Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 54: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living and, above all, those who live without love."

Apart from being the most successful franchise in film history, the Harry Potter series of films is notable for being a gigantic undertaking that produced eight very good to great films that will most likely be cherished for generations. The first two films were directed with a slavishly pedestrian loyalty to the books by Chris Columbus. By film three, the directing reigns had been passed to Alfonso Cuaron, a vastly superior filmmaker who made by far the most unique film of the series. Film four was directed by Mike Newell, and while it wasn't the best adaptation in the series, it has its merits and is incredibly fun if taken as a separate entity from the book. Films 5-8 based on books 5-7 were directed by David Yates, a television director not known for big spectacle, but who managed to make some fantastic films.

Splitting the final book into two films was a capital idea, in both senses of the word. It enabled the studio to wring as much money as possible from the series, but it also allowed the expansive nature of the book to play out at a suitably expansive pace. While Part One is far and away my favorite film of the series, Part Two does something that virtually no other final film in a series has been able to do; Wrap everything up in a satisfactory manner, yet manage to tell a self-contained story that unfolds in a traditional three-act structure.

Picking up immediately where Part One left off (in fact, it actually repeats the final scene from Part One of Voldemort stealing the famed Elder Wand from Dumbledore's tomb), the film takes its time setting up the story before launching the main characters back into action. When Part Two first came out on dvd at the tail end of last year, I watched both parts back to back, and the most ingenious thing about the second film is how seamlessly the tone of the first part continues for the first thirty minutes or so before taking on a life and an energy all its own. Those who've seen the film and read the books know the plot well enough for me to not have to rehash it here, and those who don't will be lost by a simple plot dissection, so I'm going to eschew that in favor of a more analytical discussion of the film's elements.

The most noticeable thing about this film is how wonderful the actors all are. The core trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint have grown into full-blown actors. They're no longer just little vessels for conveying plot, but they're able to convey emotion and infuse their characters with nuance and feeling. I don't say this as a knock, it's high praise. Many a child actor has tried and failed to make that transition from cute kid to actor, but these three, along with the many other young actors that have been in all three films, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, and Bonnie Wright among them.

The adult actors are solidly fantastic as well. The loss of Richard Harris as Dumbledore was sad, but Michael Gambon is absolutely note-perfect, and was at least partially responsible for making Dumbledore my favorite character in the entire Potter universe. Alan Rickman as Snape is sublime. Once his true motives are revealed, it makes you want to rewatch the entire series to see just how good he's been all along. His scene discovering Lily's dead body is heartbreaking and intense and everything you had hoped it would be when you read the book. Helena Bonham Carter is ridiculously good, not only because she's so evil as Bellatrix, but her ability to ape Emma Watson's body language in the scenes where she's playing Hermione playing Bellatrix is really great.

Although not given much to do, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Warwick Davis, David Thewlis, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Julie Walters & Robbie Coltrane all make the most of their limited roles. The shining star of this series however from his very first appearance all the way through to the end has been Ralph Fiennes. I'm an unabashed admirer of his as an actor, but he is so adept as an actor and plays Voldemort as evil incarnate. There's not a bit of good in him, anywhere, and Fiennes relishes playing such a bad dude. His performance is so effective that his specter hangs over every scene, even ones he isn't in. He was only in one scene in Part One, but really chews every bit of scenery in sight for at least half of Part Two's running time, and he is note-perfect in every way.

I was a huge fan of Order of the Phoenix and I feel that David Yates has actually grown as a filmmaker throughout each successive film. This film is incredibly well-made and its best moments rival the best moments in Lord of the Rings and are superior to a lot of Peter Jackson's directorial choices. The entire Snape penseive scene is done better than virtually anything in the entirety of Lord of the Rings, and sadly, not many people talk about how well-directed this film is. The King's Cross scene between Harry and Dumbledore is also incredible, and ballsy too. To grind all of the action to a halt and have a two person conversation in a neutral setting is super-ballsy and it works so incredibly well because it never feels slow or boring.

The film is also sleek and compact. It doesn't get bogged down in holding for applause the way The Return of the King did. The big moments are followed by bigger moments, and the film doesn't stop to let the audience breathe for even a minute. Once the battle for Hogwarts begins, it doesn't let up except for the King's Cross scene, and it's blissfully awesome and exciting and unrelenting. This is an true event film, and it's the kind of film people talk about when they say, they just don't make them like that anymore. It's spectacle, but it's also intimate and personal and is never afraid to linger on the little moments that make films like this transcend good and become great. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two is a pretty perfect film. It can't exist without Part One, but it's so well done, it makes you glad the filmmakers stayed true to themselves, true to the books, and true to the audience without ever sacrificing anything to bring these books to life in the best way possible. If you're a fan and a true believer in the Harry Potter series, this is exactly the film you were hoping for when you first sat down to watch Sorcerer's Stone. It makes good on every promise that a book adaptation should, and I am sad to see the films end.

Be back tomorrow for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, my number eight film of 2011.

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