Length: 130 minutes
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes
Director: David Yates
(Almost entirely) SPOILER-FREE:
The Movie Qua Movie
The Movie Qua Movie
One-word review: wow.
I can't imagine seeing HP7B with no familiarity at least with the preceding moves (though you could try with Gilbert Cruz' game attempt to sum it all up in five minutes), so I'll assume knowledge of The Story Thus Far. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 starts on an ominous note, pauses for a pre-dive breath, and then plunges into a narrative from which it seldom comes up for air.
Everything works here. All the actors are note-perfect, the special effects are top-notch and ubiquitous to the point where they are as naturally interwoven as the beautiful landscapes in the Lord of the Rings movies, the music punctuates the story unobtrusively yet effectively, the camerawork is deft, and the pace is relentless. As a movie, HP7B is a nearly unqualified success. (For a movie that isn't about lesbian zombie anti-Christian anti-American communists to garner 97% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes' 208 reviews, with a 100% rating from its "Top Critics," is a rare feat.)
It is simply a marvel to view making-of sequences such as this one and this one, to realize the (no pun intended) wizardry that goes into crafting this movie. One literally never knows when he is viewing London or the beauties of Scotland, or when it is a sound stage and software. But real artistry goes into this movie on every level.
Last movie, Emma Watson's Hermione Granger was the scene-stealer. She's a marvel and a heart-breaker once again (more on that below). However, this time the stand-out performance is Alan Rickman's Severus Snape. Through his career Rickman has proven himself to be an actor of great ability and depth, capable of both comedy and drama. However, for 7 movies his portrayal of Snape has been held to the book's relatively narrow depiction of the professor as an angry, dark, seemingly negative yet enigmatic figure. The narrative line finally allows Rickman to explore and bring out this character's unseen depths and, oh my, does he.
To say that Rickman's performance singularly remains in the mind amid so many stellar actors is to say something, indeed. Last time I complained of Dan Radcliffe's limited range in portraying Harry Potter. I have recently seen Radcliffe say in interviews that this is his only performance in this series that he can watch without a cringe, feeling he's done his best work. Agreed. I don't think Radcliffe left an empty shelf in his repertoire, bringing out the conflict and misery and force and determination of the series' titular center very movingly.
The only disappointments are once again Michael Gambon's Dumbledore and, to my surprise, Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid. Gambon has boasted that he doesn't bother to read the books that are adding to his wealth, and it has shown. In a scene that calls for conflicted layers of joy, regret, guilt and satisfaction, Gambon brings no greater flavor than that of a slice of processed cheese: barely adequate, reads the lines all right, and not much more. Of all the cast, one can now say that he was the poorest choice — which is unfortunate, given the centrality of Gambon's role.
As to Coltrane, after one outburst, a scene calling for deep emotion from Hagrid was given nothing but flat grimness, which was less than I expected of him.
studied video of Emma Watson so as to do Watson's Granger appearing as Carter's Bellatrix Lestrange. The result is beautiful to behold. Think of it: First, we see Carter playing Watson playing Hermione. Then we have Carter playing Watson playing Hermione playing Carter playing Bellatrix. It is perfection in acting, from facial expressions to physicality.
Deathly Hallows Part 2 is dark in tone and emotionally intense. In particular, once the story reaches a scene in a boat house, the emotional screws begin tightening inexorably. This intensifies through an increasing arc in which the art of Rickman, Ratcliffe and Watson might move a stone to reach for a hankie.
This chapter's darkness and intensity and fantasy-violence make the movie a poor choice for younger or more "sensitive" children. However, it is refreshing that no Michael-Bay-like cretin felt the need to add the slightest salacious sniggers or profanity (other than one harsh word that I noted in a climactic scene).
In sum: The two hours and ten minutes both speed by, and feel as if one's gotten three hours worth of plot, character and action. How did they do that? Movie-making magic.
WARNING: increasing spoilers ahead. Don't want them? Stop!
You read that, right?
If you go on, it's on you.
All right, then:
The Movie qua Adaptation (spoilers)
I'm a purist and a bit of a Potterhead — if standing in line at midnight to get the book when it came out, taking time off work and reading straight through it day and night with my dear wife; and standing (sitting) in line seven hours with my dear Josiah, qualifies me as a Potterhead — and I was absolutely delighted with it. Everything I most hoped would be done well was done well, and much of it even better than hoped.
Of course I would have gladly watched a five-hour movie that gave time for a great deal more of the book and its dialogue, but that is unrealistic.
My dear wife (a rigorous and unsparing critic) and I agree that the adaptation was done masterfully, with only a couple of exceptions, which will be noted below. We agree with virtually everything that was dropped (e.g. dropping a bothersome gnat of a character tagging along with "Bellatrix" in Gringott's), and are happy with virtually every change.
After mourning at Dobby's grave for a moment, Harry tears right into Griphook and Ollivander. He has squared his shoulders, and is driving on for the goal with no more distractions or bypaths. There is no time for the book's debates and dickering, and one doesn't miss it. A brisk if uncomfortable agreement with Griphook, a dose of Polyjuice, the quartet is off for Gringott's, and the pacing virtually never slows but for occasional necessary pauses.
The first bit I really wanted to see handled well was, of course, Voldermort's murder of Snape, and Harry's subsequent viewing of his memories. It was pitch-perfect. Rather than directly portraying the murder on-camera, Yates shows the trio hearing the sounds, which are more brutal and heart-stopping than if we had watched it ourselves. Voldemort departs, Harry rushes to his dying nemesis, who imparts his memories, urges Harry to view them, and says what the book only hints: "You have your mother's eyes" — and dies.
The movie's additions to the book make still clearer Snape's undying love for Lily, his devastation over her murder at Voldemort's hands, his manipulation by Dumbledore into being Harry's reluctant guardian — and his horror at Dumbledore's setting up Harry "as a pig to be slaughtered." When Harry reels back from the Pensieve, clutching at his heart, the intensity almost reaches its climax — but not yet.
The next comes in Harry's encounter with his parents, Lupin, and Sirius, in the forest — though it is odd he goes from his mother to Sirius, ignoring his father. Was that a deliberate reflection of how his father's memory was tarnished for him by what he'd learned of the abuse Snape suffered? Or just a screenwriter's glitch?
The third is, of course, when Harry walks into Voldemort's rabble, to die.
This is followed by Harry's encounter with Dumbledore at King's Cross. Though Dumbledore repeats the phrase, adding stress, one wonders how many will catch the Gospel allusions intended by Rowling. Regardless, it moves the story on to Harry's final encounter with Voldemort.
Harry's final battle with Voldemort varies considerably from the book. In the book, the encounter is almost perfunctory. Harry and Voldemort talk at some length, but Voldemort casts his spell and dies, bang. The movie draws it out at length. That might have bothered me more if I hadn't already been aware of the decision, going in. As it is, I feel that the battle was well-paced and well-choreographed, leading to a satisfying climax.
Then comes the end-scene nineteen years later, the friends (and Ginny) aged as well as technology can do, seeing their own children back to what one presumes is a rebuilt Hogwarts. Harry's moving words to his son, Albus Severus — that he is named after two Hogwarts headmasters, the second of whom was the bravest man he has ever known — lose none of their power. Satisfyingly and appropriately, the camera lingers on the three friends who have been the narrative center of all eight movies, and we are done.
I close, singling out two pluses and two minuses.
First and second plus: my dear wife and I really hoped that the characters of Minerva McGonagall and Molly Weasley, criminally mishandled in the movies, would finally get their due. They did. It is almost as if the writes felt guilty, enhancing McGonagall's encounter with Snape into a bold duel, and then highlighting her again in leading the defense of the castle.
Molly's duel with Bellatrix feels a bit hurried, but my fear was that it would be deleted altogether. One only glimpses Bella attacking Ginny, then Molly shoves her aside, growls "Not my daughter, you [bad, bad woman]," and the duel is on. Bella's confident smile is knocked away, and Molly very satisfyingly dispatches her. Applause from the audience.
But worse is the virtual elimination of the Gospel element Rowling intended and crafted and built up to. One wonders how she tolerated its elimination. However, by all I've seen her say and do since, I do not get the impression that Gospel proclamation is a great priority to her.
In the book, Harry makes a big point to Voldemort of the fact that he is failing to kill the children of Hogwarts, that his spells keep missing. He explicitly explains that this is because his sacrifice of himself in love has shielded them, so that Voldemort can no longer directly harm them. This is the second major occurrence of this theme, the first being Harry's mother's shielding of him by giving her life for his. Harry takes on himself the curse (Horcrux), dies, destroys it, and thus delivers Hogwarts. Then the last enemy is defeated by the Harry, who has come back to life.
Love it, hate it, criticize it, Rowling's attempt to echo the Gospel events is crystal-clear to a close reading. (Though, of course, much is missing from what would be a fuller development of the Gospel per se. It is a story, not a sermon or tract.)
The move simply dispenses with this crucial plot-point. In its stead, movie-Voldemort is simply told that his want isn't working well for him. Also, in the book Harry urges him to repent, persistently calling him "Tom"; not in the movie. Voldemort is simply given up as hopeless. Disappointing. Again I wonder: did Rowling even try to preserve that element?
Also missing, but less of a loss: the theme of Voldemort seeking the Deathly Hallows in order to become immortal and invincible. They're introduced and explained in a wonderful sequence during 7A, but in 7B they're just there. Nothing much is made of the threat they pose in Voldemort's hands, of the fact that Harry at one point possesses all of them.
One could wish for "Director's cuts" that would restore critical missing elements to all the movies, but the most important omissions (for all I know) were never scripted nor filmed. Maybe my children or grandchildren, should the Lord tarry, will see a re-visiting of this (and The Lord of the Rings) that is equally adept but more leisurely, and more respectful of the source-material.
In final sum: this franchise has gone out with a tremendous bang. This movie is the best of the lot. Eight thumbs up.