November 22, 2011

Warner Brothers did what they could to drag it out, but after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the Harry Potter franchise is finally closed. Perhaps not for good – author J.K. Rowling has got her new Potter-centric website, and she may get bored and write another adventure in that universe. But no matter if it comes back or not, for performers Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint Potter will be part of their legacy. They spent ten years playing Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. And no matter what they do, they are as stuck to this as Sean Connery is to James Bond.  Continued after the jump.

The final film is the second half of the seventh book, and is nearly non-stop action that brings Radcliffe’s Potter into his final confrontation with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) after trying to destroy all his horcuxes – things that have been embedded with parts of his soul. And now the final stand will take place at Hogwarts school of wizarding. Though it’s emotionally satisfying, it’s not a great movie – but at this point it didn’t need to be.

The film begins shortly after the last film ended, with Potter burying Dobby, and having escaped from Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Another polyjuice potion turns Hermione (Watson) into Bellatrix, and they go to see if they can find another horcrux. Such leads to them escaping on a dragon. From there they go to Hogwarts, and meet Dumbledore’s Brother (Ciaran Hinds) on the way, and then reclaim the school for their own. Such is where the big battle between good and evil is going to go down.

This battle also brings a conclusion and proof to Severus Snape’s (Alan Rickman) role in this whole thing as he gets a chance to explain to Harry Potter (Radcliffle) what he’s been doing every step of the way. It also leads Potter to find out what Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has been plotting all along: Potter is a Horcrux, and must be killed to destroy Voldemort. The rest is battle, and eventually Potter must go to face his nemesis.

At this point there are so many talent performers in this series, that it’s nice to see actors like Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson show up to reprise their roles, but they have little to do at this point but be on screen for mere seconds. David Thewlis’s Lupin gets scant more screen time, and he plays an important part in the conclusion, but it would only be meaningful in the context of the whole. If you didn’t know the character, his fate would be meaningless. Never have so many talented performers been assembled to do so little, but it helps with the fabric of the universe at this point.

And for this split seventh movie, the filmmakers have abandoned the need for a three act – or really any act – structure. The film plays as a cinematic adaption of the pages of book, but not really as a film. I was cvurious after the first half if somehow the two fit together particularly well, but no it’s apparent it doesn’t work as a five hour movie, so much as an attempt to cram as much from the books on screen as they can. But even there, there’s lots left out, and important bits too. The idea from the book was that if you brought together three items that are set up in Part 1, a person could be immortal, but the film never explains how that works so Harry Potter can survive being killed – you’d think that’d be important. But at this point these films are for the faithful, and they’ve been rewarded with nearly five hours of the final book filmed. If the other films on the franchise work as standalone chapters – and one were tempted to skip the first two films to get to where the getting’s good – this doesn’t seem to work on its own at all, nor does the five hour journey feel like a journey. It’s a lumpy thing.

But that doesn’t really matter for anyone who’s been watching these films all along, and there’s a lot of emotional catharsis that one can get out of the final chapter. From finally seeing Snape get a chance to tell his side of the story, to Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint) getting a chance to express their feelings for each other, to the end of Voldemort, the film is satisfying for those who are invested in these characters. It’s no longer trying to be great art, but the size and scale makes it as rousing as one could hope for.

Taken as a whole the franchise is very repetitive, and engaging as most great summer reading is – you invest in Potter and you want him to succeed. The films (like the books) use World War II as shorthand and that gives you the stakes and what’s being fought for, though “purebloodedness” is a very retro villainy. It’s hard to say these films are about much – in the middle chapters, Cuaron and others latched on to the idea of magic as a way to express how boys become men, but by the final chapter, it’s hard to say there’s much going on under the surface of these films. That’s in no way a knock, but where the books could develop the idea of character going through the rise of a magical Hitler, and what it meant to see the world change in that way, films are more narrative drive, and so that background in the books is just a minor flavor in the films.

It’s possible this could get rebooted; Rowling was still writing the books when they started filming, you could make a case that you could have a stronger set of seven (or how ever many) films if they were to start now. But the books and films work in similar ways as does Michael Apted’s Up series. For better or ill, the narrative has been about the characters – but even more than that watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – grow up in front of an audience. And the series works on that level best, that finally coming to face Voldemort, that standing for something and not backing down is the surest sign of adulthood. And with only a few actors either leaving the franchise (by death or – in one case – because of criminal charges) we’ve seen these performers age. And that may be the most thrilling aspect of this whole series is that when you watch the first film now it’s hard not to notice how young and impressionable Radcliffe, etc. were. You’ve got to see them become better actors with each new film, and you’ve got to watch them turn into young adults. That’s a bonding process for the audience, especially for the children who’ve grown up in tandem with them. In that way I feel bad for people who motor through these films, watching the passage of time over days instead of years. That was part of the fun.

harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-part-2-blu-ray-coverWarner Brothers presents the film on Blu-ray with an addition DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 master audio. Demo disc. The film comes in Maximum Movie Mode, where the actors and creative staff from the film pop up and talk about the making of the movie (it runs 167 minutes). This also comes with eight focus points (26 min.) where they speak to certain elements of the film, or scenes. My favorite of these shows how they made Ciaran Hinds look like Michael Gambon (it’s one of the most impressive make up jobs I have ever seen). The disc closes with “Final Farwells from Cast and Crew” (3 min.).

The set also comes with a second disc of special features, with the longest being “A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe (53 min.). The duo talks about the casting process and Rowling’s influence over the films, why she thinks Dumbledore is gay (and how that came out).  It’s a nice amiable chat. It’s followed by “The Goblins of Gringotts” (11 min.), which talks to the midget performers who were used in the film, especially Warwick Davis and his multiple roles in the franchise. It’s followed by “The Woman of Harry Potter” (23 min.) which gets Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rowling, Bonnie Wright, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton and Helen McCrory talk about their roles, and women in the franchise. There are eight deleted scenes (7 min.) that are also available in the Maximum Movie Mode, and are mostly snippets of details. The disc closes out with advertisements for the London studio tour and for Pottermore.

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