Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: The End of an Era? Or the Beginning of a Legacy?
As the credits rolled on the final installment of the Harry Potter films, a fandom at large stood still. We were destroyed, we were elated, we felt empty and unsure and completely, utterly grateful.
I feel I should warn you all now: This review will be chock full of book spoilers. I contemplated writing this review for anyone at all interested in maybe seeing the movie, but I moved on from that concept fairly quickly. Considering everything the ending of this series has symbolized for the community I have spent half of my life burrowed deeply into, I felt it would be insincere to do anything but devote this final review to them. So this is for you, you wonderful weirdos. This is for everyone for whom these were more than just books to read and films to watch; it was an indelible part of who you were.
I will, however, try to only make allusions to the details of what was altered in the adaptation.
So here we go.
As an adaptation of the books, Deathly Hallows, Part 2 fared somewhat less well than it’s predecessor, Deathly Hallows, Part 1, but better than the majority of the films. As an ending to the movie franchise, a wrap-of of the film version of the stories and characters that have been set-up on screen for the past decade, however, it was exactly what it needed to be.
Whereas the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows follows our trio as they camp in the British countryside on their quest to destroy the horcruxes, focusing on character development and obviously amping up to something, the second half is a straight up war novel. The film very much obliges this concept, diving headfirst into making this every bit of an action film, beginning with a sequence of events that leads to the trio to rob Gringotts bank and steal a dragon in the process.
And my, was that dragon beautiful. White, wounded, and blind, that creature writhing uncomfortably on the screen was one of the most beautiful uses of CGI I’ve ever seen, and a brilliant example of how vastly special effects have changed since that first, awkwardly animated Quidditch match ten years ago. Not only that, watching that dragon, with the trio on its back, burst through the floor of the bank and make its break for freedom, you simply have to embrace the epic ride they are about to take you on.
Returning to Hogwarts for a last, final battle against Lord Voldemort, we are swiftly re-introduced to two formerly minor characters (at least in the movies), who soon prove to be the MVPs of the film, and then some. Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), strolling onto the screen after a year of leading the rebellion of Dumbledore’s Army at Hogwarts, ushered in some of the loudest cheers of welcome from the theater that I sat in, and only a fraction of that had to do with the burgeoning attractiveness of the actor who plays him. Deathly Hallows has always been Neville’s book, his final proof that the world would have probably been just fine if he had been the Chosen One. His enthusiasm for the rebellion, his shows of cockiness in chases with the Death Eaters, his ballsy confrontation with Voldemort as the battle nears its end, all serve to prove that I didn’t join the Facebook group “Neville Longbottom is a BAMF” in 2007 for nothing.
Among the film’s other MVPs are Maggie Smith’s Professsor McGonagall, whose reaction the arrival of Harry at Hogwarts and the impending battle is one of the best moments of the film, and Alan Rickman’s always iconic Severus Snape, who starts the film as headmaster of the school. It should also be noted that, at the time of filming, Maggie Smith was battling cancer. In the midst of her chemotherapy treatments, she would show up to set and give this movie everything she had, and the result is minute after minute after minute of proof that sheer force of will and iron perseverance pay off admirably. There are no words for how much this woman deserves our praise.
Severus Snape is arguably among the most tragic characters of the series. Spending six+ books caught between saucy favorite and “God I hope he’s not really evil,” the revelation of his story in the chapter “The Prince’s Tale” in Deathly Hallows is a truly legendary redemption in the Potter universe, especially as it comes off the tails of the character’s death. Harry, cradling a dying Snape, takes his pensieve and travels through the dying Professor’s memories of his youth spent with Harry’s mother, Lily. The movie deals with these scenes beautifully, mostly due to an absolutely heartbreaking performance by Alan Rickman.
It is an important chapter, “The Prince’s Tale.” Not only does it foster Harry’s realization that everything he once thought he knew about his professor is wrong, that Severus Snape may in fact have been the bravest man he’s ever known, it is the exposure of a very important secret that Albus Dumbledore has been keeping from Harry for his entire life. It is the moment when Harry realizes that not only have his friends and family laid down their lives for him, but that this battle may not end until he dies.
And so he goes, to sacrifice himself to an increasingly desperate Lord Voldemort, surrounded by his family (his parents, and Sirius, recently joined by Remus Lupin). J.K. Rowling has stated that death is on virtually every other page of these books, and that is never more clear than in this final installment. Knowing that Rowling played a producer part in the making of this final installment, and that she has stated her most definite approval, it is made easier to guide through these bits, not because the producers screwed up but because who else are you to trust with Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore at King’s Cross than the woman who created it all?
Given this info it is also easier to accept the changes made in the film, most thoroughly in the playing out of the second half of the final battle. Watching Harry’s friends, family, and peers realize that Harry is dead was one of the most devastating parts of the final book, and the same could be said for the movie. At this point we have already seen the deaths of many beloved (or at least renowned) characters, from the surprisingly affecting murder of Lavender Brown to the mourning of Fred Weasley (cut disappointingly short in the film, but then again I’m not sure I could have taken seeing the full scene). The moment is saved by Neville, however, who somehow breaks your heart and rebuilds it all at once in his speech to the disheartened rebellion.
The pacing of this film is one of its highlights, as the whole thing would have been shot to hell if the audience had spent any time wondering how much longer this was all going to take. And while I’m sure most die-hard fans would be perfectly willing to sit in that theater for an additional four hours to witness every detail of the story they so love, increasingly sore buttocks do not often abide the emotional commitment required by this film.
It is at this point that the rest of the film is a slide into home base, a lead-up to the final spells cast between Harry and Voldemort (including, yes, Harry hugging Voldemort and jumping off a cliff, and a wizard lightning battle). It is at this point that the script takes its most liberties, I think, in the details of who’s where when and doing what. We still get to see some of the most beloved bits of this stretch of the book, though, including the triumphant “NOT MY DAUGHTER YOU BITCH” (which warranted the biggest screams and applause my theater was capable of producing) and the BAMF behedding of a certain snake. There’s also some awkward Voldy hugging and he may do a little jig at some point, but we won’t get into that (VOLDEMORT DOESN’T HUG).
It’s not about the books versus the movies, or what they moved around. It’s about us. It’s about her. It’s about how one single mother in Britain went from barely being able to feed her family to changing the life of not only herself, but millions of children (and adults), all around the world, who used what she wrote to navigate their way through what said world put in front of them.
And then it is over. The battle is won, the villain dead (I saw it in 3D, and I must note that I didn’t really need those bits of Voldemort floating so close to me), the living begin being nursed back to health.And though I was dreading it, the epilogue surprised me. Handled with subtlety and beauty by both cast and crew (the makeup was not crude in the least, the cast surprisingly convincing adults), it made me appreciate that part of the story more than I ever have. Because life goes on. Theirs did. Mine will, too.
And then there is just them: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And they are safe. “There would be time to talk later, hours and days and maybe years in which to talk.”
I will hold this story with me for the rest of my life. Because there’s just no other way.
And to all who left the theater, like me, feeling lost and confused, I give you the words of Albus Dumbledore: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
And all was well.
(Photo via Daily Blam)