THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2"
When the first Harry Potter movie was released a decade ago, I was skeptical about the plan to adapt all the books in J.K. Rowling's series, one right after the other. I figured that, as with most movie franchises, the quality level and/or audience interest would deteriorate after the third or fourth installment. What makes the Potter movies so special is that neither of those things happened. The quality level was consistent throughout (which in itself is astonishing) and audiences remained faithful. Now here we are at the big finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. This amazing journey pays off with a final chapter that is very, very satisfying.
I assume that no plot synopsis is necessary at this point. If you're reading this review, you doubtlessly know that this installment finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) having his big showdown with the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Of course, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) are nearby to help, with pretty much all of the supporting characters who ever appeared making return appearances. The standout this time is Alan Rickman, who's always been solid as Snape but gets a dazzling payoff for his character.
I've liked all the movies in the series. Deathly Hallows Part 1 was not my favorite though, because, as I said at the time, it was all wind-up for the big pitch that is Deathly Hallows Part 2. Well, this film is nothing but pitch, which is fine by me. It is incredible how well the suspense has built over so many separate installments, with multiple directors bringing their own individual styles. Logically speaking, that sort of thing shouldn't work, yet by staying faithful to Rowling's source material, it has. Harry's battle with Voldemort is intense, riveting, and deeply meaningful, precisely because the groundwork was laid so carefully. Radcliffe and Fiennes have successfully played adversaries over the last ten years, creating characters who are eternally intertwined and desperate to rid the world of one another. I found myself eager for Deathly Hallows Part 2 to be over, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I haven't read beyond the second book and I was excited to see how everything would go down.
There is much creativity in terms of how director David Yates visually interprets Rowling's world. A fantastic early scene finds Harry and crew trapped in a room where any object they touch multiplies itself. Later, the residents of Hogwarts create a force field around their school to protect it from the invasion of Voldemort and his minions. How can you not get a chill down your spine from seeing some of Hogwarts' landmarks under attack? Yates doesn't overdo it in the way some cheesy disaster movie would; he shows you just enough to make your heart sink. The much-anticipated grand finale is not simply an exercise in creating action, but rather a fight that's been given a strangely beautiful, elegiac feel. Merely translating the events of the novel would have been easy, but Deathly Hallows Part 2 - like all its predecessors - invests the story with a cinematic life all its own.
More than anything, the Harry Potter series has been about growing up. Look back on Sorcerer's Stone, which was light and airy and full of childlike wonder; it was a movie of innocence. As Harry's innocence was robbed by the evil he knew he'd eventually have to confront, the films grew darker and more mature. They also became consistently more compelling. The young actors grew more accomplished in their performances, the visual style grew more striking, and the themes evolved into something with surprising richness. It was important for this final film to tie everything together perfectly, which it does. The decade-long investment made by the audience is rewarded with a finale that provides thrills and an emotional catharsis. They got it right.
I realize this review has been a little bit rambling, with almost as much focus on the series overall as on this last segment of it. That's only because a picture like this needs to be assessed for what it is: an ending. Just imagine if it had sucked. The otherwise extraordinary achievement of the franchise would be tarnished. Thankfully, it doesn't suck. Harry Potter has given us a great ride. I'm sorry to see him go, but also grateful for the hours of entertainment and pleasure his story has provided me.
( 1/2 out of four)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 arrives on DVD, in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, and in digital formats on November 11. The Blu-Ray features an impressive collection of bonus materials, starting with Maximum Movie Mode. Hosted by Matthew Lewis (who plays Neville Longbottom) and other cast members, this picture-in-picture commentary provides all kinds of making-of segments and factoids that play in time with the movie. If you really want to delve deep into the film, this is a great way of doing so. Similar material is covered in nearly a half-hour of “Focus Points” that examine specific elements of the movie in detail.
The second disc begins with “A Conversation with JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe,” a 50-minute chat about the journey of bringing Harry Potter to the screen. Radcliffe and Rowling also talk about how the character thrust both of them to fame and fortune. I think it's safe to say that anyone who values the movies will cherish this talk, as it brings the two key figures together to share their in-depth thoughts on an extraordinary franchise.
“The Goblins of Gringotts” is a 10-minute segment showing how the movie's goblins were cast and put through the make-up process. What I found fascinating was that it took about 175 make-up artists working simultaneously to get all the actors ready for the scenes in which they appeared. As hosted by Warwick Davis, this feature really gives you a sense of how complicated the goblin scenes were to pull off.
“The Women of Harry Potter” is a 20-minute exploration of the series' female characters and the part they have played in the epic story. There are about seven minutes of deleted scenes – all short, slight trims to existing scenes. Nothing essential here, but interesting to see nonetheless. Finally, there is a short promo piece for the WB Studio Tour London (opening in 2012) where you can roam through the sets. A digital copy of the movie is also included in the combo pack.
Given that Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the last installment, the bonus materials are naturally the most thorough and vital of all the DVDs/Blu-Rays. It is a fantastic package that Potter fans will enjoy working through. I sure did.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.