Review of the Year : Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II

Some things work out quite well, for instance the final instalment in the review of year is also the final instalment in a much loved series of book to film adaptations from writer J.K. Rowling and is from Dawn who's blog Inanity and the Girl is a hub for all things beauty, fashion, vintage and pin up and that's only scratching the surface.  It's also worth noting that Dawn holds a Doctorate and like MacGyver can make anything.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 130 mins
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Genre: Drama
Country: USA/UK

The franchise business has gone from strength to strength in 2011. It was a year that saw additions to established franchises like Twilight, Final Destination, Transformers, The Hangover, Fast and Furious, Shrek and Taken to name but a few.  2011 also was a year where movie studios keenly began franchises, The Avengers movie seems to be the franchise fatted calf designed to further, introduce and allow marketing of the comic book stars of previous and upcoming films. What it points to is that in 2012 franchises will be even bigger and more prolific than ever. Ten years previously Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone was released into a market alongside the adaptation of Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring, seeing two of the most awaited movies brought to the screen alongside each other. Ten years later and the Harry Potter films drew to a resounding finale in 2011 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 giving Rowling’s literary hero the finale he richly deserved.

The Harry Potter films have been a filmic addition to our DVD collections, televisions and cinemas for so long that they are rarely acknowledged for the strides they make. They have become the Perec picture which is placed on a wall to mask the wall and in so doing becomes unseen also. So the Potter films have been part of our contemporary collective social consciousness for so long most of us fail to register them. Columbus took the reins for the first two films giving us the chocolate box magical world we expected from him, but also the movies which introduce the franchise. Columbus provides a world rich in magic and colour, which gives its child stars an inhabitable space appropriate to their age.

But it was when Alfonso Cuarón was at the helm for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that the franchise took flight. It is possibly the most stand alone of the movie set, driving a rich narrative of darkness and melancholy through the film that the book had in abundance. Even the blue gels which give the film a grey palette, illustrate from the off that this is a whole other world from the gaiety of Columbus’ offerings. What Columbus brought out of necessity, Cuarón brings out of necessity also, Harry is older, and he is dealing with darker forces. Cuarón presents a fugitive film, full of impending doom, with elements of family drama. For the first time a director brings to the fore not only the juxtaposition of the magical and muggle world but also the fact that the magical world faces the same mundanity and hardships. Surely Lupin’s worn and battered cardigan and luggage is a nod to this.

Mike Newell brings Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to the screen, cleverly seizing on the elements which worked for Cuarón but adding his own vintage aesthetic to the wizarding competition. Although Goblet of Fire was a sound offering and the Quidditch World Cup being a very notable moment, in the dynamic of the films as a whole it serves as a bridge into the latter films and the darker final pieces. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was placed with the relative newcomer David Yates which raised a few eyebrows as his previous offering of Walk off the Pounds with Lorraine Kelly didn’t exactly create a stir at Cannes.

The trust was well placed and Yates started to grow his aesthetic, Order of the Phoenix could well have been the litmus test to see if he was to be kept. What he did was to bring a reading of Rowling’s wizard to the screen which tried to balance magic and mundanity in equal measure. The Half Blood Prince for example opens with Harry sitting at a little greasy spoon café in the London Underground, trains running alongside. It is this juxtaposition of magical and mundanity which further enhances the creation of the magical world. He was the first director to really ground the movies in the world. Other directors had brought London into the mix with pieces at Kings Cross Station, but not to the same extent. Yates uses long broom flights through London at night, the Deatheater flights through London during the day to Diagon Alley which firmly places the magical alongside the muggle world. When Harry and friends listen to the Ordinary Boys in Order of the Phoenix Yates does his best to illustrate that behind the magic and threat he is a teenage boy. The audience are able to locate the movie within their own realm of experience with these devices. The magical world seems not so far away at all.

The final movie The Deathly Hallows is split into two parts, granted the hardened cynics amongst us will no doubt point out this is so the movie studios can charge twice for the same movie. But the book is a long one; it also offers many key points to the story. To cut and edit the book and make it into a workable screenplay would be bordering on barbaric and would lose the essence of the story. For the purposes of this pick, I’m choosing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II as even though it is the second part of the same book it is very much the final film and bears all the narrative to finish the story.

Part I saw Harry, Ron and Hermione leave the relative safety of Hogwarts seemingly for good. Albus Dumbledore is dead, Severus Snape has killed him. The world of protection under Dumbledore’s wing has disintegrated. With Dumbledore’s death goes Harry’s last parental figure. The death of his parents as a baby and the subsequent death of his godfather Sirius Black has left Harry only Dumbledore. The absence of the elderly yet powerful wizard in Harry’s life is the catalyst for him to leave Hogwarts on the quest for Horcruxes. So Part I becomes a filmic quest, it moves outside the usual structure and rhythm for the Harry Potter movies and more into a realm befitting Lord of the Rings. The protagonists instead are scouring the country trying to find horcruxes and trying to avoid the bands of dark wizards hunting for Harry. They are dealing with cabin fever, frustration, fatigue, and the death of one of the noblest characters in the Potterverse.

Part II begins just after Dobby’s burial. The film draws on Yates’ experience with the franchise in providing a cinematography rich in nuances which he has established throughout his Potter films. His experience has made him a sure hand in which to place the final film. It finishes off a franchise which has never shielded its viewers from the hardened truth of life. Harry’s life at many points has been anything other than fair and the final movie seems bring this experience to the fore. The death of Dobby who is a symbol for all that is good, kind and pure evokes the final death of any childlike innocence in the series. It illustrates the reality of the impending clash and the ideals and trappings of childhood which must be buried along with the house-elf if they are to continue.

The film moves toward an inevitability, that Harry will have to return to Hogwarts. The Hogwarts under Snape has changed dramatically and darkly, with Neville as head of the revolution, teachers under the command of Deatheaters it is not the place of Columbus’ imaginings. Harry returns world weary but battle hardened to a Hogwarts he is unfamiliar with. His eyes have been opened to the dangers outside the walls of the castle and he returns with the air of one who has been away for 10 years rather than just a few months. Yates’ Hogwarts of Part II is a foreign land; its destruction marks the end of Voldemort’s influence of fear, the end of many lives and loved characters, and simultaneously the end of Harry’s education and subsequently his life.

Yates presents a film which is driven with pathos and loss, yet at the same time manages to gently convey the undercurrent of love which has surrounded the films previously in the series. Harry’s final walk into the forest accompanied by the resurrected presence of his parents, Lupin and Sirius Black is heart wrenching in its honesty. It brought more than one stifled sob from the audience. The ensemble cast is a triumph, with the who’s who of British acting talent appearing. They drive the performance often acting as the moments of comic light relief. The overarching emphasis in the film is on the wider narrative; it becomes less focused on just the three main protagonists and instead is widened into the ensemble cast to portray a very Manichean take on good versus evil.

It would be easy to award this film my pick of the year solely for producing the most awkward hug in cinematic history, but the real reason it made my pick was due to the huge cinematic contribution it has made. Although as I pointed out earlier it is hugely unrecognised critically, the adaptation is one of the most true to the spirit of the books. There are many authors who have tried and failed to convey a love story over the course of a book that Rowling manages in four pages when she illustrates Snape and Lily Potter’s relationship. The final Potter film was a credit to her writing but also to the rest of the filmic series. Yates both utilises and revisits nuances from the previous films yet isn't afraid to push the characters out of the comfort zones they’ve been assigned previously. Sure there’s some awkward teenage romance, there are stone Knights that come to life, but there’s also a film with a massive heart and pieces of casting which are truly inspired. This may be a massive studio film but it doesn’t feel like a blockbuster. Yates has done something special as he’s kept the unassuming, pragmatic, humble spirit of his protagonist and extended it outward over the film.

Harry for many may not be anything but a children’s book character, but for those of us who are fans he embodies that which we hope lives in all of us; a strength of purpose, bravery and honesty to always try and do what’s right.

 So long Harry.


John Baxter said...

Thanks for the excellent review, extremely comprehensive. Wonderful addition

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