Well, we all knew it would have to end someday and now, it’s over. The Harry Potter film series, which began way back in 2001, is concluding right now in a theater near you. On Friday night, me, Jeff, my sister Erin, and our friend Evelyn went down to the AMC Valley View and we saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
The cinematic story of Harry Potter is over and yes, I did cry as I watched it end. I didn’t just cry because of the movie, though the movie itself is one of the best of the year and it has one of those wonderful endings that just makes it impossible to remain dry-eyed. No, I cried because — with this film — an era of my life is truly over.
When the first Harry Potter film came out, I was only 16 and still trying to deal with the fact that I had been diagnosed as being bipolar just a few weeks earlier. I felt alone and broken and destined to spend the rest of my life on the outside looking in. The three hours that I spent watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were three hours when I didn’t have to worry about suddenly bursting into tears and having everyone around me worrying about whether or not I was actually taking my hated medication. For three hours, I could escape to another world where those who were different were celebrated precisely because they were different. For three hours, I could imagine that just maybe I had a special purpose for existing too and maybe I had benevolent wizards and witches looking out for me too. And I’m sorry if all that sounds trite in retrospect but, when you’re 16 and you think you’re too damaged to love, anything that gives you hope and pleasure in the present is a precious treasure.
Over the years, I eventually came to realize that being bipolar was hardly a curse and, as I matured and grew up and discovered new things, there was always a Harry Potter film either playing or about to come out. Whether I was escaping high school, graduating college, or dealing with just every good or bad thing that makes up life, Harry Potter — this character who I first met (in book form) when I was 13 — was always there. So, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, the end of Harry Potter is the end of a chapter of my life.
One final personal note: As I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, I had three dolls (or action figures, as boys insist on calling them) in my purse. These dolls — Harry, Hermione, and Ron — came out around the same time as the second Harry Potter film and my mom (who collected dolls) ordered them off of Ebay three years ago, shortly before she entered the hospital for the final time. Now, my mom was not a huge fan of the Harry Potter series but she knew that I loved it and that’s why she made those dolls her final gift to me.
And those are some of the reasons why I found myself crying as I watched the finale of Harry Potter. However, there’s another reason why I cried and that’s that this is just a great film and the perfect conclusion to the series.
Essentially, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two starts up immediately after the conclusion of Part One. Dobby is dead, Lord Voldemort (a wonderfully neurotic Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters are intent on destroying everything, and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, wonderful as always) is in charge of Hogwarts. After spending the first part of Deathly Hallows as fugitives, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts to take a final stand against Voldemort. Things end in a surprisingly bloody battle (this film is not for children) that leaves several characters dead and ultimately reveals that one wizard wasn’t the saint we always assumed he was while another is revealed to be the secret hero of the entire series.
Let’s get one question out of the way right now: will non-Harry Potter fans be able to follow this film? Uhmmm…no. Sorry. Then again, why would a non-Harry Potter fan be at a film called Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two anyway? I mean, seriously, if you’re just going to film because everyone else is doing it than who are you to bitch anyway? This is what you non-Harry Potter fans need to do. Stop reading this review. Go watch the previous Harry Potter films. Watch them in order. Take your time because Deathly Hallows is going to be in theaters for a while. And then, once you’ve become immersed in the story, go see how it all concludes. And then come back here and read rest of this review.
Okay, so is everybody up to date?
One of the more interesting features of the Harry Potter series is that so many different directors (each with his own definite, individual style) have been involved in bringing these films to the screen. Among Harry Potter fans, hours can literally be spent debating the merits (and weaknesses) of Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates. My own theory is that each director was perfectly suited for each film he directed. The audience-friendly vision of Chris Columbus was what the first two films needed, just as Prisoner of Azkaban needed Cuaron’s far darker vision and Mike Newell’s attention to character made Goblet of Fire one of the best of the Harry Potter films. And while David Yates may not be as well-known (or critically acclaimed) as Newell or Cuaron, he brings exactly the right tone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a perfect combination of spectacle and humanity. It is to Yates’ credit that the scenes in which the characters simply talk to each other are just as compelling as the dramatic sequences where Voldemort and the Death Eaters attack Hogwarts. Yates understands that this material could easily come across as silly or childish and to his credit, he never allows the audience to simply dismiss this film as a lot of blathering about wands and CGI magic. As opposed to other directors who have given us summer blockbusters, Yates takes his film seriously.
And, fortunately, so does his cast.
One of the great pleasures of the Harry Potter series is that it’s given American audiences the chance to discover (and rediscover) some of the great British character actors and a lot of them show up (some for only a matter of minutes) here in the finale. Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, and Jason Isaacs all put in appearances. Kelly MacDonald has a great scene playing a ghost, Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange, and Alan Rickman is brilliantly ambiguous as Severus Snape. (And yes, Snape’s actions are explained in this film and yes, I did cry.)
Ralph Fiennes plays so many villains that I now find myself expecting him to show up killing people in every movie I see. He’s like a British Christopher Walken. Still, it’s easy to take an actor like Fiennes for granted. For the entire Harry Potter series to work, Lord Voldemort can’t just be an ordinary villain. He’s got to be the sum total of all things evil and deadly. You’ve got to believe that people would be scared to speak his name. Great heroes need a great villain and Fiennes’ Voldermort is a great villain.
Ultimately, however, the true credit for the success of the Harry Potter series belongs to three actors who have literally grown up on the movie screen — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. The producers are fortunate indeed that the cute kids that they cast over a decade ago have all grown up to be talented, attractive, and likable actors. If the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seemed to showcase both Grint and Watson (almost to Radcliffe’s expense), part 2 is most definitely centered on Harry Potter. That doesn’t mean that Watson and Grint aren’t good in this film. They are and they get to share one of the best movie kisses of 2011. (As well, for those who keep count, Grint says “Bloody Hell,” three times in the film.) But, for obvious reasons, this film is all about Harry and Radcliffe’s performance as Harry. It’s a challenge for Radcliffe and it’s a challenge that he more than succeeds at conquering. As the film ended, I realized that I was sad to know that the adventures of Harry Potter were done but I was excited to see what the future will hold for Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson.
Incidentally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has been released in both 3-D and 2-D. We saw the 3-D version and if you have any knowledge of how I feel about 3-D (and how motion sick I tend to get while watching 3-D films) then that should show you just much I love the Harry Potter series. I loved it so much that I was even willing to overlook my hatred of 3-D. The 3-D here (which was added after the film has already been filmed) doesn’t really add much to the movie. There were a few cool moments where I was all like, “Look, I can reach out and grab a piece of Voldemort,” but otherwise, the 3-D was a negligible factor as far as the overall film was concerned.
Still, there was one interesting thing about the 3-D. The theater we saw the movie in was half-way empty. At the same time, the neighboring theater — in which the 2-D version was playing — had a line of people waiting to get in. They were not only waiting to see the 2-D version, they were waiting to see a showing that wouldn’t even begin until a full 90 minutes after the 3-D version started. I mention this because, in the wake of Avatar, so many people have taken it for granted that 3-D is the future of movies and soon, as long as a film is in 3-D, we won’t have to worry about the difficult stuff like an interesting plot or compelling characters. However, 3-D has become an overexposed gimmick. For every film like Cave of Dreams that uses 3-D to craft an actual artistic statement, there’s a 1,000 films like Priest which use 3-D just because it’s an easy way to trick sucks into spending an extra dollars to see a crappy film.
What so many filmmakers seem to forget is that the majority of film goers are not looking for 3-D. We’re just looking for a good film. And sometimes — like with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — we get lucky and we find a great film.
(Oh, and one last thing: I know everyone always expects me to claim to be just like Hermione but actually, I’ve always related more to Ginny Weasley. Like her, I’m the youngest of four siblings, I’ve got red hair, and I always get my man, in the end.)