Thursday, July 21, 2011

Remember Hogwarts! Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two is the raw, thrilling grand finale to the Harry Potter saga, begun by the novels of J. K. Rowling in 1997, visualized by the eight-movie series that began in 2001. Throughout, I have not been an avid fan of the saga. Unlike many readers, I was not dazzled by the first novel. I read the first four novels aloud to my young son and daughter, but I often skipped through pages of dialogue that seemed less like pith and more like padding. To me, the stories read too much like video games: meet the challenge, solve the problem, move to the next level. When the movies came out, I accompanied both of my kids to the early ones, my daughter to all of them, sometimes feeling bored, sometimes nodding off to sleep, enjoying some more than others. But I must admit that the lengthy, sometimes ponderous, often bloated movies of the series successfully establish all the details and emotional connections between characters that are brought together masterfully and very touchingly in the final film. I don’t think the books and the films had to include so much padding, but all the ground covered in the previous films prepares the way for the gripping denouement achieved here.

This time the plot is simple and not over-burdened by the machinations and convoluted (often very contrived) hocus-pocus that weigh down the previous films. Harry and friends Hermione and Ron have their work cut out for them. Find a few horcruxes, destroy the pieces of Voldemort’s soul that are hidden in those horcruxes, and do away with “you know who.” Very quickly the forces of evil swoop down upon the forces of good, holed up in beloved Hogwarts, a wizards’ Alamo, and the final battle dominates the film.

We get shades of The Lord of the Rings with the evil hordes, including battle giants, massed outside the “castle,” shades of World War II movies with the talk of a “suicide mission” and the whole Hogwarts resistance movement. In addition, Voldemort’s army bombards a magic shield protecting Hogwarts; the good guys blow up a bridge; and the Hogwarts wounded huddle in the rubble of a shelter like the Brits during the Blitz. But when the battle is drawn, the action is gripping and characteristically Potteresque as Harry and friends evade a raging fire in the Room of Requirement, a storeroom of needful things that looks like the famous shot of Citizen Kane’s collection of possessions; and Harry attempts to slay the serpent, another horcrux. In addition, the fighting pauses for some crucial character development and dramatic moments, notably when Harry visualizes Snape’s backstory, and when he walks with Dumbledore in a dazzling white train station in his mind. I love it when Harry wonders where the train will take him, and Dumbledore responds meaningfully, "On!" (Yes, and Daniel Radcliffe will have to "go on" from here, his last performance as the famous Harry Potter.)

All the action and drama are enhanced by distinctive cinematography. Visually, this is an outstanding episode filled with striking images: a fearsome dragon soaring over London; Voldemort’s horde; a long shot of beleaguered Hogwarts; the minimalist white train station in Harry’s mind where he walks with the deceased Dumbledore. In addition, the poignant departures captured in the final scene on Platform 9 and ¾, nineteen years later, make for one of the most touching scenes in the eight movies.

With a lot going on, perhaps too much going on, in the final sequences, it seems that every dear character (except for Ginny Weasley) gets to do something funny or dramatic: come to the rescue, die, deliver a parting one-liner, or call some witch a bitch, and at times it’s just caricatures doing what they characteristically do, but Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter, in his eighth film evocation, is a gritty, bold character that is firmly established as a classic film character. Face dirty, corduroy jacket blackened with soot, Harry is much more than an action hero as he carries the burden of so many memories, neatly brought into this final film in snippet flashbacks, to the final showdown with Voldemort. This Harry is far from the little chubby-cheeked boy who stood in the snow with his owl in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This Harry is all man.

Days before seeing Part Two I fortunately re-watched Deathly Hallows, Part One and did extensive Wikipedia research on previous episodes; otherwise, I would have been lost, and the dramatic reveals and comeuppances would have fallen flat dramatically. But it is a considerable compliment to the filmmakers of this final installment, the leanest and meanest of the them all, that I felt my heart swelling and my eyes tearing up for a cast of characters I had viewed mostly with indifference during the long history of this cinematic epic.


Sam Juliano said...

I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Part 2 Saturday afternoon at the Edgewater multiplex with my wife Lucille and five kids, all of whom were waiting months for this final coda to
one of the most popular franchises of all-time. There is no question in my mind that this is the finest film of the series, one that connects the emotional dots, (which you note yourself here Hokahey)with the pyrotechnical wizardry and aural bombastics. In fact the entire Potter series is probably more artistically mature than any other continuing franchise, in that readers and viewers take a profound interest in their favorite characters. Much like the finale of the Rings Trilogy (THE RETURN OF THE KING) there is an operatic depth and Shakespearean resonance, deep wrenching emotions, compelling drama and and underpinning of nostalgia that dispels the notion of déjà vu once and for all. Radcliffe, Watson and the crew deliver their most accomplished turns, and the films dark and moody look and utterly magnificent score by the great Alexander Desplat.

It may not make my Top 10 of 2011 (I am not sure) but it is indeed a thrilling finale and a moving film, that well deserves teh extraordinary reviews it's received in all quarters.

Great review here!

Hokahey said...

Thanks, always, for your thoughts, Sam. You note the music of Desplat, which I loved - very thrilling. Interesting how a composer seems to gain momentum. Desplat did a fine score for Benjamin Button and then did music for The Tree of Life. He seems to be the composer of the moment.

Glad you and the family enjoyed the film. My daughter loved it; we had to see it again.

FilmDr said...

Nice review. I liked the last thoughtful walk with Dumbledore and his point about how words are the key to magic, but I was also bothered by the way Hermione and Ron don't have much to do except stand around and look on in this last installment. Since I never got saw much dramatic interest in the whole Harry/Voldemort conflict, I found myself looking around the edges of the movie for other signs of life. Too bad Bellatrix couldn't get more involved.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr, thanks. I have similar thoughts about the whole HP saga. Yes, Hermione and Ron did little - well, they did destroy the cup and try to kill the snake, which is way more than Ginny gets to do. But what bothers me most is that it's just a plotting gimmick and Ron ends up with H. when all along it is more appropriate to the plot for H. and H. to be together. I feel the same what about the whole Voldemort thing. He never scared me. That bleeding fetus of his soul in the train station scared me more! Some little kid in the theater freaked out and wanted to leave at that point but mommy wasn't budging. There are definitely plotting issues in the whole series. Rowling made a lot of it up as she went along - sometimes throwing in twists that don't fit. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had turned out that Snape was Harry's pop.

Jason Bellamy said...

To me, the stories read too much like video games: meet the challenge, solve the problem, move to the next level.

That's exactly right. On a related note, at least the film series always struggled with balancing the developing threat of Voldemort with the video-game adventure stages of each film. If you look at the original Star Wars trilogy, for example, there's a showdown with Darth Vader every time; and the only true cliffhanger, of course, is from Empire to Return (the first film is self-standing). But in the Harry Potter film each episode is driven by all this running around caused by Volde, and all this avoidance of his name, but the series creates such a shadow of fear related to him that all the other adventures seem small and contrived.

Anyway ...

I can't at all share your affection for the postscript scene, which is there only because the filmmakers didn't have the balls to end it on the bridge, as they should have.

Jason Bellamy said...

One more thing: I'll predict that Desplat gets a nomination for Tree of Life, where his contribution is very minimal (the music that matters in that film are all acquired classical pieces), over this film, where his work has a profound impact. So it goes.

Hokahey said...

Jason - Thanks for the comments. Yes, the bridge scene would make a very strong ending and I would have been happy with it ending there.

Interesting comment about Desplat. Yes, his contribution to Tree is minimal; whereas, his pounding themes during the Hogwarts battle contributed to the excitement much like Horner's score in Titanic when the ship hits the berg. When it comes to an action movie or sequence, I do enjoy a heart-thumping score. If it makes the floor vibrate, all the better.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of talk about "how it should have ended", but the fact of the matter is, it ended the way the books ended. There's a lot in the books that never made it to the movies, or was abbreviated in the movies, or even completely changed, so of course the movies are going to feel clunky or like the writers made things happen just because.

Had the filmmakers "had the balls" to end things on the bridge, they would have had a lot of angry book fans.

I suggest reading the entire series, as the books grow progressively darker after the 4th book.

Hokahey said...

Anonymous - Thanks for the comment. I know a lot of Harry Potter fans (my students in high school!) love every last scene of this movie, as they love every scene in the books, and they don't want anything left out. The train station scene was touching, but I could go with an ending at the bridge. That might mean I'm not a fervent fan of the books. Anyway, glad that the readers got such satisfying adaptations in the 8 Potter films.