Friday, 15 July 2011

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' Review

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' (dir: David Yates, 2011), Cert: 12A

After 10 years and the best part of 20 hours of cinema, J.K Rowling's 'Harry Potter' franchise is departing from our big screens. For many, myself included, this thought leaves one feeling rather cold and rather lost. Personally, I have grown up with the boy wizard so the novels and the features have had a profound effect on my life. Like so many, Rowling's books taught me to love reading - single-handedly, one author showed the world to cherish and appreciate literature once more. I would sacrifice the television or the computer and instead immerse myself in a rich and engrossing world about a young wizard and his quests.

 But in 2011, we have reached the cinematic finale in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2'; a film so highly anticipated yet feared because the truth of the matter is, it really does end here. Sticking with director David Yates for a fourth outing, has the second part of this epic adventure done justice to the masterful source material, and can it be anywhere near as good as it's eerie, heart-stopping and beautiful predecessor?

 Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has located the Elder Wand; one of the three components that make up the Deathly Hallows. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are aware that his discovery has granted him incomprehensible power so they must continue on their journey of locating his Horcruxes and finally destroy The Dark Lord once and for all. When Harry becomes aware that a Horcrux is located in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the trio must head back to the place where their adventure began and defeat the vicious wizard who so eagerly longs for Harry's blood to be spilt.

 Now I am happy to admit that I am bias towards the 'Harry Potter' franchise because I love it so dearly, but regardless of my personal feelings towards the series in general, that does not undermine the fact of just how exceptional this final instalment is. Saying one only likes this film because they like 'Harry Potter' devalues the gravity of this work - to put it in it's most basic form, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' is a masterpiece.

 When adapting a work so adored and so important, it's difficult to know how an audience will react to any changes in the narrative, or anything that may be missing, but realistically, these changes are made to better the cinematic experience, not to devalue the novel. What 'Part 2' does so well and so confidently is in finding the balance between the two. The film is incredibly faithful to the book and only has a very few slight alterations which work perfectly well within the world of the film. Many people have to remember that reading and cinema are different; yes they are linked in certain ways but ultimately, each person reads a book differently -they envision scenarios and characters as to how they personally believe they should be, whilst in film, one image defines the population so it's a grand achievement to have pulled this off with style, beauty and above all else, honesty.

Still from 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' (dir: David Yates, 2011)

 In regards to my earlier question, 'Part 2' is easily as good as it's predecessor - rather than having the burning tension and the calculated suspense of the first part, this picture bursts with action and energy right from the start. Both films are so different from each other but perfectly capture the spirit of Rowling's final book. This film is a marvellous spectacle; it's ferociously exciting and intoxicating with it's glorious battle sequences and incredible CGI efforts, but also through it's dazzling cinematography and set design. In one particular sequence after a large battle has ensued at the school, Hogwarts looks more like a demolition site rather than an institute of learning. A variety of different scenes and locations make the visuals in 'Part 2' utterly breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

 Yates' direction is sure-footed and sumptuously executed - he knows 'Harry Potter' so well and he directs the films with such passion and dedication which is clearly evident when watching the final cut. But this film doesn't just rely on it's action and spectacle to be brilliant because the real success story lies in the character drama and emotion. Although many believed splitting the book into two features was only financial, I think after seeing the second part, they may have a slight change of heart. The reason why so many love the 'Harry Potter' franchise is because of it's characters; they are like a network that are all so intrinsically linked to one another and this film exploits this massively.

 Without a doubt the film's finest moment is the rather lengthy montage of Professor Snape's (Alan Rickman) memories and how he has impacted on Harry's life; it's a beautifully sculpted and timed piece that really digs under the hard fa├žade that is Severus Snape. But what the film also does fantastically is pull the viewer's emotional strings with the death and destruction of the characters involved with Mr. Potter. Every time the camera trickles past a corpse of a character, a sharp pain rushes through the viewer, regardless of how important they may be. We care because they are what makes up the world of 'Harry Potter'. For those who have read the book, you will know that 'the Deathly Hallows' has an awfully high body count and we see the effects of the horrific battle upon Hogwarts in distressing detail. Plus some of the other deaths are pretty brutal and prove just how adult this franchise is.

 In one particular scene, the camera follows Harry as he slowly walks through the Great Hall of Hogwarts and looks at all those who have dies or been injured because of 'his' battle. It's a profoundly moving and poignant scene. Unlike most million-dollar franchises, the characters and environments of 'Harry Potter' really do matter and do have an impact on the narrative progression, and I can't help but think it's because they are British creations, but maybe I'm just being bizarrely patriotic. 

 'Part 2' does share one major thing with 2010's first part however; tone. This film is dark in every sense of the word. It has a deeply unsettling and brooding nature that encases everything in black and fear. The film's lighting is dim and ambient, some rooms only have light from a flickering candle or the trio's wands aided with the 'Lumos' charm. Some have said that the film is visually too dark for 3D and that some things are difficult to see clearly; personally I had no such problem but I think seeing this feature in 2D will be just as immersive and affecting as it is with the added dimension.

 Clocking in at 130 minutes, this is the shortest entry in the franchise but the quick-fire pacing and no-quibbles momentum means the 2 hours and 10 minutes fly by in a flurry of chaos and gripping drama. If you haven't seen any of the 'Harry Potter' films, it's unlikely you will go to see this entry but if you are planning to view, please watch the other films before. Apart from a 30 second recap and the odd flashback, 'Part 2' does not provide any previous material; it expects and needs it's viewers to be fans and know what is happening in the Potter world. Characters from all the previous pictures/novels appear and you are expected to know who they are and what they represent - Newbies might struggle to understand why a strange little Goblin called Griphook is in an armchair wearing what seems to be pyjamas as the film opens. You have been warned world.

 To add to the success story that is this picture is the performances - as previously mentioned, I've grown up with Dan, Rupert and Emma. I too was 10/11 years old when 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' opened in 2001. Since then I have grown with them on-screen and like many others, have seen first-hand how much they have developed as actors. All three were fantastic in 'Part 1' of this epic tale and the all provide the goods in the second serving.

Still from 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' (dir: David Yates, 2011)

 Radcliffe is outstanding here, particularly with the emotional content. His portrayal of Harry is so beautifully defined and controlled, and the young man excels tremendously here. It's the same story with Grint and Watson too - both have high emotional sequences and indeed intimate as the pair's love for one another grows. Even in all of the doom and gloom, Ron still provides the audience with plenty of laughs and it's great to see his character can still be comedic even in the darkest of times. 

 Another performer who is also great here is Matthew Lewis. Rarely does Neville Longbottom get much screen-time (until this picture, his longest was probably in 'the Order of the Phoenix' [2007] as part of Dumbledore's Army), but here he swaps chubby loser for all-action hero and he plays it wonderfully. It's great to see other 'Potter' characters take some of the limelight and Lewis shines in every moment he gets.

 But as always, the finest performer is Rickman. Snape is such a brilliantly complex character; he is a tragic hero, a tragic villain and a hopeless romantic for a lost soul, and all of these elements are displayed in the final picture. From his painfully slow and deviant word delivery, to his daunting and chilling screen presence, Rickman shows the world just how excellent Severus Snape is through his master-class performance.

 So yes, if you haven't guessed by now, I utterly adored 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' and although I'm unbelievably sad the saga is all over now, it gives me the greatest pleasure to know the series has left us with the highest high. This is certainly one of the best films this year, it may even be the best but what really matters is that this picture is truly a triumphant work and further establishes that the 'Harry Potter' film franchise is amongst the best film collections of all time.

It's an astonishingly brilliant farewell to 'The Boy Who Lived', and although the departure is deeply saddening, 'the Deathly Hallows: Part 2' makes sure his exit is the one he deserved - an utterly unforgettable one.

By Chris Haydon

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