It all ends, but not for me ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It all ends, but not for me

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2
My rating:

So with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, the Harry Potter saga finally comes to an end - the movie version of it, that is. But if you place it within the larger picture of the books' publication dates, the 10-year production of all 8 films becomes a 14-year odyssey that began from the release of J.K. Rowling's first book - the one that started it all, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in 1997. In a way, such a broader perspective is appropriate; there will now be no more new adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione whether in novel or movie form. (In the foreseeable future, that is.) But I confess that, having never read the books, and having come late to the movies, I'm not really feeling the momentousness of it.

And I think that's probably because the books and the movies ought to be thought of as separate entities altogether.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) continue their search for the remaining Horcruxes that house the parts of Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) soul, even as Voldemort recovers the all-powerful Elder Wand from Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon) tomb and solidifies his power. First they stage a daring raid on Bellatrix Lestrange's (Helena Bonham Carter) vault at Gringotts bank, but then Harry learns that another Horcrux is hidden at Hogwarts - where Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is now headmaster. Arriving there, the three reunite with old friends and allies, including Dumbledore's brother Aberforth (Ciaran Hinds), Professor McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith) and Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis). But this alerts Voldemort, who lays siege to the school with an army of his Death Eaters. In the ensuing battle, Harry will learn the final few secrets that Dumbledore has kept hidden from him since his birth - secrets that Snape has also kept, for his own reasons.

I've said before that I like the Harry Potter movies when they're dark and action-packed, and this is the darkest and most action-packed one yet. Not only does the Battle of Hogwarts take up almost the entire second hour, there's an almost unremittingly bleak tone throughout the entire film that builds on from Part 1's pervasive sense of hopelessness. There are almost no moments of triumph, and even the raid and escape from Gringotts plays up the desperation of our three heroes rather than making it a rousing feat of derring-do. And in one stunning sequence later on, the three race across a pitched battle between the beleaguered defenders of Hogwarts and Voldemort's forces comprising Death Eaters, ogres and giant spiders - and Alexandre Desplat's score is not tense or heroic, but moody and poignant.

And all credit for this goes to David Yates, for this uncompromising approach towards portraying the relentless despair and overwhelming odds facing the good guys. Which does not only include Harry, Ron and Hermione; Yates once again successfully conveys the scale of an entire world on the brink of destruction. Hogwarts, so cheery and magical in previous installments, is reduced to a post-apocalyptic ruin here; even before the battle, under the headmastership of Snape, it seems more like a prison camp than a school. But Yates does not go the Michael Bay route of non-stop, punishing action; he knows when to slow down for an expository or emotional moment, wringing the storyline for every operatic, towering emotion it's worth. This is the kind of epic fantasy filmmaking that hasn't been seen since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Which isn't to say it's without flaws, since neither was Return of the King. The dangers of making an epic film, with its epic heights, is that the higher you aim the further you have to fall. Yates, and perennial Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves, are not immune to the occasional cheesy or clich├ęd moment - and admittedly, I don't know if they're the inventions of Yates and Kloves or if they were present in Rowling's writing. The ones that come most readily to mind are Neville's speech, and his exhortation that Harry lives "in here!" (points to heart), and a scene set in a glowy ghostly afterlife complete with pep-talk from dead mentor. Yates is not the massively self-indulgent filmmaker Peter Jackson is, but here he fails to avoid some of the same pitfalls that befell Jackson. When you're aiming for capital-E Epic, you've set a very high standard for yourself that you may not always hit.

But most of the time, the film does, don't get me wrong. Yet, another way in which Deathly Hallows, pt. 2 resembles Return of the King is in its truncation and simplification of its far more complex source material, and Yates and Kloves fare worse than Jackson. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is pretty much a complete story in itself (the DVD Extended Editions, anyway), and you don't really need to read the books to fully enjoy it. Not so the Harry Potter movies - which, to be fair, not all of which Yates directed. Once again, too many subplots, characterisations, and plot-related details are either skimmed over or omitted altogether, and these crimes of omission are more severe given that this is the conclusion of the series. The Molly Weasley/Bellatrix duel is brief and unsatisfying. The deaths of several ancillary characters are glossed over. And without fail, the plot once again takes too many shortcuts; Harry spends the whole of Part 1 despairing over how to find the rest of the Horcruxes, and here he figures out where and what they are just by thinking hard.

I debated between giving it 4 or 3-½ stars, but I eventually decided I had to knock a half-star off for one reason alone: as much as the movies are a massively successful filmic realization of the novels - and as much as Yates has a terrific career ahead of him - I think they're best served as mere visual companions to the books. The real deal, the true and complete story of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, are in the words of J.K. Rowling. Watching the film adaptations of them alone is an inadequate and incomplete experience, and frankly, it took me till this concluding chapter to realise that. It doesn't feel concluded to me; it feels like there's a lot more I missed out on. So it's high time I get me to a bookstore and start up on the novels. At least I'll have the images from the movies to help me enjoy them better.

Expectations: ya Allah, Azhari Zain lagi


ZimSen Yeow said...

Please please pick up the books.

I actually love Ginny in the book because she actually do not one but lots of things. J.K. Rowling wanted Ginny to evolve from a shy girl to a spunky girl who shoots first ask question later.

In the movie, she like you say; wooden. She was actually stoning in one scene. Not focusing even at the camera and I just had to LOL.

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