Well, it’s finally over. Ten years in the making, the Harry Potter movie saga has come to an end and by Merlin’s most baggy Y-Fronts, what an end it is. Since David Yates took over as director of the franchise with The Order of the Phoenix (HP 5) and scriptwriter Steve Kloves returned to the fold with The Half Blood Prince (HP 6), each movie has been more satisfying than the one before both in terms of quality film-making and story-telling. To a great extent this is because J.K. Rowling’s story becomes more compelling as Harry grows out of childhood and into a wider and more terrifying reality; in part it’s because the film-makers have become more skilled at adapting that material.
The surprise with Part Two is not that it is the dramatic, thrilling and moving conclusion to the saga that many of us were hoping for – all the evidence suggested that Yates and Kloves could pull that off – it is that the quality of the film-making outstrips what we’ve seen before: the cinematography has never been better (only spoiled perhaps by the 3D conversion: will they never learn?), the performances, especially of the three leads, are more nuanced than before and the effects are more spectacular (the Gringott’s dragon is a triumph).
As for the adaptation itself, Steve Kloves has the impossible task of pleasing everyone in his attempt to condense the mass of detail in Rowling’s tome into a coherent narrative, but when all is said and done this adaptation hits the important marks with near perfection. Finally the truth about Severus Snapes is revealed (the moment many of us were waiting for, I’m sure) and justice is done to Rowling’s most complex and interesting character. Those of us who have willingly suspended our disbelief and taken this journey with Harry can’t help but be moved as the narrative threads are resolved, characters we’ve grown to love meet their fate, and the boy who lived understands and accepts with heroic resolve what is required of him.
As I’ve argued before, more so than any other book-to-film adaptation I can think of, full enjoyment of the Potter movies has relied on the audience’s familiarity with the source material. That’s not to say that those who haven’t read the novels can’t enjoy them, but for those unfamiliar with Rowling’s narrative, the films must appear somehow incomplete (assuming they’re taking any notice, and Kloves and Yates are quite skilled at directing the audience’s attention away from the gaping plot holes). I don’t entirely disagree with those reviewers who believe The Deathly Hallows Part Two can stand alone from the novel more successfully than the previous movies in the series – after all, the plot by this point is very simple. But as skilfully as Kloves has identified the essence of the novel, there are inevitably layers of detail and significance that are missing from the movie. Consider the significance of Harry’s self-sacrifice, repeating and magnifying his mother’s sacrifice for her son so many years earlier: it’s possible to enjoy the movie without being made aware of the bigger picture, but the almost Christ-like profundity of Harry’s selfless act, as well as the protection it affords everyone else, is lost on a cinema audience unfamiliar with the text.
On the other hand, Klove’s understanding of the material makes for some inspired changes, including the words he gives to Snapes when he says to Harry: “You have your mother’s eyes”. This often repeated phrase is suddenly over-loaded with emotion and significance.
The Deathly Hallows takes up the adventure of Harry Potter in the wake of Dumbledore’s death and the revelation that Lord Voldemort has shattered his soul into seven pieces, concealing them in virtually indestructible objects. While any of these so-called horcruxes remain intact, the Dark Lord cannot be destroyed. Harry has been left with the seemingly impossible task of locating and destroying the horcruxes before the inevitable final confrontation with Lord Voldemort. The opening scenes in Part Two in which Harry, Ron and Hermione break into the Wizarding Bank, Gringotts, to retrieve a horcrux thematically belong to Part One and the hunt for horcruxes, and as spectacular as they are, this part of the movie does feel rushed to get the action to where it really needs to be: Hogwarts and the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. The final two thirds of the movie and the resolution of the many plot threads are great cinema.
A final word about the 3D conversion of the movie. The best that can be said about it is that it’s unobtrusive: it adds nothing (which surely is the only justification for it) nor, as far as I could tell, does it significantly detract. I’ve not seen the 2D version of the movie however and the word from some reviewers who have seen both versions is that the 2D version is superior, especially during the otherwise spectacular Battle of Hogwarts which takes place in the dark. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, perhaps 2D is the way to go.
Highly recommended: a satisfying conclusion to the series.