Friday, July 15, 2011

Mischief Managed

Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Format: Carmike Market Square 10

Ten years ago, the movie world was invaded by muggles wishing to be wizards and living vicariously through the vision of J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter book series is probably the single best thing to happen to children’s literacy in my lifetime, and the movies have, regardless of quality, a legion of fans who will brook no comments that they are not the greatest thing since Citizen Kane. I have seen them all at one point or another. I read the books to my oldest daughter, and will read them again to daughter #2 soon.

As it turns out, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 opened at midnight on daughter #1’s birthday, so I naturally took her to it for closure, because it’s been a tradition, and because it was a pretty cool birthday present. The List has been notably silent on the Harry Potter series, which is interesting to me. On the one hand, while good and watchable, these are not the greatest films ever made. On the other hand, if for no other reason, these films resonate with a cultural significance that few other films can match. My guess is that it’s a coin flip for next year’s model. It’s possible they’ll add the last film because of its importance, or simply continue to consider it bombastic fare for Rowling’s legion of followers.

This is not a film to watch if you are not familiar with the series. Director David Yates doesn’t spend much time clearing up what has come before for newbies, which honestly shouldn’t be a problem. It’s helpful, though, to refresh yourself with at least Deathly Hallows Part 1 before entering the theater.

In many ways, we’ve seen the young actors who star in this film—notably Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, and to a lesser extent Bonnie Wright—grow up in front of us over the 10 years these films have been produced. They’ve changed significantly from the inexperienced kids they were to, really, genuinely veteran actors. Radcliffe in particular has concentrated on stage acting for the most part, a smart move in my opinion, because he’s going to be Harry Goddam Potter for the rest of his life.

Anyway, I should probably talk about the movie. It all comes down to the final confrontation between the virtuous and inexperienced young wizard Harry (Radcliffe) and the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in a battle not only to the death, but essentially for the soul of the magical community. There are twists and turns, evil, betrayals, redemption, and finally, sweet closure. I’m not going to recount the plot—chances are good that you’ve already seen this by now and have your own opinion, and even if you haven’t seen it, you know the characters and story well enough that a summary here isn’t going to mean much. If you aren’t familiar with the story, you’re not going to see this anyway.

Deathly Hallows 2 is in many ways the finale this series deserves. It has the effects, the bombastic battles, the quality CG work, and the almost melodramatic battle between one side and the other. Like many of the other movies, a great deal of the story is given pretty short shrift here. Specific points of character development are glossed over or ignored completely—mainly because it is assumed that the audience already knows what’s happening going in.

I appreciate that on one level. I don’t always need to be told every detail, especially in a story that I have at least a passing familiarity with. On the other hand, for a non-Potterphile like me, it’s frustrating. Seeing a particular character injured or dead on the battlefield with no mention of who it is or how they died or why they died makes the experience more difficult for me to follow. I don’t live and die by the books, and have only read each one once, and then out loud to my daughter. I don’t remember all of the details of each character.

So on a purely movie basis, this film is lacking in serious ways, but these are lacks that only someone like me would notice. The diehard fan will gloss over these gaps in the story without even noticing them—they fill in these blanks automatically.

But all in all, this film was good and appropriate. I’m not the target audience here. I was married and in my late 20s when the first Harry Potter novel arrived, and in my 30s and with a young child when the first movie appeared. I understand why those who grew up on these books love them dearly—I feel the same way about things like the Tripods Trilogy and Narnia and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love these things as only they can be loved when they are discovered by a reasonably bright 10-year-old. I get it, but not for me.

The truth is that no review is going to get someone to see this film or not see it. Those who have sat through seven films with Harry and company will sit through the eighth. Those who have not will not. Nothing I say will change that in either direction. If I had to give a score to this, I’d call it probably a 3 ½ out of 5.

Why the picture of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) up top instead of Harry? Because Neville is the shit, and has always been the unsung hero of the series.

Why to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Closure for one of the most lucrative and culturally significant events ever.
Why not to watch: You need to get through seven movies to get here.


  1. Am planning to see this, but might wait for the crowds to die down a bit first. Can't say I've been as much a fan of the movies as I am of the books; JK Rowling is a great storyteller, in my opinion, and part of the fun has been witnessing the maturation of her writing style as her story has evolved over the years. I gobbled up Deathly Hallows in a single day-- a rarity for me, since I'm not normally a fast reader.

    My favorite movie was the fourth one, actually: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Gambon's Dumbledore was more fallibly human than Richard Harris's version of the character. Harris's Dumbledore corresponded too closely to the Dumbledore of the books-- a powerful yet understated mastermind who was always calm, wise, and in control. With Gambon's arrival in the third film, and from then onward, we've had a Dumbledore who's more expressive and fallible, not to mention often louder, almost as if we had switched out Captain Picard for Captain Kirk in midstream. I liked the Dumbledore I saw in the fourth film, and have enjoyed Gambon's performances ever since.

    I think David Yates has done a decent job with the final four films, although I disliked the way he put the fifth film, "Phoenix," together. The sixth film, by contrast, was fantastic (I saw it only recently via iTunes download), and now I see why so many people raved about it: pacing and characterization were spot-on. The seventh film was decent, if plodding, and I'm hearing good things about this, the final installment.

    Hope your daughter enjoyed the movie!

  2. "Because Neville is the shit"

    I love you man.

    Great review.

  3. I'm not a fan of the books--I see only the inconsistencies in Rowling's work. By that I mean there are a lot of things that don't jibe internally in the world she has created, but that's a rant for another day. It's fair to say the books weren't written for me.

    I like the movies for what they are, and they are aided vastly by having such a great cast beyond the "kids" who are the stars. It feels like every veteran British actor of note (almost) took part in the series, and except for those who died along the way, they maintained a consistent cast for eight films--a feat worth noting in and of itself.

    And Neville really is the shit. He is in many ways my favorite character of the series.

  4. Rowling has definitely taken hits for some of her more egregious plot holes, and there are even sites devoted to pointing out examples of "bad" writing: elements of a given ms that could have been improved by better editing and proofing. There's also the fact that any story involving magic raises questions similar in theme to the question of theodicy, e.g., when problem X arose, what stopped Wizard Y from exercising Power Z with a flick of his wand?

    A few years ago, I leafed through Mugglenet, a Rowling-friendly site, and saw that she had indeed been horrified by some of the ms inconsistencies found by avid and attentive readers. It appears that, over time, successive editions of her work have included changes that addressed some of these problems.

    That said, you're right: the series isn't for everyone. At the tutoring center where I teach, one girl told me of her love for fantasy/adventure stories, but said she had no interest in reading the Potter books. To each her own.

  5. Right--just as an example of inconsistency, the hourglass-y necklace thing that saves the day in the third book/movie. Why not use that to save Cedric in the next book/movie? The minute a deus ex machina is introduced, the immediate question for all subsequent problems is "why didn't you do X again?"

    Admittedly, doing the same thing over and over makes for a boring story--which is why deus ex machina plots tend to suck.

    But beyond that, pick one of the first several books: Harry Potter and the Blankety Blank of Blank. Harry goes to school, something weird starts happening, everybody blames Harry, Harry proves his innocence by defeating whatever. At some point, why doesn't everyone else in the story figure out that the same thing is happening again and that once again Harry will prove innocent?

    There's more, of course, but I'll leave it at that.

  6. Saw Harry P. last night and was wondering whether to review it. Glad you did, I think I will pass on it - besides i'd feel obligated to review them all. Although that gives me the idea of reviewing all eight films in 100 words or less ;)

    I tried reading the series last winter and got half way through the second book. I've seen all of the movies in theatre with my wife (as she's a fan of the books). I had hoped something more from the last film. It was pretty underwhelming.

  7. Where the books are charged with being too formulaic (vis a vis Movie Guy Steve), these past two movies succinctly wrapped up the series and in a separate fashion to that of the literature. Part one seemed somber and adventurous and part two was obviously action-oriented and climatic. In both cases, the rejection of the "classic" Harry Potter story (and the downplaying of the previous referencing in every film of "everyone's favoirte character" - a tactic which does more for marketing than advance the story or film) really did it for me film-wise. Not a 100/100 as per some MetaCritics, but undoubtedly a strong finish to the story.

  8. I don't disagree that this was a suitable wrap for the series, but there is a rushed quality to this film--the emotional moments of the story need some lingering over instead of being steamed past at a gallop. The actual final battle could use more actual battle, as could the showdown between Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix.

    I won't say it punks out, but I will say it could have done a lot more--and a lot more for the casual viewer.

    @Klaus: had it not been for reading them to my daughter, I'm not sure I'd have finished the books, either.

  9. I thought that this film and the series as a whole was about as good as a project this big could have been. It's just too hard to adapt seven long books and maintain excellent quality throughout. That said, I greatly enjoyed the films (especially since the first two) and I feel that they more than do justice to the series.

  10. I think that's a pretty accurate assessment. For what they attempt, these films are very good, and if my girls are watching one, I sit down and watch along with them. My issues are far more with Rowling's books than with the films--except for that fact that the films really don't cater to someone who isn't a true fan.

  11. Speaking of Rowling's books, Steve, you might enjoy this. (Link found through a friend's tweet.)

  12. I love what you said about the lack of detail or screen time given to some of the character's deaths. I had a similar problem here, and as you may recall or not, had the same issue with Part I, especially in regards to Moody. I was told that it was "the same" glossing over in the book, but the inconsistencies are strange and seemingly at random - I never took Moody to be any less an important character than Dobby, and yet the latter is gone on and on about, while the former (as well as many of the "important" characters killed in this installment) is entirely dropped and forgotten about.

    Not a super big deal, just an irksome trait of these sprawling epics, I suppose.

  13. True, but we're given a lot more on some of the minor character deaths in the Lord of the Rings. There's more of an emotional beat, for instance, when we see the dead, nameless elves at Helm's Deep.

    I want to be clear--I like these movies, I like the entire series, and I liked this film. I just feel like this part is really lacking.

    And yeah--you're right about Moody. He was a character I really liked a lot, and he deserved more than "Moody's dead."

  14. I think the main reason they haven't been on the list is because they aren't up to snuff. Something like The Lord of the Rings has the writing and filmmaking behind it to make it easy to put on a list of 1001 films.

    But I think a lot of Harry Potter films have suffered glaringly obvious flaws, especially in the screenwriting department. I wouldn't be surprised if one made it on because of the cultural significance, but I certainly think there are films more deserving from this era that would be a better choice.

  15. Yep--my thoughts exactly. While I think these films are, in the main, pretty good and very entertaining, they are not films to study per se. But, their cultural significance is huge. There's a reason, for instance, that there's only one James Bond film on the list--but there is one.

  16. I was thinking about this the other day after I wrote my review of the last two Potters, I think maybe the next 1001 edition might just lump all 8 films into '1 film' like they did with the Lord of the Rings movie, although I sincerely hope not, as then I'd have to review the five I've not yet done. I feel they should be represented on the list somewhere, but I don't think Part 7b can be included alone. That being said, The Bourne Ultimatum made it on for a few years without Identity or Supremacy.

  17. Yeah, I'm not sure all 8 of them should be a part of the list. If I could vote for it, I'd put the last two on as a single film. At least that way it would represent a significant piece of the story and a discrete chunk of it. Harry Potter is too culturally significant to be left off.