Monday, 18 July 2011

Movie Monday: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2

Well, there was only going to be one choice of film for today's Movie Monday review, wasn't there? 

It's been eleven years since I first started reading the Harry Potter series. When Goblet of Fire was first published, I was the same age as Harry at that point in the series, 14 years old. Seems incredible now. With the hype around the books being unprecedented, and then the film adaptations, Harry Potter has played a huge part in the lives of so many people who came of age alongside the boy wizard. After rereading the books in preparation for the final part of the final film, I decided against my usual habits, and allowed myself to be swept up in the general excitement, going to see the midnight premiere among other like-minded nutters, including one dressed as Bellatrix Lestrange, many in wizard's robes and school uniform, and one with a T-shirt bearing the sign of the Deathly Hallows. There was a great buzz of excitement and anticipation, and I hadn't felt as excited about a film since Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released in 2003. 


I think by now that most Harry Potter fans will have read all of the books, but to a casual viewer I would recommend that they remind themselves of the story so far, because Deathly Hallows part 2 does not give much chance to play catch-up, repeating just the final moments of the last half before plunging us back into the story where we left off. Not many franchises could get away with that trick, but Harry Potter makes its own rules. Part 2 doesn't feel like a whole film, but is the second half of a very long one. The break-in at Gringotts Bank would ordinarily be a big, climactic scene but launching into the scene in minutes without any preamble or build-up it felt a bit rushed. Helena Bonham Carter (with Emma Watson's voice) does a great Hermione-disguised-as-Bellatrix, and her attempts at walking in Bellatrix's boots reminded me of myself wobbling on high heels.

We haven't seen Gringotts since the first film, and with its rows of smart, suited goblin clerks, I found myself reminded of Mary Poppins. Warwick Davies, who has always been present in the background as Professor Flitwick, got a moment in the spotlight - albeit under heavy prosthetics - as the goblin Griphook. Griphook was civil, polite and quietly-spoken, which coupled with the black eyes and pointy teeth was more unsettling than any cackling Labyrinth goblins one might be more likely to expect. The ride down to the vaults was a great piece of filming that was obviously designed to make the most of the 3D effects, a bumpy rollercoaster ride that hearkened back to the descriptions of Harry's first trip with Hagrid in Philosopher's Stone. The special effects continued with the replicating gold, and of course the breakout on the dragon which smashed up Gringotts and half of Diagon Alley with it. I did wonder, for a moment, how Harry located the next horcrux so easily under the circumstances, especially as he had never seen it before in the film version.

And then, all of a sudden, Harry, Ron and Hermione were headed back to Hogwarts. Already? I thought. After all the time spent on finding and destroying the locket horcrux, it seemed very sudden, and even in the book it crashes on me quicker than I expect. And we are at the three-quarter mark, with all the best bits still to come.

Back at Hogwarts, it was wonderful to see nearly everyone back from the previous films, even just in the background: Dean and Seamus, Cho, Lav-Lav (I beg her pardon, Lavender Brown) and possible Percy Weasley. But there's no time to get soppy, as the school prepares for battle, two horcruxes still left unfound. The cost of protecting one teenage boy was astounding. Of course, the good guys are fighting for more than just Harry Potter, but the fact that all Voldemort sees as standing between him and absolute power is this one young man, and the lengths he's willing to go to in order to eliminate that one threat - wow! As the battle commences, and Hogwarts turns to chaos, Professor McGonagall takes control and is awesome, raising a few laughs ("Boom!") Someone's gotta do it. It looks like certain death for all, as our heroes muster all the courage they can to face Voldemort and his masses of Death Eaters. Remus Lupin and his wife Tonks (What do we call her now? Tonks-Lupin? Nymphadora?) reach for each other's hands, and the formerly uncrushable comic relief, Fred and George Weasley, can only manage wobbly, watery smiles. Ouch.

Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione have destroyed the next horcrux - and finally kissed! (And everybody says "Awww," "Hooray!" or "At last!") Harry has located another with astonishing ease, with the help of Luna Lovegood and the beautiful ghost of Helena Ravenclaw, before Malfoy and his cronies corner him in the Room of Requirement. I had a bit of a giggle as I saw some of the props stuffed in the Room of Requirement - including a cage of blue pixies from Chamber of Secrets. But the giggles didn't last long. Goyle's (Crabbe in the book) Fiendfyre spell goes wrong, and that's another horcrux down. One more to go - then Voldemort himself! It could be such a victory, but the enormity of everything they've been through hits our central trio and they break down for a moment in a powerful, very believable scene.

There was one part of the story that fans would never have forgiven the filmmakers if they had not done it justice: the chapter called "The Prince's Tale." Thankfully, there is nothing to forgive. The scene is perfect. Alan Rickman, always outstanding as Snape, excels himself in this film and though he is only in a few scenes, is the real star of this movie. His performance as Headmaster of Hogwarts is deliciously sinister, terrifying even when one knows his true allegiances. Even I felt myself wondering briefly whether or not he could be trusted, and I knew the whole story. His death was inevitable; such a great character was never going to survive the series, I think I've always known that. The snake attack was shocking and violent, viewed from behind a blood-smeared window, and then so very, very sad! At least in the film, I got the feeling that Snape was at peace in the end, not struggling against death but facing it with courage - which is one of the main themes of the story. Then, at last, we learn Snape's story, in a heartbreaking montage of scenes from his life, the final thoughts of a dying man twisting and merging together. Key moments from his childhood spliced together with Dumbledore's revelation of his ultimate plan, clips from all the previous films and an additional, devastating scene of Snape being first on the scene of James and Lily's murder. I always found Rickman's Snape to be a much more restrained character than Book-Snape, always cold and calm and contemptuous, unreadable. At the time of Half-Blood Prince, I was disappointed by the lack of the "DON'T - CALL - ME - COWARD!" line, but that complete control throughout the series makes it all the more powerful when now, at last, he bares his soul. Rickman's portrayal of Snape's grief and undying love is perfect, beautiful, heartbreaking. Oh, Severus! 

I have to confess that when the first couple of Harry Potter films came out, I wasn't overly impressed by Daniel Radcliffe's acting, finding him awkward and wooden at times. Well, he was eleven. Not any more. He has improved steadily throughout this series, and his performance as Harry courageously walks through the forest towards his fate is flawless. He conveys just the right mix of shock, courage and determination, fear and acceptance, and the scene is perfect.

I've been using that word a lot, haven't I? I won't say the entire film was perfect, though it was a very satisfying conclusion to the series that has been enchanting children and adults alike for over ten years, and very true to the source material. If I have a complaint, it's that I felt that the filmmakers sometimes skimped on the story to devote more time to epic battle scenes. I would have preferred more of Dumbledore's backstory, and there were a couple of times where plot holes were patched over, where minor plot points were omitted from previous adaptations which would later be needed - Sirius's mirror, and Harry mentioning Lupin's son that non-readers wouldn't have known he had. As I've always said, these films are great companions to the books, but don't always flow seamlessly on their own.

Dumbledore told Harry at "King's Cross" that words are the most powerful kind of magic, which seemed to be a comment on the story itself. J. K. Rowling has certainly proved the power of words with her storytelling.

Back in Hogwarts in the battle, two characters got their moments of glory, and they were well worth the wait. I'm referring, of course, to Molly Weasley and Neville Longbottom. Dear old Neville, who started off as a squishy, inept junior wizard in Philosopher's Stone, has grown over the last few films and turned into a brave, confident hero. I've always had a soft spot for Neville, so it's wonderful to see how his character turns out. I salute you, Longbottom! He also got a lovely warming moment, not from the books but that I'm sure many people wished would happen, the pairing up of our favourite outcasts. I know I approved.

I loved the epilogue, giggling at the appearance of Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and Draco Malfoy in their mid-thirties. Albus Severus is a very good-looking kiddy who I'm sure will grow up to break many hearts, and the family relationship was lovely. Some of the other children on the train bore a remarkable similarity to Harry and co.'s classmates - I wonder whether that was deliberate.  I broke into a grin watching the Hogwarts Express chugging a new generation off to Hogwarts, a safe Hogwarts which brings us full circle, back to the magical innocence from the beginning of Philosopher's Stone. 

I left the cinema with a warm feeling of contentment and happiness. Although Deathly Hallows Part 2 won't overwrite the movie in my head, I'm very happy for the two to coexist. Congratulations to all of the cast and crew for bringing these beloved books to life. You should be very proud of yourselves.


  1. Fab review! Amazing ending to an amazing series. Snape's death/memories was the best part of the film! It was brilliantly portrayed and sad as hell. Neville was another star in the film, and his moment of glory was fantastic. He really shined in this film.

    I was perturbed that they downplayed the deaths of the others, but I get it. Oh, I think Harry was able to find the horcruxes easily because they spoke to him since he was one of them, right?

  2. My sister was angry that Fred's death was barely touched on, and I was rather disappointed too. That bit destroyed me in the book, so it's rather anticlimactic not to actually see it, if a bit of a relief in some ways. But what they did do, they did well, really well.

    Yes, I came to the conclusion that the horcruxes spoke to each other, which makes sense. I think it was even more heartbreaking when Harry said "I think I've known for a while."

    I've always loved Neville, since the first book, so it's wonderful to see how he turns out. It's been strangely emotional to watch these kids grow up before my eyes - characters and actors.

  3. Wow, what an in depth review! I could only manage a few frazzled thoughts. I'll have to see it again to form a clearer picture I think. Great job!


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