worth fighting for.

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Now at the age of 70, Eduardo Serra has been working with film for almost 40 years, with most of his work done in French film. The only three Hollywood films he’s really ever now known for are Blood Diamond and the last two Harry Potter films In reality, he was nominated twice for an Oscar in cinematography: in 1998 for Wings of the Dove, and in 2000 for Girl with a Pearl Earring. For a franchise with so much history and impact over entire generations of readers and moviegoers alike coming to a final conclusion, Eduardo was picked to capture its last two films’ photography. There was a reason he was picked for the Deathly Hallows, and for why films were so critically acclaimed. He knew how to approach its story, the emotions it held, the themes that ran in it, and the granditude all of it was meant to be presented in.

Maybe the work that he’s done on the Deathly Hallows will open different generations to the other work he’s done. After all, it may have well been because of Wings of the Dove that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looked as beautiful as it did.

[Eduardo Serra on IMDB]

  • ShawnDWalker

    There was a reason he was picked for the Deathly Hallows, and for why films were so critically acclaimed. He knew how to approach its story, the emotions it held, the themes that ran in it, and the granditude all of it was meant to be presented in. http://num.to/904.970.893.852

  • Jim Johnson

    Honest question: How much credit can a cinematographer realistically claim for a CGI shot?

    • Steven Lear

      CGI is implemented to capture what you can’t in reality. However, that’s not to say that it’s necessarily detached from the cinematographer, who plays a vital role in the look and feel of both the effects and the film itself. The effects might have been made in the computer, but the look and style of them, most particularly in how they’re incorporated into the film, still depends on the cinematographer. Mr. Serra can certainly be praised for his work on all the shots in these last two films, even if he shared some of that glory with the visual effects dept.