Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Harry Potter' gets a worthy conclusion

The poster for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” doesn't say the name of the film anywhere on it. In its place in large capital letters are the words: IT ALL ENDS. A bit over dramatic, but not for a Harry Potter fan. For a generation, this is the end of not just a movie franchise, but their childhood.
Author J.K. Rowling's seven-book fantasy series of a wizardry academy and the title character's coming of age and battle with the evil Lord Voldemort began back in 1997 and concluded 10 years later. The film series began in 2001 and now 10 years, eight films, four directors and two screenwriters later we have reached the conclusion.
Just as with the book series, a complex interlocking story and a completely realized world, the films are an impressive achievement. This is a franchise that never dips blow a certain quality level. The films range from simply good to excellent.
At this point, if you are not on board the train to Hogwarts Academy, which takes a beating this time around, this film isn't going to change anything. In fact, if a friend or family member were to drag a newbie to see this film it would be incomprehensible and not because it is the second part of a two-part film, but because it is the culmination of everything that came before it.
A lot happens in the film and getting too much into plot will lead to spoilers, which shall be avoided for those, who, like me, haven't read the books. All you need to know about the plot is Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finally faces off with Voldemort (a truly creepy Ralph Fiennes).
Although Harry's loyal friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) stand by him, he must make the final confrontation alone. Harry also gets help from Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), an awkward classmate, who in this final chapter becomes a heroic leader. Watching Neville get his due is one of the joys of this film.
It is amazing that all the principal child actors were never replaced and they've grown into fine adult actors able to hold their own with a cast of some of the best British actors alive. Of the massive cast, all of which is splendid, if you had to spotlight someone it is Alan Rickman's Severus Snape. His pregnant pauses and ambiguous intentions remain intact, but now we finally get to see Snape as he truly is. Rickman plays it beautifully.
Director David Yates returns for his fourth film. It was wise to have the last four films be handled by one filmmaker since, unlike the previous four which were more episodic, the final three books were more like a trilogy.
Yates is a skillful filmmaker who has had to bring the darker half of the series to the screen. Each progressive film has drained more of the color from the brightly colored universe director Chris Columbus first introduced in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
The first half of “Deathly Hallows” was slow, pensive and introspective and did a fine job of putting into motion everything that unfolds in “Part 2,” which is at times relentlessly intense. This is no longer merely kid stuff. The film earns its PG-13 rating.
Yates does a good job keeping this final film tightly paced. This is an exciting, fast-moving film — sometimes too much so. There is a climatic battle at Hogwarts and the death of several characters are quickly glossed over.
Dealing with the death of characters seems to be one of Yates limitation as a filmmaker. In all the films he has directed, major characters die and it always feels anti-climatic and lacks the emotional payoff they deserve. That being said, there is a character killed in “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” that is addressed perfectly and in a way that is deeply saddening.
Steve Kloves, who has adapted all but one of the books, returns to cross the finish line. Throughout the series he has done a good job of distilling books that continued to increase in length. Yes, things were cut and things were altered, but the essence always remained intact.
The producers on the film wisely decided, after the first couple films, to not slavishly follow the books and to make the films their own thing. The films remain faithful to Rowling's vision while also being able to have their own take on the world, which is the sign of a good adaptation.
Clearly, Potter isn't for everyone, but for the loyal fans this is a fitting end to one of the most beloved characters in both modern film and literature.

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