Friday, 15 July 2011

A Kind Of Magic: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II review


FILM REVIEW

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART II
Dir: David Yates
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman
Running Time: 130 mins

[A version of this review was first published on Flixist]

It's actually not hyperbolic to say that the final entry in the Harry Potter series is one of the most important movies ever made. Not in terms of creativity or technical achievement, but for the many fans who have discovered the wonder of the cinematic form on their decade-long adventure with Harry, Ron and Hermione. The question of where they will go next will send some back to the books, others to the first movie so they can start again, while others will move on and forget. 

There will be some, though, who go in search of something new to excite their imaginations, whether that be in movie, literary or another form. Some of them will in turn be inspired to create something new of their own, so that others can share in the joy they felt at reading those first words or hearing that iconic theme tune for the first time. Today, a new generation of geeks will look to the future in the same way as the previous one did in 1983 with Return of the Jedi. The dreams of those who persevered with their passion back then have since changed the face of modern popular culture. In twenty-eight years' time, who can say what Potter will have inspired to continue that cycle?
  
In that respect, the quality of Deathly Hallows Part II as an individual film is near immaterial - Return of the Jedi wasn't particularly well received, let's not forget, yet the dreams of Star Wars fans were untainted. (At least until the prequels, so let's hope Rowling doesn't give into her dark side in the same way that Lucas did). For what it's worth, the movie provides a credible enough wrap-up for the series, even if a few changes from the book lessen the impact of the climactic showdown and those not already under Potter's spell won't find anything new to entice them.

Even if you believe that every movie should be judged on its own merits, no-one could deny the importance of history to this final Potter. As with the book, it's as much a look back at all the favourite moments and people left behind as it is a conclusion to an ongoing story. The Horcrux hunt, for one, is virtually a travelogue of locations from previous stories, bringing with it a sense of finality by tying together every last corner of this deep and detailed world. When the last, unexpected horcrux is revealed, it is an appropriate and fulfilling choice that brings past and present together. Elsewhere that indulgence might seem lazy, but the Potter series is at its heart a story about the power of beloved memories to inspire the growth of the future. At times, director David Yates stages the nostalgia a bit too obviously, unnaturally formulating images to remind us that this is the last Potter ever, but as a narrative being complemented by its central theme and vice-versa, it's a touching success.

The inevitable flashback - and after ten years and eight movies that inspire so much devotion, it's forgiveable - recalls how young the three actors in the central roles were when first making their acquaintance, and how much they have grown both physically and as performers in the years since. Rupert Grint has had his gift for comedic delivery and timing from the beginning, but gained the ability to convey the bravery that has made Ron a valuable friend and ally as well as comic relief. Emma Watson was the most forced of the three in Philosopher's Stone (sorry, but I'm not using that patronising American title) but now seems far more at ease within herself and the character, to the extent of delivering a number of clunky lines in a more natural manner than they deserve. As an aside to the scriptwriters, it's already clear how strongly she respects and feels for Ron, so there's no need to have her be so repeatedly astonished ("brilliant!") when he devises a workable plan.


As for Daniel Radcliffe, let's hope that he won't suffer from Mark Hamill syndrome and be too defined by his role as Harry to go on and achieve many things in his own right. He has turned into quite the remarkable actor, following ten years under the tutelage of the finest thesps this side of the pond has to offer. There's no need for the writers to put into words the weight that Harry is carrying on his shoulders because Radcliffe communicates it through every aspect of his performance. As with Emma Watson, he fights diligently through some difficult dialogue, but it's a shame that the single line he slightly fumbles is the vital one before Harry must go and face his destiny.

Speaking of those great English thespians, Alan Rickman finally gets the chance to do something other than sneer and speak... verrrrry... slowwwwllllly in a sequence near the end when the sadness and isolation underpinning Snape's character become clear. His previous campness (and an early speech to the Hogwarts students really pushes those vocal exaggerations to the limit) end up working in the scene's favour, as it becomes all the more shocking to see him breaking the caricature and suffering under genuine emotion. There's no such dedicated showcase for the others, although most do get a tiny moment to shine: Gary Oldman cameos and delivers his one line with heart-wrenching simplicity, Maggie Smith gets to show Minerva McGonagall's humourous side, and Helena Bonham Carter's versatility shines in playing Hermione in Bellatrix's body (there's one for the fanboys).

Whilst his cast are taking their final bow with grace, director Yates and his writers let the side down with some underwhelming work behind the camera. Key scenes never quite feel correctly paced, and a charge across the Hogwarts courtyard during a Death Eater assault (clearly supposed to evoke a wartime battle) falls flat, with the barrage of action and dreary soundtrack - the Potter theme tune is wastefully only played once, over the end credits - coming across as clichéd and confusing rather than harrowing. The overwhelming amount of CGI also robs key shots of their impact by them their evident artificiality. Although I saw the movie in the standard format, certain shots broke the movie's reality by being so evidently composed to make use of 3D. Even by the standards of previous Potters, there's an insane amount of stuff flying at the screen or whooshing and swirling through the air, little of it for justifiable reasons.

The final showdown is also needlessly extended and with several crucial changes made to that of the book - how I wish I could do spoilers - which rob the coup de grâce of its power by losing the link between Harry, Voldemort and the Elder wand. (Consequently, the Deathly Hallows themselves are made near irrelevant). In the book, the moment feels tragic and exhilarating because it is driven by the characters and their respective moralities. In the movie, the changes are not only anticlimactic, and seemingly driven - again - by a desire to use a 3D effect, but even go against what Harry is supposed to stand for. It's aggravating that lessons haven't been learnt after similarly needless changes messed up Half-Blood Prince's big ending.

Ultimately, as frustrating as those blunders are, they are quickly resigned to insignificance by the end-of-an-era feel that comes naturally at seeing these characters reach the conclusion of the story we've followed them along. I don't think the Potter movies ever reached their full potential - Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire came closest for me, but were still a way off true greatness - but have provided consistently solid entertainment and created enough of a bond with their audience that the big emotional scenes work on their own. It must also be said that keeping largely the same cast and crew together for a ten-year project is a remarkable achievement and no doubt a crucial factor in maintaining a sense of continuity and authenticity in how JK Rowling's world was represented on screen, rightly earning the love of a broad and passionate fanbase. Deathly Hallows Part II is far from perfect, but as an ending for the fans it is a satisfying one, and what it may inspire from them in the future is yet more exciting still. [ 6 ]

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