The most eagerly-anticipated movie event of the year, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” the final chapter of the successful franchise, not only does justice to the whole series, but ends on a high and satisfying note an adventurous journey that began in 2001.
Though it’s only early July, and the Academy members are known for their short memory, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” deserves serious attention for Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for David Yates, Best Screenplay for Steve Kloves, Best Supporting Actor for Ralph Fiennes, who gives an astonishing performance as evil incarnate, and nominations in the technical categories, such as cinematography, visual and sound effects, and so on.
Ten years ago, when Warner released the first installment, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” there were some doubts whether the studio would be able to execute so many films, based on J.K. Rowling’s globally record-breaking books. But Warner has done it, and done it well, producing and marketing effectively and efficiently no less than eight films in a decade.
It is safe to say that “Harry Potter,” while not the longest series in film history in terms of duration, is certainly the most commercially successful. Thus far, the seven films have generated over $6 billion at the global box-office. With strong critical support and the fans love and loyalty, “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” may contribute another $1 billion to this impressive figure.
Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, no other film series had ever followed a linear, progressive story with the same characters over the course of eight features. What’s fascinating about the “Harry Potter” series is the ability to observe the growth and evolution of the characters, as well as the actors who play them.
After an aborted effort on the previous installment, this is the first “Harry Potter” film to be released in both 3D, to mixed results, I might add. With the exception of a few battle sequences (in the film’s second half), the new technology doesn’t add much, and most scenes would have been just as impactful in 2D. (Warner is releasing the picture in 2D and 3D).
We’ll address in a series of articles the “Harry Potter” extraordinary phenom in both literary and cinematic terms. But for now, I’d like to suggest a few ideas about the final chapter and how it fits into the overall pattern.
Remarkably, all eight “Harry Potter” pictures have been consistently good, though some better than others. I think we were all a bit too harsh in evaluating Chris Columbus’ first two segments. I have accorded “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” the grade of B-, and looking back (after revisiting all of the films), I think it deserves a better score (B). The first chapter of “Harry Potter” also suffered due to the fact that it came out in the same month as Peter Jackson’s seminal epic, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”), and comparisons between these two blockbusters became inevitable.
Based on what’s presented on screen, it’s also fair to say that the decision to divide Rowling’s last book into two movies, initially perceived as strictly commercial and criticized as such, seem justified, as there are many characters to explore and many events to observe in both “Part 1” and “Part 2.” In fact, there are already complaints that the new chapter is too short and that, at two hours and 11 minutes, not all the personas, relationships, and conflicts are fully explored and/or resolved. Go figure! (For the record, “Deathly Hallows Part 2” is the shortest film in the series).
The journey has now come to its logical and obligatory conclusion with a supremely mounted production that will engage and please readers of the book and viewers who have not read the books on many different levels.
The major event of “Deathly Hallows Part 2“ is the highly anticipated final confrontation between Harry Potter and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, looking scarier and scarier). When first seen, Voldemort is wielding the coveted Elder Wand. (It’s the film’s first, ominous image, which appears even before the Warner logo). It’s the ultimate showdown between good and evil, the climax that the entire series has built toward from the start. You may recall that in the first movie, Harry Potter gains a lightning-bolt scar in a battle with the evil Lord Voldemort.
At the beginning of this tale, Harry, Ron and Hermione are still in the wilderness, commanded to find and destroy four remaining Horcruxes (which contain elements of the Dark Lord’s soul) and obliged to make a deal with the disagreeable goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) to gain access into Bellatrix Lestrange’s bank vault, where one Horcrux is hidden.
The stakes are now higher and no one seems to be really safe, least of all Harry Potter, whose mettle is being tested and who is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice as he draws closer to the fatal showdown with Lord Voldemort. One reason why “Deathly Hallows Part 2” has greater gravity than the earlier chapters is the mature way in which it deals with such sacred issues as bravery versus cowardice, selfishness versus loyalty, life and death.
Throughout the series, we got hints about Harry Potter’s peculiar link to Lord Voldemort, but in this chapter, the nature of that singular connection is explored and explained. We now understand how it has caused the young wizard endless fear, pain, and anger, but also how it has provided him with a special insight into the mind of the dark Lord. For his part, Voldemort finally begins to realize the shifting power, but instead of weakening him, the destruction of each Horcrux makes him like a wounded animal that’s more dangerous and more desperate, eager to fight to the bitter end. You’ll get chills, when Fiennes says, not once but twice: “Harry Potter. The boy who lived. Come to die.”
Looking back, at least four elements have contributed to the continuous, immense success of the “Harry Potter” series. First and foremost, the magic of Rowling’s densely plotted and emotionally involving books. Reportedly, the single thread of the story was very much by design, and the author had a very clear idea of the direction of Harry Potter’s journey. It’s important to remember that when the first picture was made, only three of the seven books had been published.
Second, the consistency of the high-caliber casting, manifest in two ways. The fact that the three leads, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, were played by the same gifted actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, should not be underestimated. (For a while there were rumors that this may not be the case, when Watson took too long to commit to the last films of the series).
One of the many pleasures of watching this movie is spotting the parade of splendid British actors, two dozens of them, each playing his or her role, small or big, vividly and with conviction. The film’s huge ensemble includes (in alphabetical order) Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Lewis, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Julie Walters and Bonnie Wright. (You can practically write a chronicle of “Who’s Who in British Cinema” based on the Harry Potter film series, because, at one time or another, they made a striking appearance in one or more of the pictures).
It’s noteworthy, that only one major actor, Richard Harris, had died during the course of the decade, and he was replaced by the equally talented Michael Gambon. As an actor, Gambon is less eccentric than Harris, but in this chapter, it serves well his character, Professor Albus Dumbledore, particularly when his troubled relationships with his brother Aberforth (Ciaran Hinds) id depicted.
Chris Columbus, essentially a craftsman but a reliable one, if you look at his track record, launched the franchise, directing the first two movies, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Producer David Heyman then shifted gears and hired the brilliant Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, who staged “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which, in my view, is the most impressive chapter artistically, though it must be pointed out that it’s the least commercially successful (domestic gross was $250 million).
The versatile British director Mike Newell helmed the next chapter, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005), and while it did well ($290 million), the film was directed in impersonal mode (like most of Newell’s pictures, which may explain why he is not considered to be an auteur).
In 2007, the series was put under the helm of David Yates (then better known for his TV work), who has directed half of the franchise, or to be more precise, the last four movies. Initially, there were doubts about Yates’ filmic talents and technical skills to tackle such a demanding project, but they were quickly dispelled.
Yates handled his first two films, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner, servicing the plot and characters. Over the past four years, however, Yates has improved as a filmmaker, and “Deathly Hallows Part 1” and especially “Part 2,” represent his best work to date, blending effectively subject and style, plot and characterization, atmosphere and special effects.
But perhaps the key factor, the crucial variable, in the success of the series has been the coherence of the writing, due to the fact that the gifted screenwriter Steve Kloves wrote all but one—“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”–of the episodes.
With all my enthusiasm, it needs to be stated that the film is not flawless. The first two scenes are rather slow and static and verbose, but then the picture picks momentum and moves at a brisk and steady pace through the end.
The climactic battle between Harry Potter and Voldemort occupies a whole exciting reel, but the epilogue, set 19 years later, in which we get to meet the three protags and their new families, is too brief and too sentimental in its eagerness to please and offer an upbeat coda, considering the predominantly dark and grim mood of most of the tale.
But these are minor complaints. Overall, Kloves and Yates have done a masterful job in constructing a dramatically engaging narrative with a huge number of characters. Clearly, they must have felt the responsibility to millions of fans (both readers and viewers) of executing their momentous task in an intelligent, accessible and entertaining way.