Thursday, August 4, 2011

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 - REVIEW


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Released: 11.19.2010

Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves


"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" struggles to pick itself up from where "Part 1" left off, but once it does the result is nothing short of great. Some pieces of J.K. Rowling's fabulous finale don't translate all that well onscreen, but other pieces show off the strength of films as a whole. All in all, this is a stately conclusion to one of the most remarkable achievements in cinema history, one that will surely prove emotionally to fans.

(Concerning Spoilers: It is hardly possible to write a spoiler-free review. Some spoilers are miniscule, these are reveals that occur within minutes of beginning a film. Some spoilers are major, these are discoveries that take place well into a film and possibly in its final minutes. Assuming everyone who wants to know what happens at the end of the "Harry Potter" saga already knows, I am going to leave anything and everything open as I deliver my evaluation. That said, I will make some reservations. Please note that I typically refrain from such in my reviews, but seeing as we are eight films into a single story-line at this point, you would either have to be very spoiled or very bewildered to read much of anything about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Shall I say "No exceptions, except this time"? Well, as long as I can say that every time I need to. Thank you.)


THE BEGINNING OF THE END, AGAIN

In my recent review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," I lamented the choice of splitting the adaptation of the final book in the ridiculously (or should I say riddikulus-ly? My apologies to any boggarts that might be reading this...) popular series penned by J.K. Rowling into two separate films. (I also said something about not critiquing the split if "Part 2" were as good as "Part 1," but I'm afraid I must in order to address how this film started off on the wrong foot, which I will address in the second paragraph.) We dive back into the "The Deathly Hallows" precisely where we left off, Voldemort claiming the Elder Wand from dear Dumbledore's tomb. After which we get a sinister yet bewitchingly beautiful image of Hogwarts and the flock of dementors watching over it, this moment is made all the more exquisite by its inclusion of "Lily's Theme" from the film's original motion picture soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. Snape peers down at the grounds from a tower window. There is a new headmaster in town. 


It is after these brief iconic sequences that we rejoin our trio (Harry, Ron, and Hermoine) at the soberest of beach houses. They waste no time in visiting the rooms of Griphook, a goblin in whom they will enlist to gain access to a vault where he works, and Mr. Ollivander, the very man (and actor) who gave Harry his wand in the first film. These interrogation (though I use the word lightly) scenes in and of themselves are fine, but I feel it is no way to begin the final chapter of a decade long. Not only does it feel like going 65 KPH on the autobahn, it feels like we are being fed exposition. It is there to get viewers back on track after a most unfortunate 7-month derailment. Quentin Tarantino was able to pull off an interrogation (here I use the word rather heavily and that should tell you something) scene at the beginning of Inglourious Basterds" (one of considerable length at that), but just look at the stakes immediately involved and the intensity felt. I need only think back to last November when "Part 1" had another dialogue-heavy sequence near its start, one I raved over. My point is this, if a film has action, adventure, and/or fantasy in its descriptors, it ought start with a bang. At least we get to observe the fascinating-looking goblin in one room.  


It wasn't until we were being rushed in a minecart to the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange that I began to get the rush. It wasn't until we were riding on a dragon's back that I felt we were where we belonged.


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS


Doesn't the title just flow so much better without "Part 1" or "Part 2" hanging on the end? Some friends of mine felt "Part 2" was too short. It did go by rather quick, which is a pretty grand compliment for a film that has a running time of 2 hours and change. I wonder how they would have felt  Had the filmmakers treated the script like a burning house (this is an analogy one of the Pixar screenwriters used in a Q&A), that is to say only saved the most important content, and delivered one film that was 3 hours or more, the result could have been an epic that never skipped a beat. Imagine all the best moments from "Part 1" and "Part 2" together and how could you disagree of the potential there? Perhaps someday I will write about an ambitious idea that I've had for years about how to adapt the books. Please know that I do appreciate what this series of films has accomplished. I really enjoyed each entry, even "The Chamber of Secrets"). Still, one can't help but wonder sometimes.


THE BATTLE OF HOGWARTS


The plot moves right along and before long our trio finds themselves at Hogwarts with some help of Albus Dumbledore's brother and Neville Longbottom (who may prove of some additional use before it is all said and done). The Gryffindors are ecstatic to see Harry, but there is a sense that they know they may have to fight (maybe even to the death) for him and his cause. Heavy stuff indeed. When Harry reveals himself to Snape, Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith, who has so admirably dedicated herself to this role since the beginning) dares to defend him. Snape and her engage in a quick duel where she proves she still has what it takes and overpowers him. As the Brits would say, "She kicks some serious arse." He flees before she can finish him off and her awesomeness is celebrated by students and audience alike, but we all know the cheers must cease for the battle of Hogwarts is about to begin.

Myself and others all tend to agree that the fortifying of Hogwarts is possibly the best sequence of the film. Professor McGonagall brings the statues to life and begins working on a translucent dome that envelopes the entire castle. Even Filius Flitwick (head of Ravenclaw House), the very professor that taught the gang how to perform Wingardium Leviosa ("swish and flick") when they were just first years, does his part to secure the majestic fortress that has been a character all on its own over the years. J.K. Rowling could not have know when she wrote this chapter just how incredibly director David Yates and crew (particularly the Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Burke and his team) would adapt her words onscreen. Dare I say that not since Helm's Deep in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" have we gotten such a spectacular sequence in preparation for a large-scale battle. 


Death Eaters, giants, and the Dark Lord himself assault When the aforementioned security bubble is no match for Voldemort and the Elder Wand, I grew frantic in wondering how the good could possibly prevail. As tense as that is, it is a good sign that the storytellers succeeded in film form. 

The battle is surely the film's finest hour (and it really does last that long, with a fair share of the trio's Horcrux-hunting endeavors). It is unfortunate for Harry and us that he has to deal with a fickle ghost for far too long when the end of good witches and wizards as we know it is threatening. What would you do if it was all about to end? Ron and Hermoine finally find an opportunity to share a kiss. Luckily their chemistry makes up for where Harry and Ginny's (or rather Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright's) lacks as others have so rightly pointed out.


ODE TO SNAPE


The trio crosses paths with Snape once more, in time to witness his untimely demise. It is a brutal offing yet captured carefully in a way that leaves much to our imagination. In his final breath he instructs Harry Potter (and we remember how cooly Snape has said that very name over the years) to collect his tears. Harry does so and later drops them in the Pensieve (essentially an immersive theater where one can see another's memories) where we learn the truth about Snape. This is a pinnacle moment in the plot. Though I gave fair warning for such grandiose spoilers, even I will not get into details here. Besides, this is first and foremost a film review, not a plot synopsis. I'll simply say that Alan Rickman's Snape has been a highlight of the cast for each film in the series. We see him act in ways within the Pensieve's realms that we have never before and it is a responsive discovery.

THE BOY WHO LIVED 

After learning what he most do, Harry Potter makes his way to face Voldemort who awaits him in the Forbidden Forest. I believe it was the episode of the Slate Spoilers podcast wherein they compared Harry's walk to the Forbidden Forest with that of the Savior's to Gethsamane. That should give you idea what is asked of "the boy who lived." Some special scenes follow.


This finale is certainly frenzied and not quite what I expected. My sister reminded me how Harry's return, when everyone thought he was dead, was depicted in the book. It certainly would have better than what we get here, which lacks a certain epic-ness. Harry (and his jets of red light) gets his final duel with Voldemort (and his jets of green light). Their fight features a frenzy flight that I was left unsure about. Some of the other goings-on in this final moment seem like too much of an aside (e.g. Mrs. Weasley deals with Bellatrix, which feels strangely like a "by the way scene"). Neville Longbottom proves his worth again.

After the battle has been won, Harry claims the Elder Wand. After explaining to Ron and Hermoine (and to all of us) how he is the master of the wand he snaps it in half and throws it off the bridge. I chuckled when a black man in my theater loudly booed at Harry's decision in that moment. 

We get a final glimpse of the trio standing together looking... wait, are they looking at us? It is a strange moment that seems to seep through the fourth wall. Really, it is a curtain call. They realized I half expected them to bow and curtsey (you can imagine which would do which).

STORY

I have found it difficult to not construct this review around the film's plot, which is why I have. It has been the driving force since we first saw Number 4 Prviet Drive, the Dursleys who lived there, and the boy they kept under the stairs. With few exceptions, the most important part of a film is the story. There are several elements on top of that can make or break the production, but if you do not have at least that, you are practically guaranteed to fall short. The humble beginnings of this series and the woman who brought it to a life is a remarkable story of its own (I'd see a J.K. Rowling biopic any day of the week). It became a bestseller and got an entire generation of kids excited to read (myself included). Steve Kloves took the massive task to write the screenplay of all the films (apart from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," whose script was by Michael Goldenberg), which could not have had more pressure. Millions of fans depending on you and it would be impossible to please them all.  We might be quick to point out what he left out, but we should be strive to see the what was left in and ask ourselves why. After all, books and films are very different animals. What Rowling passed on to Kolves and what Kloves passed on to David Yates. It was a collaborative effort and brought about magical results. 


17 YEARS LATER

The film includes an epilogue brought on by a title card reading "17 Years Later." (I heard a few "whoa!"s in my theater... clearly they hadn't read the books.) Many have pointed out that this was largely "fan service" on Rowling's part to include as the book's final pages in the first place, but somehow it worked there, and it worked with such affection. It even including one of the more emotional stabs of the entire series for me. Yes, I was a seriously invested reader. Reading that scene goes over much better than watching it. Because film is such a visual medium (obviously) the effect is much more unsettling. It takes characters we have gradually observed growing year and year and then suddenly throws them into a time machine. Unfortunately, the sights are so distracting and that the dialogue is somewhat robbed. My sister declared how Ron had really let himself go (it seems he took a page from both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's book of adult living). My favorite was Draco Malfoy, who Tom Felton has done such a great job portraying over the years. He was mustached and sneered as ever. Really, what more could we ask for there?


THE END OF THE END 


And then, (can you believe it?) the ending credits rolled, ending a chronicle the likes of which has never been known before. As the names rose onscreen the audience filed out of the theater until I was left alone watching the credits. I stood and began to pace the row I had been sitting in, watching the screen. Eventually the ushers entered in. It was then that it hit me, this story had reached the end.


I remember seeing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in theaters back in 2001. I was so immersed in the experience that by the film's end, when the Great Hall burst into applause on Gryffindor's behalf for winning the House Cup, I too began to clap. After a second or two I looked around and realized I was the only one clapping. 

  ★★★   


Content: intense action violence, some disturbing and frightening images  

1 comment:

Bryson and Tara said...

I LOVED this review! And it made me want to go see the movie again. My favorite parts: Your apology to the boggarts (Seriously, I couldn't stop laughing at 1:30 in the morning when I read that line), and "The End of the End". I felt like I was in the theatre with you...and it almost made me teary eyed. :)