BY MR MOTH
NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER SERIES
This is the end. Of course, it’s not the end, what with Pottermore and the inevitable afterlife any cult fantasy endures, but it’s the end of something, a cycle of, without wishing to sound like too much of a wanker, mythology. What started with a novel entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 has finally ended with a film called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. As the books grew darker and less whimsical, so the films have found their palette drained of the flat Technicolor and daylit hi-jinks of Chris Columbus’s first two efforts. Even by the end of Chamber of Secrets, Columbus was struggling with the tone. One dreads to think how he would have coped with the grim tortures, doomy politics and centaur gang-bangers of the fifth book. Maybe he’d fling in a bit where Ron gets hit with a bucket of paint and that would lighten the mood for everyone.
I came to Potter at book two, just as the fever was building. I knew nothing about it – a friend of a friend of my flatmate had written a book and it was sitting on our bookshelves looking short and fun. I read it in a day and immediately went out and bought the first one, and the newly-published third. Never looking back, I bought each successive book at launch (but not, like, at midnight the first day or anything; I’m not a weirdo, I promise). I’ve loved them all, even the overlong and undereventful Order of the Phoenix, which has its own ponderous charm.
I saw the first film at a public preview screening in a packed Odeon in Oxford. The atmosphere was unlike any I’ve experienced before or since in a cinema, the auditorium humming with excitement, grown men dressed as wizards brushing past tiny children dressed as slightly less convincing (though much cuter) witches. The film, it’s fair to say, was a slight disappointment, but the sheer goodwill of the crowd was enough to lift my opinion of it. Since then we’ve had bad (Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire), passable (Half-Blood Prince, Order of the Phoenix) and genuinely great (Prisoner of Azkaban, Deathly Hallows – Part 1) films. Deathly Hallows – Part 2 has a huge weight on it, not just the expectation of rounding off the film series in triumph, but of closing the book on the creation of Harry Potter’s world.
With that in mind, then, does David Yates pull it off? Without wishing to deter you from reading the rest of this review – yes. Admirably. Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is a remarkable adaptation. Staying as faithful to the source material as is sensible, it barely puts a foot wrong in telling the story. Which means it has its problems, because they are the book’s problems and Steve Kloves’ script makes no attempt to fix them. Ultimately, if you know the book you know what you’re going to get from the film; everything a fan of the books could wish for is in there, although that’s clearly a lie because nothing gets nerds moaning faster on the internet than a slight change in a minor detail – oh, Snape isn’t killed in the Shrieking Shack, oh, Neville’s jumper is wrong. Whatever.
There were some odd choices made in the creation of the film. Why, for example, was Crabbe (the disgraced Jamie Waylett) replaced as Malfoy’s henchman by Blaise Zabini without a word of explanation? It just made for a distraction during the Room of Requirement sequence. Why keep the deflating double-climax of the book? The section in mystical King’s Cross feels too final, it seems ridiculous that Harry still has another big duel with Voldemort to come, but I’ve no idea how to solve that problem so I accept it. Why add a throwaway line to create a romance between Neville and Luna? Sure, it’s a more satisfying conclusion to their stories than those given by Rowling, but it smacks of fanfic and … see? I’m moaning about Things Being Wrong … On The Internet. Can’t help it.
This is the film of the book, though, faithful and almost inseparable from its source. Snape’s flashback, for example, is as emotionally devastating in the film as it is in the book, revealing him to be the greatest hero of the series in a sequence of ever-more-poignant vignettes. He did it all for the love of a woman who, perhaps, never loved him back. His collapse on seeing her body is a killer blow. Coming immediately after his brutal and bloody death (this is a hard 12A, frequently horrific beyond the limits of the book), this is the most adult sequence in the series. Rickman is superb, finally stepping out of the background and giving Snape a humanity and nobility absent from his performances in the earlier films. It is perhaps no mistake that the first character shot is of Snape, overseeing the new world of Hogwarts, as run by the Death Eaters.
It’s tricky, still, to get past all these words, isn’t it? Death Eaters. Muggle. VOLDEMORT IS A STUPID NAME FOR A BADDIE. I was explaining about how the film has, as with the book, two climaxes, and I stopped, embarrassed, when I realised I was saying “Either have a duel with Voldemort once or not at all, all the stuff with the ghostly Dumbledore is a real tension-killer” in an open-plan office. The series has outgrown its roots, and having people shouting “Expelliarmus!” amid scenes of slaughter feels a bit silly now. When Filch, the caretaker of the earlier films, turns up yelling about “Students out of bed!” as two Death Eaters lie cooling on the floor of the Great Hall, the nervous giggling signifies the collective thought – “How far we’ve come, what bridges we have crossed. Detention used to be the worst thing in the world, and now the actual worst thing in the world is at the door, hammering it down with fire and fangs”.
And wow, doesn’t it hammer? The Battle of Hogwarts is background to the main story in the book – Harry, Hermione and Ron seeking and destroying the remaining horcruxes in Hogwarts before Harry takes on Voldemort in single combat – and so it is with the movie. Thrillingly realised, it paints broad strokes of devastation and fine details of small catastrophe behind the more straightforward heroics of the central trio. Marauding giants sweep animated statues from their path, werewolves savage fallen children, to the murderous disgust of their peers, Hogwarts goes down in great flaming chunks, and always the focus stays on the mutually destructive revenge tragedy at the heart of the series.
Harry, Hermione and Ron are characters who have become adults in the public eye, but where they had a writer working full-tilt to bring them up to be balanced individuals (or, at least, well-rounded ciphers, in the case of Harry), the actors had to cope with growing up for real in full view of an eager public. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have all grown as actors since their terrible early performances and can carry the heavy load required of them with, if not grace then at least conviction.
Quick word about 3D. I’m something of an agnostic, veering anti, with regard to 3D – I still think it’s a bit of a fad, but I guess if they can figure out how to do it without glasses and without it feeling like a novelty, I can be convinced. Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is entirely in 3D, but it is unobtrusive and natural, giving depth to scenes rather than causing FX shots to leap out. Consequently, I can’t imagine there is much to be lost in seeing it in 2D, but I appreciated the roundness of the 3D experience. There’s nothing to match the beauty of Deathly Hallows – Part 1’s glorious shadow theatre sequence, but this is a seriously good-looking film. Not bad work for David Yates – a man who graduated from TV straight to Potter and so has effectively learned mega-budget ultra-franchise movie directing on the job.
I’m just about finished here, but perhaps I should end on an epilogue which will cause you to cringe to the roots of your hair. Imagine me in 19 years from now. I’ll probably have a beard (that way you’ll know I’m older). Maybe I’m looking at my daughter’s first review of a ‘rebooted’ Potter franchise. My daughter, incidentally, looks very little like me but has a wig which exactly replicated the hairstyle I wore in my youth so you know she’s mine. “Oh, they’re re-making that, are they?” I’ll ask. She’ll look up from her πPad. “Oh, you know, it’s a classic, innit?” “Any good?” “Nah. They’re trying to make it about now. And it’s just such a product of its time.” I look thoughtfully into the middle-distance, perhaps at the ghosts of friends long-dead. “Every generation re-makes its myths.” “Really, Dad? Did yours?” I crouch down to look into her eyes, which remind me powerfully of her
mother’s. “Most of the time. And, sometimes, we had them made fresh for us.”