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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Magic & Misfires: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The Magic

1.   Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort was the highlight of the final film and one of the highlights of the entire series. Rowling herself is to be congratulated for giving in the books what might have been a rather boring two-dimensional figure of evil incarnate three very robust dimensions. And in terms of his serpentine look, his chilling voice, and the sinuous movements of his arms and fingers, Fiennes brought Voldemort to life with astonishing brio.  
2.   The film takes us as quickly as it can to the Battle of Hogwarts (along the way sacrificing one or two important bits of backstory—see below), but it successfully makes this a compelling climactic sequence.
3.   Although the violence shown is not bloody, the film follows the book in showing the cost of bravery in the deaths of Fred, Lupin, Tonks, etc.  
4.   Alan Rickman, with his voice as deep, rich and melancholic as a viola da gamba, did a marvelous job throughout the eight films in portraying Severus Snape, and this last film’s depiction of his final revelation and death were  worthy of this Dickensian character. Though Snape’s devotion to Lily Potter years after her marriage to another man is, after all, rather unseemly, Snape’s moral ambiguity nonetheless makes him a richly compelling character. Kudos to Rowling for keeping a global audience in suspense for years about Snape’s loyalties.  
5.   A nod of general appreciation to Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, who did a remarkable job over a great number of years in bringing the three chief protagonists to life and making their characters’ transitions from childhood to adulthood utterly believable. I might have liked to have seen a more ungainly Harry Potter, someone more along the lines, at least in look, of Matthew Lewis (who played Neville Longbottom). But Radcliffe certainly grew into the role, and in the end made a persuasive Potter.
6.   Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith): “I’ve always wanted to use that spell.”
7.   A nod to Helena Bonham Carter, and the scene at Gringotts in which she spot-on plays Hermione disguised as her character, Bellatrix LeStrange, under the influence of Polyjuice Potion.  

The Misfires

1.   Cutting out the backstory on Dumbledore’s involvement in the accidental killing of his sister, Ariana. Inexplicable. Unacceptable. Dumbledore’s character cannot be understood without this part of his history.
2.   A lack of visual inventiveness on the part of the director, David Yates. One of the things that made Deathly Hallows, Part 1 so interesting was the freshness of the cinematography—e.g., the use of Cinéma vérité technique—but none of that freshness was on display in this film (Cinéma vérité, for example, would have worked quite nicely in the Battle of Hogwarts sequence.)
3.   Connected to this last point is the fact that some of the most important scenes failed to exploit all their emotional potential. Harry should have said a “final” goodbye to Ron before going to his certain death. The scene between Harry and Dumbledore at King’s Cross was—except for the portrayal of that bit of Voldemort’s soul—visually and emotionally pedestrian. The final scenes in which we say goodbye to our heroes also lack the emotional punch one would expect after eight films. As compared to the closing scenes of the film version of The Return of the King (the third installement of The Lord of the Rings), Deathly Hallows, Part 2, goes out, if not with a whimper, then not with a bang, either.
4.   Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore. I’ve liked Michael Gambon in everything else I’ve seen him do, but I’ve disliked pretty much every decision he’s made in playing Dumbledore—including in this final film. One sorely misses the twinkling eye of Richard Harris’s Dumbledore, his composure, his soft, raspy voice redolent of wisdom and serenity.
5.   Of all the films, this film exerts itself the least in helping the audience along with Rowling’s at times very complicated backstory (understandable to a point, in that a goodly part of the galaxy has been consumed with that backstory for four years). When it comes to Horcruxes, those a little fuzzy on the details will be okay. But when it comes to the Deathly Hallows, forget it. Best to re-read portions of the seventh book, or watch again Deathly Hallows, Part 1, before embarking on this final film.

But it would be churlish to bid farewell to the original run of the Harry Potter franchise without congratulating all the filmmakers, and above all J.K. Rowling herself, for giving so many of us so many years of enjoyment with this truly enchanting story. 

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