[21 November 2011]
From billboards looming overhead to adverts inserted between the sheets our daily pages its message was not subtle: It All Ends. Yes, indeed, after ten years and eight films, the conclusion to the most successful movie franchise of all time arrived in cinemas. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is the culmination of an incredible journey. Not only for the three young wizards at the heart of its tale but so, too, for the millions of fans who (created and) took part in a truly astonishing cultural phenomenon.
The success of the Harry Potter films, though expected, was hardly guaranteed when the franchise launched in 2001. J.K. Rowling’s layered and engrossing books established a loyal and rabid fan base. Translation, however, from page to screen is an awkward and compromising experiment at best and riddled with potential disasters that can easily ruin even the most cinematic novels. The first Harry Potter film, directed by Chris Columbus, was as filmically uncertain and beset by vulnerabilities as young Harry himself.
A full decade on and the films, like Harry, have grown darker, more mature and exceedingly more compelling with age. So epic was the final novel in Rowling’s series that two separate movies were needed to adequately translate the grand finalé. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 picks up immediately from Part One with the wizarding world in peril as Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters reign in terror.
Do I really need to detail what happens in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2? At this point in the game the final movie is not likely to attract anyone wholly unfamiliar with the story. Part 2 picks up immediately with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) on their desperate search to find and destroy the final Horcruxes. The magical world has grown very dark as Voldermort has stolen the Elder Wand from Professor Dumbledore’s tomb and put Hogwart’s under the control of the Death Eaters.
Condensed to its plot points Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is a battle movie. With visual splendor that employs dazzling and sophisticated special effects Part 2 is (in the best sense) an action movie. David Yates directs with measured confidence and unobtrusive authority and allows the film to indulge in technical wizardry that does not overwhelm the story or undermine its extraordinary characters. And that is the real magic of the Harry Potter film franchise.
Endless theories have been given as to why Harry Potter so ferociously ignited the hearts, minds and imaginations of people around the world. Like the lightning bolt scar etched into his skin, Harry is forever seared into our cultural zeitgeist. The world Rowling created is indeed extraordinary, but her characters always expressed very real (i.e., ordinary) fears, hopes and desires. Their magical gifts were never a cloak that diminished or distracted from their human character.
What distinguishes the Harry Potter film franchise from Rowling’s novels is the indulgent gift of bearing witness to a troupe of superb actors. From Sir Michael Gambon and Dame Maggie Smith as Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall to Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes relishing in the deliciousness of evil as Severus Snape and Lord Voldermort. Most satisfying, though, has been the maturation of Harry Potter’s main trio of young actors – Radcliffe, Grint and Watson.
As children their very youth made them irresistible, but as they matured each actor has brought unique gifts of insight and development to their fictional counterparts. A master class of talented actors has been taking place at Hogwart’s for ten years, and the audience is lucky to have been in attendance.
The Harry Potter series, like our childhood, is now (forever?) retired to the past. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is an engaging and deeply satisfying conclusion to the franchise. Its gift upon departure from Platform 9 ¾ is the reminder that the world around us is more expansive, dangerous, engaging, wonderful and, yes, magical than we can ever dare to imagine. We wave goodbye with one hand and hold tight in the other our wand made of nothing more than an open heart and powerful belief.
A special note to fans seeking to purchase Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 on DVD. There are several digital versions available with each offering varying levels of extras. From the standard DVD, which offers only a handful of deleted scenes and featurettes, to the Blu-Ray and box sets that offer a host of supplemental features, behind the scenes documentaries, interviews and deleted scenes. Harry Potter is that rare film franchise that will no doubt enjoy a prominent position in home entertainment libraries everywhere, so do take care when selecting a version for purchase.