BUSAN, South Korea – I think it needs to be said, first and foremost: I have yet to read a single Harry Potter book. I see no shame in admitting it, really.
I say this because often, when discussing the Harry Potter films with people who have read the books, I find myself at a disadvantage in that I lack the foresight to comprehend the material that is being omitted in any one of the seven films. This often puts me at odds with avid Harry Potter readers as to which films rank among the series’ best. They are selecting their favourite films based on the material that is best served by the screen translation. In other words, they are usually looking to scrutinize the plot elements of the film based on what they know from the books.
It is usually at this particular junction in the discussion where I mention that, as an avid fan of films in general, I approach each Potter film with that very perspective; judging the films apart from the books, as a separate entity to itself. I prefer to focus on qualities such as the flow of the narrative and characterizations that are left in tact, the strength of the performances, the evolution of the franchise as various directors step in and out, cinematography and visual effects, and the significance and success (or failure) of ten years of plot development and how the emotional weight of investing in these characters for so long resonates with us all the way through to the end.
By tethering oneself to the much richer lore of the books, one is bound to quibble over the finer details that might be missing, finding it easier to forget that Potter series screenwriter Steve Kloves has accomplished an extremely daunting task.
Adapting these books for the screen is very much akin to what Peter Jackson had to contend with when he translated Tolkein's 'The Lord of the Rings' for his shooting script (which was always in a perpetual state of revisions). In some ways Steve Kloves had it even harder than Jackson & Co, faced with seven books which came complete with a very contemporary fan base with more widespread appeal, having to work with an average running time of 140 minutes per film (when nearly every book warranted a film of length to rival the 'Rings' films), no doubt to keep children from falling asleep mid-reel.
So, if you're reading this review and happen to be an even bigger fan of the books than you are of the films, as impossible as it may be I'd invite you to set the two apart from each other for a moment and consider the conclusion to 'The Deathly Hallows' as a momentous landmark in film history.
This is the end of the largest screen adaptation of any literary work, and the curtain call for the biggest franchise in Warner Bros. history. Needless to say, reviewing this one is no easy task, especially considering that the film has been split into two parts and the latter half picks up right where the first part left off. It is at this point that I will promise that my review will remain 100% SPOILER FREE, so feel free to read on with ease.
Events have already been set into motion, with Harry, Hermione, and Ron on the lamb in pursuit of the remaining horcruxes; the magical objects containing pieces of the Dark Lord Voldemort’s soul. The film opens with a strong reminder that Voldemort has obtained the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s grave, and is using all of his resources to track down and kill Harry Potter. Given that the grand stage has already been set, thanks to the dramatic and methodically paced ‘Part 1’, we’re plunged deep into the second act of this particular chapter. As always, it’s a little jarring to try and catch the details that one might not have familiarized themselves with by reading the books, and the pacing as the film opens suffers a little as a result, but I doubt this problem would be evident when the film is taken with ‘Part 1’ as a whole during a home screening. It would be wise to brush up by watching the first half before going to see the second. Revisiting ‘Part 1’ has given me an even stronger appreciation for the wonderful dramatic elements that are handled gracefully by the young trio who dominate the majority of the screen time. While ‘Part 1’ is the contemplative build-up of dramatic tension, ‘Part 2’ has us bracing for impact as the full force of the series’ emotional core is dropped on us like a bomb.
J. K. Rowling has constructed a narrative of labyrinthine proportions, with countless characters name dropping even more people who are of interest to the plot, massive lists of charms and spells and curses, magical objects; the lore is storied and rich enough to fill an encyclopedia. If you’ve managed to avoid the unending flow of spoilers that plagued the net during the publication of ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘The Deathly Hallows’, then you’re at least aware that there are some very big twists in store. Steve Kloves’ screenplay is more than up to the task of incorporating these heartbreakingly poignant moments in such a way that levitates the events of the six previous films beyond their initial significance. It’s also surrounded by a flurry of whizz-bang action spectacle that is as devastating as it is magical. In the end, everything is connected and nothing feels as though it is without purpose, and even the smallest side-character roles are given final, worthwhile moments that feel wholly earnest.
Also deserving the highest of praise is director David Yates and the various cinematographers he’s worked with since he stepped in to helm the series beginning with ‘The Order of the Phoenix’. Yates has not only stayed the course far past any of the previous directors, he’s also brought the franchise into its most mature tonal setting, approaching his films with a serious “auteur’s eye”. His framing is elegant and vivid, never passing up the chance for gorgeous panoramic viewpoints. The most memorable cinematography of the series has come from Yates’ direction, most notably with ‘Half-Blood Prince’ and now ‘The Deathly Hallows’. For a director who had no previous experience with a theatrical film of this magnitude, he handles his direction with a deft confidence that is rarely seen in films of the fantasy genre. Yates has also been part of the more prominent moments of maturation in his young cast, and his ability to nurture their growth as actors so they apply that to their performances is nothing short of awesome. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have knocked this one out of the park.
Not to be outdone by the latest 3D trend, Warner Bros. seems to have opted for a 3D conversion of this entry. This means that Yates did not film in 3D, and the dimensional effect was added in post-production. I saw the film standard, and enjoyed my viewing just fine. The series has been tremendous without 3D up until this point, so I don’t see why anyone would need it now. The visual effects are crisp and seamless, scenes involving live actors and CGI characters (such as a massive dragon) are eye-popping enough without the damn glasses. Every moment of the action-heavy climax is felt, every death is a gut-punch, not an ounce of excitement is spared. The film is at once a sendoff for the series in a blaze of magic-laden fireworks, and a solemn and bittersweet final bow for characters we’ve been attached to for over a decade. Speaking purely from the perspective of a cinema lover, never before has there been such a massive franchise that has moved so effortlessly, and successfully, from one film to the next before reaching a conclusion that is pound-for-pound every bit the payoff that fans expected, and deserved. The three films directed by David Yates are his grand slam, and ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’ is at once an amazing close to the series, and the best film of the summer thus far.