Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry's last hurrah

The final Harry Potter movie's out and making millions in Muggle currencies, and a generation who grew up with Harry and his friends is waxing sentimental over bidding goodbye to J.K. Rowling's well-loved characters. Indeed, the pervading HP separation anxiety seems even more overwhelming than the response 4 years ago to the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the latter half of which is the basis for the 8th HP film. I find it puzzling, really, since I was a hundred times more affected by the book, but I guess I have to take into account some people only watched the movies and never read the series. Also, whereas I regarded Book 7 to be the end of everything, there are Potterheads who consider the film adaptations an extended lease on life for Harry and company, so Movie 8 is the official end-of-everything for them.

Personally, Movie 8 was a wee bit of a letdown for me. Now, I'm treading carefully here, as I believe by virtue of its pop cultural significance Deathly Hallows Part 2 deserves to be reviewed with respect. But I was expecting more emotional impact from the conclusion
to the story of the world's most recognizable boy wizard. After all, this movie features the epic battle at Hogwarts, so vividly narrated in Rowling's book it left this reader breathless and in tears. And it is the ultimate showdown between Harry and the Dark Lord Voldemort, which should be right up there with Luke versus Palpatine, or Frodo versus Sauron. However, DH2 just lacks that oomph. While I admit I got misty-eyed during certain scenes, there were no full waterworks. I think it was because the film doesn't linger enough on the more powerful moments, for the simple reason it couldn't afford to-- there is way too much material to cram into 2 hours and 10 minutes. That has always been the problem with the HP franchise, as I pointed out in my review of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: the books do not translate well into film, as their scope and detail are too vast.

That said, DH2 is actually a relatively adequate film adaptation, particularly as the last of a series, as it wraps things up rather neatly. No loose ends are left, even if many elements from the source material had to be sacrificed. All the key characters, even the baddies, are lovingly-- though some far too fleetingly-- portrayed, giving me the sense that I was being allowed to say a proper goodbye to each. And the actors, particularly the supporting cast, have never been better. With regard to the main trio, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have obviously grown into and with their roles over the past decade (Hermione even shows some cleavage in this one). Radcliffe, perhaps benefiting from his stint on Broadway, shows marked improvement conveying Harry's heavier emotions like pain and fear. Grint's Ron does have one over-the-top hammy moment, but I can forgive him that because he pulls off the best ugly-cry in the whole movie. Watson as Hermione is wonderfully reliable (if a tad boring) as always, but unfortunately her most memorable scene is the one where she's taken on the form of the mad witch Bellatrix LeStrange, and it's actually Helena Bonham-Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix.

Which highlights all the more that as in the previous 7 movies, the really remarkable acting in DH2 is delivered by the veterans, a veritable who's who list of British thespians. And it's precisely these polished performances that have kept the film franchise credible on top of commercially viable. Ralph Fiennes is nothing but magnificent as Voldemort: evil oozed from every miniscule movement, every sibilant syllable, every lethal look. Forget the facial prosthetics and makeup, it's Fiennes' talent that makes He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named truly terrifying.
As mentioned, Bonham-Carter is a fabulous scene-stealer as Bellatrix, while Michael Gambon is effortlessly flawless as the deceased Albus Dumbledore. Most reviewers tend to overlook Jason Isaacs, but I found him outstanding in his portrayal of Lucius Malfoy as diminished but still haughtily dignified, and scared shitless but too proud to show it. The regal Maggie Smith has an utterly adorable moment of levity as they usually stern Professor McGonagall ("I've always wanted to use that spell!"), and Julie Walters shines in one brief but badass scene as Mrs. Weasley.

But if I were handing out a Harry Potter Oscar, it would definitely go to Alan Rickman. Oh, Alan Rickman. I will forever adore this man, this sleazy/sexy man who has made Severus Snape the most Shakespearean of all of Rowling's characters, imbuing him with depth and soul. Rickman is so bloody perfect as Snape, I can't even say he was born for this role-- it seems as though the character was written with him in mind. Snape's most triumphant scenes in DH2 come in a sequence of flashbacks, and Rickman runs through several levels of anger and anguish in a matter of mere minutes. It is beautifully heart-breaking to watch, at once touching and tragic, and validates Snape as the most intriguing, and most achingly human figure in not only DH2, but the whole HP series.

DH2 will get positive reviews from pretty much everyone, not so much because it's a stellar movie, but because it achieves its primary purpose of providing closure. It's like a big warm farewell hug, and who doesn't like hugs? More critically though, DH2 will be appreciated as a final reminder of everything we loved about the Harry Potter universe from the beginning. For those of us who discovered the HP series as adults, we loved it so much because it made us kids all over again. Harry brought magic into our lives, and we regained that sense of wonder and enchantment we thought we'd already lost. Now, with this final film, everything has come to a close, and with Harry and his friends all grown up, we go back to being grown-ups. And maybe that's why there's so much sentimental reaction to Deathly Hallows Part 2. It's not that we can't let go-- we're just going to miss the magic.


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