Monday, July 18, 2011

It all Ends 15.7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The best possible end for the series that began a decade ago. A fitting finale and bittersweet good-bye to the boy wizard who is no longer a boy.

While yes splitting the final Harry Potter book into two movies may have been a risky propaganda from a narrative standpoint but financially and unsurprising move, given its history. If you have one movie that’s all slow, methodical character development and the second movie that’s all fast-paced action, then each movie could be monotonous because they’ve lost the other half of their story. Both of the Deathly Hallows parts i'm pleased to say avoid that problem.

Deathly Hallows – Part 1 was a slow, deliberately-paced and character-driven narrative that saw Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermoine (Emma Watson) struggle with their friendship, their lack of direction, and the ongoing war between Voldemort’s forces and the rest of the wizarding world. By contrast, Part 2 is a lean and focused final sprint as the trio hunts down the final horcruxes, major characters complete their arcs, and we come to the deadly showdown between Harry and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

Spanning two hours and ten minutes, Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is the shortest of all the Harry Potter flicks, but it feels as rich and full as the best films in the franchise. The movie isn’t just an endless barrage of set pieces. While yes a few sequences may feel not as interesting as the book portrays them but...well ahh... they in the long run serve as a delicious appetizer for what is to come. When you have a battle that covers the majority of the movie’s runtime, there’s a risk that you will wear out your audience. You can only have wizards shoot spells at each other for so long before viewers begin to lose interest. Part 2 avoids the problem with its tremendous pacing. The battles are paced so that you really start getting wrapped up in the action, but when matters become too heavy, someone can cut in with a joke or a beloved character can get their shining moment. And when it’s time to break away from the action entirely for serious drama, the transition is never jarring.

From the directorial style of franchise veteran David Yates to the melodic score by composer Alexandre Desplat, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 wisely remembers that while it is a movie, it is also the final link in an epic chain. As such, the film doesn’t make the mistake of being too overstated or assaulting you with mind-numbing arbitrary action, ear-shattering sounds or overly-dramatic music. 
When the battle at Hogwarts rages, Yates favors more picturesque photography – shots of bodies lying to and fro, familiar structures being destroyed, or characters we know engaged in battle, the focus squarely on their desperate, defiant, or despairing expressions. The music, while still containing familiar traces of epic Potter melodies of times past, also allows for a lot of quieter, more contemplative tunes, which enhance the resonance of all that is happening onscreen. The filmmakers thankfully remember that we’ve journeyed so far with these characters – through the books into the movies as well as throughout the movies up to now – and so they trust that we, the audience, will understand the poignancy and meaning of the events that are unfolding.

This same understated approach also works for the actors. By now, most people will be so deeply invested in these characters that they can pick up on the subtle nuances of their behavior, choices, expressions and banter, sparing the need for everything to be so pronounced or obvious. Watching Radcliffe, Watson and Grint is just moving, given where they began this franchise and how they’ve matured as young people, characters and actors since those early years. The trio close off their roles “brilliantly,” with Radcliffe in particular showing why he will likely have a long career that extends well beyond this franchise.

Yates does a fair job of keeping Harry and his emotions at the nexus of things, so that even if we don’t feel the impact of certain moments or developments, we can see and understand that he feels it.

The movie almost seems more affectionate towards Neville than it does for Harry and I believe that’s with good reason. Harry is the hero. He was always the hero. He was always brave, competent, and strong and the real shading he gets here is to courageously and tragically face the thing Voldemort fears the most. By contrast, Neville is the unlikely hero and even unlikelier leader, and he’s so lovable not only because of Lewis’ performance, but because there’s always the implication that Harry was destined for greatness but that Neville had to work for it.

Part 2 also marks the return of the full cast who all deliver emphatic performances, especially Helena Bonham Carter as the sadistic Bellatrix LeStrange, Maggie Smith as the warm yet deadly Minerva McGonagall and Julie Walters as the grief-stricken mother Molly Weasley. However, no one quite "stole the show" as much as Alan Rickman's final portrayal of Severus Snape; we finally see beyond the unscrupulous and cunning face of Snape as Rickman opens his character to the world as a brave yet broken and damaged man, permanently at conflict regarding his loathing of Harry and his never-ending love of Harry's late mother.

Also us audiences do get to enjoy the infamous epilogue from the final book...well yes it’s hard not to feel emotional. How often do you truly witness the end of an era, and how often does that feeling come while you’re watching a movie? Only a few times in a lifetime, I would bet (and i'm not ashamed to admit that I cried...yes i did) - which may coincidentally one day serve as a launchpad for an entirely new generation of wizards for future muggles to enjoy, possibly through Rowling’s newly announced venture.

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