Three Takes on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
(Warning: this article contains some serious spoilers! If you have somehow avoided knowledge of the events of the final book, read on at your own risk.)
Aren on the Technique
The Harry Potter films are technical marvels. Every consecutive film’s special effects and cinematography improve upon its predecessors’, and ever since Prisoner of Azkaban, mood and style have been a dominant factor in telling the Harry Potter story. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is perhaps the mostly stylishly shot and overwhelmingly atmospheric of the series. Eduardo Serra’s impressive cinematography creates an atmosphere of dread that pervades the entire film. The special effects by ILM are worlds away from the dated CGI of Philosopher’s Stone. Perhaps things seem a little too gritty, especially when compared to the pristine Hogwarts of years past, but this isn’t an attempt by the filmmakers to simulate an epic battle by mimicking The Lord of the Rings (if you want that, go watch the Narnia films). Instead, the grittiness is appropriate and captures the dire spirit of the novel, conveying just how dangerous and climatic a situation Harry has found himself in.
Speaking of Harry, Daniel Radcliffe has grown into an excellent leading man. In this emotional and draining final chapter, Radcliffe rises to the challenge and carries the film, even when sharing the screen with Ralph Fiennes. Quite the feat considering that Fiennes is at his best in this final installment, cementing his Lord Voldemort in the pantheon of great movie villains. Much like the films’ technical aspects, the three young actors at the heart of the series, Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, have grown from passable child actors into very talented and confident young adults. Such a vast improvement makes sense when considering the wealth of British talent that surrounds them onscreen. When learning the trade of acting, it doesn’t hurt to spend your days among the likes of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, etc.
Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows: Part 2 really is a uniformly excellent film. It contains great acting and the highest level of production values. The team behind it, filmmakers and actors, gave it their all, and it shows.
Although most of the plot threads are tied up nicely in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the themes are somewhat less nice and easy. This is because death is the central theme of the Harry Potter series, which is fitting when we remember that immortality has always been the main goal of those who use magic. The final film's bold affirmation of the necessity of sacrifice runs counter to the primary message underlying our society: the individual's life above all. (The last children's film that had similarly difficult themes was Toy Story 3, in which the toys, certain of their doom by incineration, make peace with their lives, each other, and their deaths.) We are not led to embrace death nowadays. For the most part, we are uncomfortable at funerals, old age is shunned, and the dying are carefully distanced from us, whether in hospitals or nursing homes. Touching upon our fear of death is one of the main ways products are sold to us. In this way, Lord Voldemort's dark and perverse methods to safeguard against his own death are really not so strange to us. We, like him, desire immortality.
In The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Harry must choose to die, not only to save other lives but also to defeat evil. Voldemort cannot be killed unless Harry dies. If this is the case, though, why must Harry be resurrected soon after? Does that not cheapen his sacrifice? Does that not make too convenient, too nice a story? Not so. For starters, when Harry lays down his life he is completely unaware that he will return. As far as he knows, he is choosing final death. J. K. Rowling is drawing upon the central story of Western civilization, that of the hero's journey, most notably exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Harry's seemingly miraculous return to life is also explained (perhaps somewhat unclearly) by the story. When we consider the film's treatment of death and sacrifice, it is also important to note that Harry is not the only character who makes sacrifices. Many of Harry's friends and followers sacrifice their lives in the battle to defeat the evil forces of Lord Voldemort. None of them come back to life. Death is not an easy choice for Harry or the others. Throughout the films, characters frequently choose the right yet more difficult path over the easier, the more conventional, or more obviously rewarding.
The final chapter in the Harry Potter movie series is immensely and deeply satisfying, and contains a good clear moral: sacrifice is often necessary if we are to choose what is right over what is easy.
Anders on the Film and the Series
Everyone who contributed to the cinematic phenomenon that concluded this past week with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 should rest easy considering that they managed to pull off such an impressive achievement in adapting J.K. Rowling's mindblowingly popular series into the cinematic medium. However, I'm loathe to merely praise the film on the merits of having achieved something "big" in terms of either box office or length. It's a legitimately good film in its own right, and probably the best fantasy-action film I've seen all year. Director Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves deftly transform the second half of Rowling's book into a briskly paced, action and emotion packed finale (Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the shortest of the Potter film adaptations). The film really benefits from the dramatic set-up of Part 1. While some complained that the previous film was devoid of action, I think both films play best when considered as a dramatic whole.
Which is perhaps where the Harry Potter series shines best. While other series have gone on longer (James Bond) and others have been more tightly-knit narratives (Jackson's The Lord of the Rings), the Potter series feels all of a piece. It is perhaps unique as a long form experiment in cinematic storytelling. Perhaps it might have benefited from the more expansive pace of something like HBO's A Game of Thrones or the upcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, but the real test will be re-watching the entire series as a complete whole. My sense is that it will fair quite well, perhaps even improving as the series goes along (Mike Newell's Goblet of Fire film is my personal favourite of the series, its achievement is as a compelling standalone episode; Yates' films are the ones that serve the overall arc best). Complaints about plot holes (for the most part) and throw-away character deaths and elements will probably be muted when the series is watched as one, and its complex, long-form storytelling is better appreciated (it must also be remembered that the first four films didn't have the benefit of knowing one-hundred percent where the series was going). The epilogue of Deathly Hallows: Part 2 nicely brings the series full circle, allowing us to see Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny long after the wizarding war is over. While some may feel the make-up was less than perfect, I think that most fans appreciate the continuity of allowing us to see the actors carry their characters into the future.
Considering the future of various franchises and the increasing clout of television as the site of long-form cinematic storytelling, it is quite possible that we will never see a series that combines both the expansive narrative and creator-control that the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling's series have experienced.