It all ends. And to be sure, it’s a fitting end for the storied franchise. Perhaps no other series of children’s films (and few series of films period) has delivered as consistently good visuals and narrative as Potter. The event that is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 can be called nothing less than epic.
Picking up right where Part 1 left off, Harry grieves by the seaside grave of the fallen Dobby. His gravestone reads “A Free Elf.” The death of Dobby left moviegoers, even those schooled on and prepared by the source material, gutted. It’s one thing to absorb the pathos from the words on the written page, but the movie medium can pack a harder punch. Of course, without a reverent retelling of the story crafted by the novel’s author, the words become hollow on the screen. And over the course of now eight films, the Potter franchise has tried on four directors and two writers, finding success and failure through numerous evolutions. All the while, the three central actors—Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint—grew up along with hordes of avid fans.
As the films progressed, the tendency has been to avoid happy endings. This was especially true for Part 1, which ended with the loss of that dear mischievous elf. Prepare yourself for much more loss in Part 2, a sweeping narrative that remarkably answers all the nagging questions without feeling overly rushed or contrived, even for a film about a child wizard.
Those who grumbled cynically that the seventh book in the series was divided into 2 parts are answered here. Not only does this good thing finally end, but stretching book 7 over movies 7 and 8 provides necessary breathing room to explain things. As Harry himself tells the goblin (Warwick Davis) in one of the series’ quieter opening sequences, “it’s complicated.”
And it is the intricate nature of the entire octology that makes the Potter universe credible. The vast number of characters that have been brought from the pages of the novels to the screen is in and of itself impressive. But what screenwriter and Potter mainstay Steve Kloves does with the script in Part 2, tying those characters all together and giving them meaningful parts, is nothing less than masterful. It makes the viewer willing to excuse the film’s flights of fancy, like a fiery action sequence in a hidden room where escape follows a familiar movie formula, or a denouement that feels a bit padded. That final dalliance is reminiscent of the lengthy epilogue causing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to be an utter bladder buster. And yet, Part 2, which clocks in at 130 minutes, will not likely cause many minds to wander. Even the quiet moments in this film will have viewers captivated.
The largest miscalculation is likely the shameless addition of 3D to the series ender. To put it bluntly: 3D adds nothing to the movie and can possibly damage the experience. While I was overwhelmingly negative on the year’s biggest film to date, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I recognized that the top-shelf effects and the 3D were perfect for the material. 3D seems to work best when applied to films featuring a lot of hard edges and flat surfaces. Perhaps that’s why the 3D gimmick was very effective when applied to Cars 2. But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is set in a very organic environment—a lot of soft edges and curvy surfaces. Combine that with the overly dark look and gauzy images and so much of the film looks positively out of focus in 3D. It’s frustrating. And while Part 2 is a big cinematic deal, 3D comes off as a mere business ploy rather than a true creative choice.
The cynics should turn their ire on the studio geniuses that have condemned us to watching movies through tinted glasses. No self-respecting Potter fan really shed a tear when it was announced that Part 1 would only be released in 2D, and the technology’s addition here is not worth paying for. But the marketing gurus came up with another trump card—limited edition Harry Potter 3D glasses will be issued to those paying for the 3D ticket. One wonders how many pairs of such glasses will be available after the film’s huge opening days.
But the quibbles over the technical aspects of the film rightfully take a backseat to the real reason why people will stand in line, in the heat and the rain, to be one of the first to see this end—Harry Potter is a great movie character. The story depends so much on caring for Harry. Played with timidity by the ever-boyish Daniel Radcliffe, we first met Harry as he made his bed under the stairs in the unwelcoming home of a relative. Cast out because he was different, the bespectacled Harry won us over with each installment in the series, managing, often awkwardly, to combat the forces of Voldemort with pure goodness. But as students of the books know, Harry’s innocence is but part of his defense. And the grand plan, politics and treachery, play out in Part 2 in a clever and challenging manner. The meaning of it will be analyzed and discussed for years to come. What started out in 2001 as a kid’s fantasy has matured into something of surprising import and lasting impact.