Warning: the following contains spoilers for the final Harry Potter films if you haven’t seen them yet.
“It All Ends” is the tagline of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, but getting to the end from The Half-Blood Prince in July 2009 took a while, given the decision to split the final Harry Potter novel, which matched the phonebook length of its predecessors and yet, was much more densely plotted, into two separate films.
It didn’t take a cynic to suggest that the decision might have been a rather mercenary ploy to extend the final hurrah for Warner Bros’ biggest cash cow of the last decade. Producer David Heyman insisted, however, “Deathly Hallows is so rich, the story so dense and there is so much that is resolved that, after discussing it with JK Rowling, we came to the conclusion that two parts were needed.”
So, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 plunges Harry, Ron and Hermione into isolation. The Ministry of Magic falls into the hands of Voldemort, and the trio go soul searching on the road, as they try to uncover and destroy Horcruxes, the objects that anchor the Dark Lord in the mortal realm.
By contrast, Part 2 reintegrates the larger cast, as Voldemort gets wise to what the young wizards are up to and follows them to Hogwarts. With three Horcruxes left to be destroyed, Harry inadvertently brings the biggest fight of his life down upon Hogwarts, as he moves ever closer to his final confrontation with his nemesis.
Having now seen both parts of director David Yates’ adaptation, I think my personal preference, as a fan of both the books and the films, would have been for a single film that ran over three hours, provided the edit was as disciplined as in Yates’ other Potter outings.
By separating the story, it allows Part 1 to be a stage-setter for the finale, largely concerned with the more talky and expository elements of the plot, while Part 2 is an apocalyptic action palooza that brings everything to a close. But this is not to say that each film is exclusively fixated on either of those parts.
For instance, Part 1 has two of the series’ best action sequences, the aerial Death Eater ambush as Harry escapes from Privet Drive for the last time, and the entire incursion to the Ministry, played for tension long enough that it’s doubly effective when all hell breaks loose.
And in Part 2, the emotional crux of the whole series is delivered in the double punch of Snape’s true allegiance and Harry’s acceptance of his destiny. But both films could stand to have a little more of each. The greatest strength of The Half-Blood Prince was in balancing the fun stuff with the tragedy and the horror of the tale. But that’s missing in each of these films.
Still, it’s a flagrant exaggeration to call Part 1, as some have, ‘two and a half hours of kids camping in the woods and bitching.’ It’s fully an hour before Harry, Ron and Hermione are forced into hiding in the woods, but it’s safe to say that the next hour drags more than any film in the series since Yates took the reins.
The upside of this approach is that it provides a showcase for Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, and rests the film firmly on their shoulders. If you’re still agnostic about their acting abilities, then fair enough. But given how the greatest special effect in this series, bar none, has been watching these actors grow up as these characters for the last decade, it’s safe to say they deserve the spotlight this time around.
With cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, joining the crew, the expanse of the English countryside almost seems to swallow our three heroes whole, and arguably justifies the separation of the first part on its own. It’s as close to an arthouse Harry Potter movie as you’ll ever see. It may seem unnecessary for some, but you couldn’t, say, skip over Part 1 after The Half-Blood Prince. The story tries to make as much of the exposition as cinematic as possible, precisely because Part 2 is so relentless and frantic.
In that respect, the final film captures the tone of Rowling’s finale perfectly, bringing the chaos of the final battle to life. The recent Michael Bay outing, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, ended with an elongated action sequence, but Part 2 excels by doing the same thing with characters and stakes about which we actually give a crap.
But in the course of being a summer blockbuster, there’s no excuse for the way in which the deaths of certain beloved characters are merely skipped over. It happens in Part 1, when Bill’s news that Mad-Eye Moody has been killed in battle is translated faithfully from the book. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to give Mad-Eye, and in turn, Brendan Gleeson, an on-screen death. It would have been a hell of a lot more cinematic too. And in the bloodbath of Part 2, we see nothing of certain characters’ final stands, before Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Lavender Brown are all just corpses.
The other major disappointing omission from these films is the death of Peter Pettigrew, who survives Part 1 and then disappears completely in Part 2. As the man who betrayed Harry’s parents to their deaths, killed Cedric Diggory, and brought Voldemort back to full power, he’s the villain who most deserves his comeuppance, and yet the character with whom the films seem least concerned.
I also think you can blame the response to The Lord Of The Rings‘ third instalment for the way that Part 2 feels more like a rush to the finish than any story told over four and a half hours reasonably should. It’s become popular to lampoon the sustained ending of The Return Of The King, even, I’ve noticed, with people who liked the ending joining in with the crowd.
But certain sacrifices had to be made in order to conclude other character arcs so well. Most satisfyingly, Alan Rickman’s hard work as Snape finally reaches its payoff, and Rickman gives the film’s best performance. Elsewhere, Daniel Radcliffe brings Harry to full maturity and Ralph Fiennes becomes ever more unhinged as Voldemort is made more vulnerable.
In many ways, this final outing is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t. It can’t leave the fans wanting more, but it must not be an anticlimax. Between the two parts, Yates and screenwriter, Steve Kloves, acquit themselves rather well, although the breakneck pace of Part 2 may leave some with the distinct impression of ‘is that it?’ as the credits roll for the last time.Others will be pleased with the fact that the final film, the shortest of the series, gets to the point quite as quickly as it does. It’s churlish to complain about an action blockbuster with this much affection for the story and characters, and this much respect for its audience.
In highlighting certain members of the production throughout these films, it’s at the final hurdle that producer, David Heyman, must be applauded.
While producers are stereotypically seen as ogrish studio knob heads who ask questions like ‘Does it have to be a magic school?’ or ‘Why is the scar lightning-shaped?’, Heyman has taken good care of the saga. Having outlasted three of the series’ directors on the way to the finish, Heyman must be one of the hardest working producers out there. He’s been there for eight of these films in the last ten years, and must be seen as one of the main players in the series’ consistent quality.
As far as this finale goes, it’s let down only by the fact that many fans will want the last film to be the very best of the series. While some might like it that much, it would sit somewhere in the middle for me. Internet fan edits that unify both films are inevitable, as I feel that the final part will work best when watched end to end with its predecessor.
Is this the end of Harry Potter, though? In its current guise, sure, but remakes notwithstanding, I’d be astonished if we didn’t see at least one more production attached to this series. After the much acclaimed animated sequence The Tale Of The Three Brothers, which delivered the story of the Deathly Hallows in Part 1, someone must capitalise on that demand.
So, perhaps we’re due a cinema release or a DVD premiere of a full-on animated The Tales Of Beedle The Bard, the short wizarding fairytale anthology that Rowling published for charity in 2008. But perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m merely adjusting to the weird feeling that Harry Potter’s story on the big screen is well and truly over.
If you don’t like the films, you must concede that there’s nothing comes close to the scale of this series in Hollywood history, in terms of production turnaround or the extensive cinematic continuity. If you do like the films, you can also appreciate the consistent quality, and the commitment of the filmmakers.
As to the adaptation of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, its two instalments form a bittersweet finale to the series. Personally, I’m conflicted about the film’s epilogue, in which unconvincing Benjamin Button style make-up is applied to age our heroes by nineteen years. As mentioned above, the greatest special effect of this series was those actors growing up. So, there’s something cheap about the final shot of them being buried under rubbish special effects.
But the general tone of that scene, showing us that everything is well in Harry’s life, and that the world goes on even after his story is over, will be much appreciated by bereaved fans. And as a reprise of John Williams’ score from the very first film plays out the final moments, Heyman, Yates, Radcliffe et al can safely pat themselves on the back and say, “Mischief managed.”
- Looking back at Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone
- Looking back at Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
- Looking back at Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
- Looking back at Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
- Looking back at Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
- Looking back at Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince