Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mischief Managed, Dragons In Strange Places, And A Guy Who Desperately Needs A Nose Job

And so all good things come to an end, and so it must be for the Harry Potter universe (Potterverse? Multi-Harrys? Potteroplex?). With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two out in theatres, the franchise has come to a close in a fitting fashion. JK Rowling's creation of a magical world has entranced readers and viewers from the releases of the first book whilst simultaneously performing a magic spell to help itself to some of the dollars in their wallets.

I recall back in the day the story that circulated around about Spielberg wanting to take control of the franchise before the first film was made, Americanize the whole thing, and probably cast Haley Joel Osment as Harry. Given that he had all of one good role in him and has grown up to still resemble the creepy gangly guy, I can only imagine how much of a disaster an Americanized Harry Potter series would have been, so it's good that the production remained a British one.

The decision to divide the final book into two seperate films was a wise one. Rowling developed a habit of writing longer and longer books as the series went on, and in earlier adaptations, large subplots had to be left behind in bringing the stories to the big screen. In dividing the book, it's allowed the story to play out in full, and rightfully so (unlike, oh, a certain pair of films that are doing the exact same thing to the last book in a tedious, eye-rolling vampire franchise starting later this year).

When last we left our three intrepid heroes, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, they had been spending their senior year ditching school, chasing down horcruxes, items in which the villain (Voldemort, of course, pale looking chap with a nose problem, anger management issues, and an overriding desire to grind everyone else beneath his feet) had placed parts of his soul to cheat death. They've been busy trying to destroy the horcruxes, camping out in a tent that has a whole lot of space inside, and thinking up ways to present their activities as extra credit so that they can graduate from Hogwarts. Part One ended with a dramatic escape and the sacrifice of the house elf Dobby.

Part Two picks up where the first movie left off. Most of the action revolves around two settings: a break-in at the goblin bank Gringotts and what can best be called the Battle of Hogwarts, which takes up the bulk of the film. Let's start with the former. The Gringotts sequence takes us down into the depths of the vaults in a way that might upset delicate stomachs (if you've got a problem with rollercoasters, you might want to close your eyes). It features a dragon, a secret vault, and ends with a very creative use of the London skyline. One wonders what a Muggle might think looking up into the sky and seeing something there that clearly doesn't belong.

The trail brings the trio back to Hogwarts, meeting a grumpy brother of the late Dumbledore along the way, reuniting them with their classmates and the staff at the school. Hogwarts has become a dreary place under Headmaster Snape, where rules are being enforced harshly, students are marching in lock step, and (one might reasonably assume) chocolate has been removed from the facilities. The film moves into the last act, with Voldemort and his forces laying siege to the school, confrontations ensuing, battles raging, and our heroes racing against time to stop the forces of evil. Oh, and of course that means a final confrontation between Harry and the fellow who has the facial reconstruction surgery appointment on Tuesday.

The battle involves a lot of destruction, death, and assorted mayhem, and has the proper feel of an epic fantasy film. The special effects crews really earn their pay throughout. Director David Yates, who's helmed the series since Order of the Phoenix, has become accustomed to the wizarding world, and has assembled a production staff of special effects, set designers, costume designers, musicians (composer Alexandre Desplat finishes the series with an epic score), and cinematographers that have kept the franchise fresh and true to its source, and the final movie is the capstone of the series.

Still, the films have always been about character, and the actors do well in the finale of the series. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have grown up playing the three leads, really coming into their own as performers, each capturing the essence of their characters. Ralph Fiennes, who's been playing Voldemort since Goblet of Fire, brings a profound sense of malice and evil to Voldemort. Matthew Lewis as Neville has, in the earlier films, more often then not been the comic relief, but here comes into his own, as Neville shows himself as a courageous hero (with some really terrific lines). Tom Felton, who's been the cruel Draco through all of these films, does the seemingly impossible and makes the audience feel sorry for him. Helena Bonham Carter, one of my favourite actresses, plays the sadistic and completely insane Bellatrix true to form, and the great Alan Rickman excels as the seemingly heartless but tragic Snape. Add to that the great British actors Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Ciaran Hinds, and many more from the duration of the run, and you've got a cast that most directors would kill for.

For all of the epic sweep of the film, I think the quiet moments are the best moments. Harry finds himself in conversations with ghosts at several points in the film. One, of course, is with Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Another is with four people he loves. And a great surprise for me was his conversation with the Grey Lady, seen at last in the films (aside from a momentary glimpse in the first film). She's often been mentioned in the earlier books, but here she's played by Kelly MacDonald, another one of my favourite actresses. Another quiet and remarkable sequence has Harry seeing Snapes' memories, and finally realizing what kind of man his longtime nemesis truly is. There's a heartbreaking moment in the middle of all that, and Rickman's expression makes it happen. And another that stands out features our three heroes, standing on a bridge, a quiet conversation and an action undertaken that speaks to who they've become. The scene captures perfectly the bond between the three of them. The characters and the actors have a chance to breath, to take in all that's happened. They've come down a long road, and we've been watching them all along, seeing them grow.

The film brings the series to a close, and what a series it's been. The Harry Potter franchise has followed a young wizard and his friends from childhood to adulthood, dealing with themes of friendship, good versus evil, death, life, and loyalty along the way. It's given us some of the most memorable heroes and villains of the fantasy genre, and like all great children's literature, it's managed to appeal to adults just as much as kids. The adaptations have been ideal for the big screen, as faithful as they can be, and ultimately a success.

Now, if we can have the alternate ending turn up on the DVD featuring Harry turning evil, that would be splendid.



  1. Harry go to the Dark Side? That would never happen...though I hear he did have s battle with the bottle. This series is going to be deeply will you be when fans of the Sparkly One find you....

    Brilliant review!

  2. LOL, I love it when you dis the Twilight movies...I mean, it's fun to have to disagree with you...however, this time, I think it will suck that they're making the last movie into two movies...That'll suck sparkly ass!!

    But, I still love you...and when you dis Twilight again, I will just have to smack you a little harder next time.

  3. Yes, Harry Potter retires in Florida and takes up golf and plays that flying game on the course with his muggles or whatever and then Larry Flynt offers him a book deal to out his true relationship with Hermione. Dark in a sexy, sleazy sort of American way!

  4. Too funny! Thanks for a good laugh this evening.

  5. Perfect review for this movie. Alan Rickman has always been a favorite of mine, and he was sensational in the last movie. Well done, William. Makes me want to see it again.

  6. Love the picture of Harry talking to Cedric Diggory. Good job!

  7. What a great review. I am always impressed by the way you write. The photos are a hoot too !

    I love the dis on the sparkly film... what a waste of paper and ink a black hole that sucks intelligence thought out of anyone near.

    Plus that fact fact a whole generation will think of only that terrible franchise instead of the wonderful time of the day, song and perfume L' Heure Bleue.

    stopping rant now...

    cheers, parsnip

  8. The end? Hm ... L. Frank Baum permanently and definitively ended his Oz series with The Emerald City of Oz, stopping any further adventures in that world forever. I believe that was the 6th of 40 official books.

    Just sayin'!

  9. I'm still dying over those pics. Anyway, thank god it wasn't Americanized! And thank god it was two different films. And um...ehem...a certain other film should be in 2 parts. She has a vampire baby for Christ sake! Beth, we can go see that! Lol. Anyway, Helena Bohnam Carter is one of my favorites too. And I loved Neville and Dracoy in the film. And of course most of all, Snape.

  10. @Norma and Beth: I'll have to remember to keep making fun of the Sparkly One and his Sullen Nitwit Girlfriend.

    @Eve: Harrys' people are negotiating with Hef too, but Hef keeps falling asleep all the time.


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