Friday, August 5, 2011

The End of an Era

Fans of Harry Potter books and films will see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)” no matter what reviewers say, as they should.  Nevertheless, I must grouse a smidgen.  There are good things and bad things about this, the eighth and last of the series of films based on the seven Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling.  One of the delightful things about those novels for the readers was observing the children grow up as they struggled through each year at Hogwarts.  The movies gave us the extra pleasure of watching the child actors playing them grow into adults.  That’s been so much fun that no matter how annoyed I may be at aspects of any of the films — including this one — I cannot say I didn’t have a good time.  I did.

The thing is, “…Deathly Hallows (Part 2)” is not part of a miniseries.  Its previous episode did not air last Monday night on television.  It should be a standalone movie, but it is not.  While understandable — this was an exceedingly difficult task to master — I’m afraid Steve Kloves’ script directed by David Yates just didn’t quite do it.  They dropped us into the middle of the action, picking up where we left off at the end of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1),” which, however seemingly logical, leaves many viewers confounded.  The last of Rowling’s Potter books pulled together elements, themes, and people from the previous six books.  That’s a lot of characters, places, and history that the audience is expected to remember.  The first film devoted to telling the story of the last book was very well done, with a cliffhanger ending leading to anticipation for this year’s finale.  However, no one viewing a movie should be required to re-view the previous film or to reread the book to understand what’s going on in the beginning.  I doubt anyone without a solid grasp of the stories will ever find their way past the confusion of the first fifteen minutes of this final film.  Of course, once the action starts, most will not care.
(c) 2011 Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc.

The opening of the film is stark and jumps right into the story, scenes all bleak and gray and shadowed.  John Hurt reflects everyone’s feelings of sadness with a touch of despair as Ollivander, providing some much needed reminders of the story so far.  He looks haunted, perhaps foreshadowing the ghosts to come.  Soon Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) lead us to explosive action at the famous goblin bank, Gringott’s, affording Helena Bonham Carter the fun of playing her mad character Bellatrix as if Hermione were impersonating her.  With magical manipulation, goblins and heroes make their way into the catacombs of the bank, through twisting turning rail rides down to the vaults.  This is all enough fun to make you forget you may not quite recall why you’re here.  (It’s about the Horcruxes.)  And then comes the dragon.  A most fabulous dragon in a rip-roaringly good series of shadowy scenes bursting into light and flame. 

“Deathly Hallows Part 2” brings us to the final battle between the remaining stalwarts at Hogwarts (now under the rule of the deceptively wicked Severus Snape) against evil personified (snakefied?) by Lord Voldemort.  Hogwarts as we’ve known it is defended but destroyed, our beloved Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) gets his due at last, Harry and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) fight it out a couple times, and the long-suffering Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is finally vindicated.  Unfortunately that exposition of Snape’s hidden history — in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally see the truth behind Snape’s extraordinarily brave actions while they misjudged his every move — was just plain long.  However valuable the information, you can’t, in one segment of the last movie, go back and retell an entire story that took seven films to tell in the first place.  Well, they did, but it certainly stopped the flow.

Matthew Lewis, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe.
  (c) 2011 Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc.
The huge cast of well defined characters makes performance analysis beyond the scope of this review, however: Helen McCrory shows us the human face of the wrong side; Jason Isaac is unusually subdued as the broken Lucius Malfoy; and Draco, well Tom Fenton does a fine job of making us feel sorry for the bully we’ve hated all these years.  All three of our usual suspects are as much fun as ever, lovely looney Luna Lovegood is again personified simply and truly by Evanna Lynch, while Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagal put me in mind of Miss Jean Brodie — another film to see again.  Ciaran Hinds snuck in as testy Albeforth Dumbledore in a heartwarming scene.  Seeing (almost) everybody one last time was bittersweet as they fought for their shattered world.  I could natter on about everybody, but a reasonably complete list to remind you of the actors playing these well-known characters is on IMDB .

There’s fun to be had in this movie, as well as disappointment in two flavors.  One: that the last film does not live up to the expectations of the second to last.  Two (and more importantly): that it’s the last film.  Alas and sigh.  The epilogue of J.K. Rowling’s final book on Harry Potter, his friends, enemies, and their adventures, was a tad tedious, obviously written so it would be clear she wasn’t writing any more of them.  It’s a bit tedious here, too, but it does tie everything up with hope, more than real life can guarantee.  Now I want to go back and read the entire series of books all over again, then watch all eight movies. 

In the future when we have Harry Potter DVD nights and watch Parts 1 and 2 back to back, none of my niggling will matter.  This one’s mighty dark, but it’s still fun.

~ Molly Matera, signing off and moving on.  Sigh.

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