Monday, July 25, 2011

In Theaters: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Poster and IMPAwards link
I have not previously reviewed any of the Harry Potter movies, but I feel in my random fashion bound to comment upon the final entry in the series, just as I reviewed the final novel itself once upon a time. The movie series has lasted a solid decade, and in that time has matured from a fairly rote recreation of J. K. Rowling’s novels to a still-conventional but much more fully formed fantasy series, truly bringing the world of Hogwarts and its environs to life in a way that enhances the books even if it doesn’t quite eclipse them. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (abbreviated by many theaters as Harry Potter 7B), being the second half of the final book when it proved too lengthy to condense into a single feature without more alteration than either Rowling or her fans were willing to take, inevitably has its problems as a stand-alone feature film, but as the capper to the saga, it does its job with style.

The story so far: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), boy wizard now firmly in his teenage years, has been tracking down the pieces of the soul of the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in an attempt to kill him once and for all, before the villain’s Death Eaters can eradicate all of his enemies. To help he has his best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), now an item after some drama, but he finds himself drawn further towards an inevitable confrontation with the dark lord himself, a confrontation in which prophecy says both must die.

The film basically assumes that you know the rest of the story, which at this point is a fair assumption. Filmgoing habits being what they are, I’m sure some people are going into this at random without knowing the rest of the series, but that can’t be helped. Still, it leaps right into the action, to the point where it’s probably best to rewatch part one just to get reorientated. (Among the details I forgot were how many horcruxes were left, how they were planning to destroy them, and what the business with the wand was.) The good news is that for those who found all the wandering around the countryside in the first half to be a bit much, this story jumps quickly into action, with lots of chases and monsters and battle scenes.

There is a fundamental problem here, in that more than any “split” film I can name, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 really does feel like the back half of Part 1 rather than a movie in and of itself. It was perhaps unavoidable that the studio would split them- together the pictures total 276 minutes, and even shaving off some time for redundant credits that’s testing the patience even of the Potter fanatics. Still I think more work could have been done to actually make the two parts feel more like full moviegoing experiences. Even with the extra time, some of the nuances of the final book are lost, specifically the final significance of the Deathly Hallows themselves.

That having been said, as the final installment of Harry Potter’s cinematic adventures, the film does deliver the goods. The spectacle of the final siege of Hogwarts, while not rendered with the tactical detail of, say, the Lord of the Rings films, is still dazzling and exciting. The characters still ring true in their interactions, and while there isn’t quite enough of this, we come to sense how deeply everyone relies on each other in a time of crisis. The film’s conversion to 3-D doesn’t add a lot, though at the same time I didn’t notice the picture being dimmer than usual.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a satisfying finish to what has, overall, been a pretty splendid set of films. The franchise started out a little too slick and shiny, but over time has come to bring the world J.K. Rowling created to life in a way. They didn’t really change the face of genre cinema (though they did make fantasy films a Hell of a lot more commercially viable), and this one doesn’t really gun for classic status either, but it’s all been fun. Maybe in twenty years or so we can get the twisted Gilliamesque adaptation we deserve, but this will do just fine.

Based on the novel by J. K. Rowling
Screenplay by Steve Kloves
Directed by David Yates

Grade: B+

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