The Whole Hogwarts

How wizard is Harry Potter’s film finale? asks John Connors

Ten years back when I first wrote about Harry Potter it was the phenomenon rather than the books I was interested in. Like many adults I’d never heard of the boy wizard until the news media started relating tales of midnight openings, huge crowds of people and immense anticipation over the release of the new book in the series (probably the fourth one at that point?). Having assumed that kids had forsaken books for electronic concerns this intrigued me, especially when I started noticing grownups reading it as well. Something was going on. Not too long after that the films started and the whole world knew about Harry P. It all seemed- and remains- a curious parallel world supposedly set in present day yet devoid of anything like mobile phones, computers, or even non English people. Could today’s multi cultural, technological world really be interested in such a thing?

The answer appears to be Yes. A decade on from the point where most of us first encountered the series, the second part of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (phew!) arrives on the very big IMAX screen in 3D. It is almost too weighty- in content and culturally- to be able to assess with a question as simple as Is it any good? It certainly cannot be discussed without giving away the plot so if you are one of the 18 people who doesn’t know how, as the poster gravely says “it all ends” then don’t click on to the rest of the review..

Actually, we asked Draco Malfoy to write this review as he clearly had nothing better to do and he told us; “I see Potter got all the lines again and I only had a couple of big scenes, one of which I wasn’t allowed to speak in. I was so angry I went home near the end to spend the next nineteen years eating pies!” OK, so his wand was crucial to the denouement but you can see the point. This final instalment of JK Rowling’s sometimes inspirational but sometimes sprawling story is packed with characters we now know well but few of them have much to do in this climax and that’s a shame. It’s a fault of the book though and should not detract too much from the superb visuals director David Yates has assembled here, not to mention the performances of those who do get stuff to do.

So anyone expecting some kind of redemptive epiphany for Draco (who literally does just walk off near the end) or much in the way of Weaselys will be disappointed. The latter family who have provided some of the warmest and funniest moments are a fleeting presence even if Mrs W gets the film’s best line. They have always balanced the impending doom and are missed in the film. In fact it seems odd that the first half meandered so much when this one whizzes ahead relegating key characters to minor roles.

"I shall have your nose Harry Potter"

Those who feel the screen bristles with energy when Ralph Fiennes is on will be much more pleased however. He dominates proceedings as Yates’ cameras rarely shoot him in profile, instead moving around him as if to convey his restless fever for power. If Voldermort has been a shadowy presence till now he is front and centre for the finale, the actor’s casual menace turned up to 11. The scenario in turn draws Daniel Radcliffe’s strongest performance in the scenes where they confront each other.

The actor is now so associated with the part that he has become Harry in our heads. Both the books and to some extent the earlier films never really get to grips with Harry as a character though. He is buffeted from one peril to another but oddly we only begin to understand him when he becomes stroppier, darker and more like a teenager. Radcliffe’s casting, sometimes criticised, and has turned out to be one of the franchise’s canniest choices. As we watch him and Harry grow up, we start to feel the pressures on the character. Finally, when Radcliffe yells at Snape that he doesn’t deserve to be the headmaster or confronts Voldermort amidst the ruins of the school, he has grown into the heroic character we can root for.

Although it opens calmly this film is the polar opposite of the first half which not altogether successfully introduced art house to the Potter world. Lovely though some of the cinematography was neither the cast nor the dialogue matched it. This half by comparison is brimming with big set pieces and includes some of the series’ most thrilling action. An early tilt amongst the caves under Gringtotts is a prelude to a superb sequence where the Room of Requirement becomes an inferno. The set piece battle of Hogwarts spares no expense and ratchets up the tension and chaos as the familiar sets crumbled and explode. It makes excellent use of 3D so much so that the energy dispersed by the wands, which once looked a little too obviously computer generated, now fizzles with powerful energy. In the battle sequences and particularly when Harry and Voldemort face each other you can almost feel the heat.

JK Rowling though must be held to account for her continued use of objects, stones, swords and so on that get the kids out of each pickle. Surely a few more ingenious saves could have been considered- and surely the all powerful sword of Gryffindor would not have been left lying about for Neville to find? Still, Matthew Lewis turns out to be the unexpected star of the goodies camp as he gets a good slice of the battle action and wields the final blow which does underscore Rowling’s love of heroic deeds and classic literature. What is also satisfying is that the final victory is not one without losses or the acknowledgement of them in simple yet powerful moments.

The films have definitely made sense of Rowling’s increasingly dense narrative. There is no doubt that the latter books need a good edit whereas all the films from the third on have successfully wheedled the key points into view. This may turn out to be a good thing, leaving us with two versions of each story. Her vision – conveyed so well in the films- is something of a curio however. She ignores many of the unwritten rules of children’s literature and borrows liberally from a number of sources. She constantly tells rather than shows, the opposite of what prospective writers are advised to do. Sometimes she can spin an excellent yarn that surprises you with its scope. She can take characters on amazing journeys- for example Snape who has wrong footed us all since the start – and dazzle with minutiae and detailed invented histories. Yet her reliance on over familiar aspects- the sagely elderly protector, the `destiny` of Harry, the school based plotting not to mention the lifts from other sources of goblins, ogres etc sometimes restricts the story from being more than the sum of its enviably assembled parts.

While she essays heroism with subtlety her depiction of evil as unstrained and simple seems old fashioned even for the age of the readership. The Dementors - creatures that suck the optimism out of you- are her greatest original creation and could be a fascinating allegorical device for teenage angst or adult insecurity but she uses them simply as monsters. By the last book / film they are no more than guards, Voldemort preferring an army of shouting warriors to invade the school. She also invests much in the idea of a connection between Harry and Voldemort that is used too often to provide a handy plot update for the former and a convenient weakness against the latter; at least in this last film there is some tangible story built around that link.

The ending, like the book, fast forwards 19 years where a rather overly lined Harry and co see their offspring on their way to Hogwarts at platform nine and three quarters. This sweet device to round things off works far better on film because, bless, you can see it really is the same actors. Everyone assumed this conclusion meant there could be no more Potter stories, at least not from the pen (and surely she must write them with a quill?) of JKR. Then again we don’t know what happens in those 19 years do we? After all, wouldn’t a post school Potter plot for all the family be a tempting read? Imagine Draco sulking in his manor, determined to get his own back. Better still, what if he has to team up with Harry- who does save his life after all- to save the magical world from (sniip- that’s enough predictive Potter plots- Ed)

There is a chance- though it’s too soon to know- that Harry Potter will end up a commercial phenomenon rather than an artistic one. Will successive generations of children read these books as they grow up? Will the films endure like, for example, the Star Wars films have? Hopefully they will because whatever you say about them, the Harry Potter books and films are tremendous fun. This finale is a fabulous full blooded cinema film and you really should see it there.

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