Monday, August 1, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two
Directed By: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter

Ten years and eight feature length films later, the adventures of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard comes to a close. A generation of kids who grew up reading about black magic, goblins and hidden Horcruxes will now be closing a chapter on their childhood. Although I have not read the books myself, many of my friends credit the series with teaching them about loyalty, friendship and first loves -- essential life lessons that go above and beyond what is normally expected in your average fantasy series. 

However, as I mentioned in my November 2010 review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: Peter Jackson managed to make all three of his The Lord of the Rings films a cohesive story. They followed one thread and worked well, both together and as individual, stand-alone films. I find that this has never been the case with the Harry Potter franchise. Granted, there are a lot of films that the screenwriters have to struggle to string together, yet for someone like me who has never read the books, it can be alienating. Nearly each Harry Potter film has had a new director and, as a result, has a different tone and atmosphere than its predecessor, which I also think is the root cause of some of its issues. I think it makes them feel like jagged vignettes that don't always quite fit together as a whole.

In this final instalment the film begins right where the last one left off -- Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has retrieved the Elder Wand from the corpse of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Meanwhile, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) team up to try to find the mysterious Horcruxes -- each one containing a small, yet vital, fragment of Voldemort's soul. In destroying each of the Horcruxes, Voldemort's power weakens and sets the story up for the much-anticipated duel between Harry and his snake-like nemesis. 

Director David Yates returns with his same cast and crew and, as a result, these final two films in the franchise come together nicely in terms of atmosphere, tone and visuals. The cinematography is beautiful -- all dark greys, browns and earthy greens, lending the finale a sort of aesthetic acknowledgment that it has come to a dark, emotional end. 

Yet, Deathly Hallows Part Two lacks a structural tightness to its story, although this has more to do with Rowling than it is the fault of the screenwriters. From what I gather of the book series, it's ultimately all leading up to this final duel between good and evil. However, it does seem to have taken an awfully long time to get to the point of it all. Did Rowling really need seven novels of misadventures at Hogwarts to effectively illustrate her life lessons on friendship, loyalty and good vs. evil? Probably not. As a result, the entire film series was a combination of false starts and anti-climaxes, resulting in sometimes plodding films (specifically the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, of which I remember next to nothing, despite having seen it more than once). 

Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort.
The strongest link in this film franchise has, and always will be, the acting -- all of which improves with each film. Emma Watson (as Hermione) and Rupert Grint (as Ron), in particular, have both matured into great young actors who brought a lot to their roles as young, blossoming wizards. Without them, Harry would have ultimately failed in many of his tasks. Their unflagging loyalty to their gifted friend remains one of the franchise's most powerful lessons in what it means to be a true friend. It makes it inevitable that both Hermione and Ron will both come to appreciate that dedication in one another and fast-track their relationship past the platonic stage -- and thankfully Watson and Grint have a charming, opposites-attract chemistry. 

However, if this final instalment belongs to anyone, it belongs to Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman. Both do a tremendous job with what they are given to work with (which isn't a lot, especially in the case of Rickman). 

As Lord Voldemort, Fiennes is fabulous -- teaching the audience the art of subtlety; giving a masterful performance of evil, even while buried beneath layers and layers of caked on make-up with only his eyes to convey his dark thoughts. It's a pity it took so long for his character to come anywhere near front and centre in the franchise. Fiennes is absolutely fascinating to watch and he turned Voldemort into a remarkably creepy villain. 

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape.
As the tragically misunderstood Severus Snape, Rickman is finally given his chance to shine. Why Rowling took so long to reveal the unrequited love Snape harboured and his desire to protect Harry is anyone's guess. Rowling very nearly deprived her audience of feeling any sense of understanding for the Hogwarts teacher, choosing instead to reveal everything all at once at the very end. As a result, the audience is forced to quickly catch up on an entire life's worth of pining and loss in Snape. Oh, what might have been -- for both the character of Snape and Rickman as an actor -- had Rowling delved deeper into her creation much earlier in the series, allowing her audience to relate and grieve with Snape, instead of making it all feel like an afterthought. Instead, the audience is left wondering about what more there could have been to the tragic (and disappointingly underused) character of Snape. 

Once all is said and done, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two will likely leave all those loyal Potterheads happy, thrilled and nostalgic for their childhood. If those devotees left the theatre satisfied than that's ultimately all that matters. Although it was a flawed series it still achieved what any good blockbuster should -- a loyal fanbase that welcomed its coming-of-age life lessons and its portrayal of good vs. evil. 


Question: What was your favourite Harry Potter film?


  1. "Yet, Deathly Hallows Part Two lacks a structural tightness to its story, although this has more to do with Rowling than it is the fault of the screenwriters. From what I gather of the book series, it's ultimately all leading up to this final duel between good and evil. However, it does seem to have taken an awfully long time to get to the point of it all. Did Rowling really need seven novels of misadventures at Hogwarts to effectively illustrate her life lessons on friendship, loyalty and good vs. evil? Probably not."

    Who are you to say that when you haven't even read the series? You can't pass judgement on the series or on Rowling herself from things other people have told you or from the films (which are less cohesive than the books and therefore, more the fault of the screenwriters).

    Yes, she did seven novels. Harry needed to grow up and mature, and he needed to learn important life lessons other than friendship and loyalty, before he could face Voldemort.

  2. I won't argue that as a person coming outside the books your experience probably won't be as rosy as someone who's read them all such as me.

    The movies, even as a Potter fan, are not perfect, but I think they're a good ride overall. They're well made on a technical standpoint and have excellent actors (all Brits to boot!)

    As for my favourite... Either Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    Philosopher's Stone because of its fantastic atmosphere, music and how it actually felt like a school for wizards (the changes they made in Prisoner or Azkaban ruined this fact for me...).

    Order of the Phoenix because of how... political it is. I like the smacks at right-wing politics it makes in here (subtle or otherwise) and how it actually conceived a character arguably worse than Voldemort, Dolores Unbridge. Plus, this movie arguably has the best fight scenes in the series. It's here you get a bit of a blend of the first two films and the two films that came after. It works well in its case.

    One last note, the final four films WERE directed by the same person; I believe that means there were four people who have directed Harry Potter films, for reference.

    Your favourite, Laura? :)

  3. Excellent, just excellent write up!! I'm pleased to know I'm not alone in finding this an unsatisfactory film. I liked them all up until Half-blood Prince which lost me due to its cliff hanger finish. How they thought they could do that, and then make two more films is beyond me. Doesn't a cliff hanger precede a finale??
    Also I'm not happy about splitting the last book into two. Lucre was its object, and for me the last two films smelt badly of money grab. There was no need to do so as there was no way a novel of that length could be justifiably split in two. Goblet of Fire is the same length roughly and wasn't split, so why this?? Money!
    I'm a HP fan, of both mediums, but I'm unimpressed with these last two films, especially the last where the structure as you say is lacking, and the curse of CGI takes over. The actors and plot is seriously lost.
    A B is fair enough judgement for me as well. I feel it I was a poor finish to the franchise. Like Super 8 I'm in a minority of not being impressed at all!

  4. @Rebecca: Well, it's an opinion, see. As a film fan, I found the series a little all over the place in terms of storytelling. There were a lot of little subplots that were confusing or seemed out of place. I understand fans wanted it to remain loyal to the books; however, there comes a time when certain things need to be cut for the sake of a cohesive narrative within the film! All great film adaptations can never be 100% accurate to its original source, otherwise it will alienate filmgoers who have not read the books. And, regardless of whether or not I've read the books, that still holds true for all film adaptations. Scripts need to be adapted so that those who are unfamiliar with the novels don't feel lost.

    In talking with people who love both the books and the films, I noticed many of them said for themselves that the scripts weren't always evenly paced. Whether it's the fault of Rowling's influence or the screenwriters, certain scenes just didn't always work on screen, in my opinion.

    As I said though, I still enjoyed the film and the series, in general.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. @Alex: Hey! Thanks for the comment. Hope you had a great birthday.

    Yeah, I usually tried to watch the series with my sister because she's read the book and knows them really well. She'd tell me what she was happy with and what she wasn't and she'd likely agree with you ...they were good overall.

    You know, I had no idea the last four were from the same director. It's interesting because the tone feels different in the last two compared to the two that preceeded it. Hmm.

    It's so interesting, for me, to hear how different opinions are from those who have read the books vs. those who haven't. For example, Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite ...I loved how Alfonso Cuaron made it so artsy and I thought the acting was great (especially David Thewlis ...I was sad he was barely used in the later movies).

    My other favourite was probably Deathly Hallows Part One did a great job of building everything up and, despite the fact that it was a slower pace, it was still interesting and developed the relationships between the three leads. Plus, it was away from Hogwarts, which was a really nice change.

    Thanks for the comment, Alex! :)

  6. @Brent: Haha. Thanks.

    You know, I don't even remember what the Half-Blood Prince cliffhanger was. Those two films that preceeded the two finales are kind of lost to me, even though I've seen them more than once.

    However, I don't mind that it took two films to conclude the series only because trying to fit all the info from Hallows Part One and Part Two into one film with a less than three hour running time is hard to imagine. Than again, you've read the books and I haven't, so you could be right on the money when you say it could have easily been squeezed into one film.

    I don't think we are in the minority, actually. I mean, I liked it, but it wasn't the conclusion it should have been. I know a LOT of people who have read the book series (I feel like I may be the only one left in the world who hasn't) and a lot of them were disappointed with it and much preferred Hallows Part One.

    I just felt that there were so many significant things happening in this last film (death of Voldemort and Snape) that those things should have been more highlighted. I will still never understand why the big reveal of Snape's true character is left until the very end. It totally takes away the audience's ability to feel any empathy for him through the entire series...and then all of a sudden there are all these big revelations about his true character.

    Having read the books, are there any hints leading up to Snape's death that he's a good man? I think it should have been introduced earlier.

  7. hints at all!! I read the novel two Christmases ago, and the first thing my sister asked me when I finished was about Snape!! The revelation took me by surprise and in many respects it is a credit to Rowling for keeping him so well hidden because he was such an unlikable character right throughout. But each to their own there. I can certainly appreciate your view point. As wonderful as HP is the novels and movies do have inherent flaws, and I for one think you have picked them out quite astutely!!
    You aren't alone in not having read the novels, many haven't as they aren't too everyone's taste. The cliff hanger end was the death of Dumbledore. I read at the time it was a criticism of that film which I felt too. It didn't sit well with me when they then split the last film in two.
    I stand by my dislike of the split, because if Peter Jackson could make the three LOTR books into three films, then Deathly Hallows was easily a three hour film itself. Believe me they stretcheddddddd out the book to make two films!
    Isn't it funny how snarky some people get? I mean the top comment is just bordering on sheer rudeness! People are entitled to love Harry Potter in which ever dose they want but not to the point of being so dismisive of your own opinions just because they differ. I had two similar comments on my fiction blog which actually got really nasty. I couldn't believe the vehemence!! Suffice to say they were deleted but I was really shocked by them.

  8. That's interesting that you liked that the revelation about Snape's character was held until the end. I can understand that because, as you said, it was so well hidden. Maybe it's just the part of me that loves tortured souls but I think it would have been so much more devastating had the audience known, gradually, about Snape's true nature ...that way we could feel his pain and we could see Harry's dislike of him through his eyes as well. It would have been *so* sad ...but again, I tend to like to make things more tragic than they maybe need to be.

    I completely agree when you reference Peter Jackson ...and Tolkien in general. There were a lot of little subplots in Harry Potter that were not really necessary to the films. I can understand if they are important in the books, but film is a whole other medium. Jackson and his crew did the seemingly impossible ...they adapted Tolkien into three tight, concise films. They cut excess material and, as a result, the narrative was really focused. Harry Potter is hard to adapt, much like LOTR. My main problem with the HP films is that there were times when I felt like certain scenes/scenarios could be cut simply because it took away from the real focus sometimes.

    I wonder how much power Rowling held when it came to the script writing?

    I don't mind debate ...but sometimes people's opinions are just misunderstood, I guess, and it can get snarky. i was prepared for certain comments, though, since so many people love the HP books. The above commenter didn't like that I hadn't read the books, yet I was passing judgement on the film adaptations. I was simply trying to say that Rowling clearly had a *lot* going on in her books because it's clear that sometimes the screenwriters struggled with what to keep and what to cut and it often left the films lopsided, with emphasis on the wrong moments. So, I feel the blame lies with Rowling as much as the screenwriters since the source material is her own. I don't think I need to have read the books to notice that much. But, to each their own. I don't worry about it. :)

    Can I have a link to your review? Couldn't find it on your blog.

  9. My review is in July. Just click there and you will find it two posts beneath the Marlon Brando book review. So you weren't far off!
    Don't expect too much as I was in a rut writing wise as I felt as if I was writing the same review each week with the CGI movies that were bombarding us at the time.
    I'm not sure if Rowling had anything to do with the scripts. With the reading I've been doing recently it doesn't seem to be a happy thing to do and generally doesn't seem to work. Being an author and a scriptwriter are two quite different writing skills apparently. For example Hitch worked with Leon Uris on Topaz and it was cats and dogs! But somewhere I would think she was consulted because if the movies didn't match the books then I'm sure they would have flooped.
    I really enjoyed writing up the Fistful of Dollars review last night and was really happy with the result. It is the best piece of writing I feel I've done since The Hustler. But it easier when we are writing on something we love isn't it! Compare Fistful with HP and I'm sure you will see the difference!
    Been trying for some time to do The Birds but I just get things to gel, which is bugging me because it is a Hitch film I'm very passionate about. Your review of HP is a much better review by far than mine...( who says flattery gets you on where!).

  10. hello Laura terrific review. I was wondering if you would like to join the FilmCriticsGuild blog. It's a nice group were people with film blogs go to post links to their main stuff and much more. Please check it out, I'd like you to join.

  11. Thanks for the great post on your blog, it really gives me an insight on this topic.
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  12. we’re at the end of the whole film series. I’ve really enjoyed rewatching all these films a little more closely than I have done in the past. I think I’ve spotted some things that I’m definitely going to be watching out for on future rewatches.
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