Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II **** Out of Four

As a finale to the movie series, the last Harry Potter is flat out perfect. After the brilliantly melancholy character piece that was The Deathly Hallows Part I, this film shifts gears into a thrilling climax that rivals The Return of the King. The battle scenes and action set pieces are as thrilling as a movie gets, and the final thrid includes so much humanity, so so much emotion, that I'm still tearing up just writing about it. How invested are we in the characters? I clapped and cheered when two of them kissed. Those who know me well no that's not something I do for movie characters . . . or anyone else.

No, comes the eternal Potter question: how well does it capture the book? That's the part that takes some time to digest. Die-hard fans are likely to have some mixed feelings about moments that are cut, changed, or given a shift in emphasis, much as they have throughout the series. As much as I love the Potter books (and I consider them geuine literary classics), I recognize that a book is a book and a movie is a movie. Perhaps the most fundamental rule of fillmaking is that you must be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite parts to preserve the emotional, cinematic flow of the film. That's why I still have issues with the extended cut of LOTR: The Two Towers: The new material at the end is great, but it offsets the glorious pace of that film's crescendo. A movie can take the time for a edtour the way a book can. So, some things may not be the way we want them. To repeat a reference I often use, the late, great filmmaker Anthony Minghella, who specialized in literary adaptations, once said "I can't capture the book you read. Only the one I read.". I suggest fans take a day or two to digest the differences, then see the film again.

And what a film it is. Director David Yates has established himself as one of the most talented directors of blockbusters, and, to me, his feature is one of the most exciting prospects in film. I can see him joining Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan as one of the greatest of the new wave of filmmakers. The superb cast continues their growth from the last two films. Among the most memorable are Ralph Fiennes, whose Voldemort may rank in my mind as the greatest fantasy villain in movie history, and, especially, Alan Rickman, who deserves to finally recieve an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Severus Snape. Riskman is so good here that Snape definiteively replaces Die Hard's Hans Gruber as his greatest place in movie history (and that is no simple feat).

The Potter franchise has been such a part of life for many of us, that it's end would bring tears even without the more tragic aspects of the story. As it is, this is a supremely emotional experience, highlighted, for me, by the triumphant and judicious use of John Williams original themes. The Potter cast and crew have created a film series for the ages, one which has no direct equivalent in cinema history, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton and others have grown from cute child actors to mature adult thespians beofre our eyes. The knowledge that no more films are coming makes me tear up again. Harry Potter is more than a kids fatasy, or a dark thriller. It is a modern classic of Joseph Campellesque mythology that will leave it's mark on popular culture for (at least) decades to come. Years ago, before I had read the books, my dear friend tamsin Barlow told me that Harry Potter would make my life better, She was right.

Savor the last cinematic journey to Hogwarts. Magical journeys like this come along all too rarely. J.K. Rowling and those who have adapted her books to film have given us treaured memories that will last a lifetime, and ended the series with an unmitigated triumph.

NOTE: After the film has been open a few days, I will write a post analyzing the differences between book and film. But I'm not going to spoil anything now.

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