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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

My four younger children cannot remember a world without Harry Potter in it. I started reading the series to my now-14-year-old, Neve, shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out in the US in 1998, and her older sister brought it home and persuaded me to read it. I confess that I was not entirely enamored of the first book, which struck me at the time more as having potential than having actually achieved it, but Neve loved it, and there was enough there to keep me interested in reading more.

By the time Jaxon was born in 1999, the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was out, and I was hooked. The movie adaptation of the first book, Sorcerer’s Stone, came out a couple months after Veda was born in 2001. Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban (still one of my favorites of the movies) came out in June of 2004, eight months after my youngest, Luka, was born. Harry, Ron and Hermione — and all their friends and teachers at Hogwarts, and their enemies, too — were as surely a part of the fabric of my own kids’ growing up as the Anne of Green Gables and Little House series were to me in my own formative years.

My kids have gone to book release parties and midnight preview screenings, battled with their Harry Potter wands with their light-up tips (and the good ones were not cheap, let me tell you), engaged in serious discussions about which Hogwart’s house they’d be likely to be sorted into. Among their set, Gryffindor was, of course, preferable, but you could make a decent argument for choosing Ravenclaw, which also houses some smart, talented wizards and fine Quidditch players. Dark Slytherin and genial, bumbling Hufflepuff were generally lumped together as undesirable, for different reasons.

All this is by way of saying that we have a certain attachment to Harry Potter in my house, a bit of a proprietary sense of ownership over these characters, and if you are also attached to this series, you no doubt feel the same way.

So let’s cut to the chase here. If you’ve already read the Harry Potter books, you already know what happens in the final book, and even if you haven’t you’ve probably concluded from what’s gone before that this final movie comes down to the last, bloody, all-or-nothing battle between Harry Potter and Voldemort, the dark wizard obsessed with immortality and power. The only thing that was ever really important to fans of the series was that director David Yates get these final two installments right, that he give Harry, Ron and Hermione — and the legion of fans who’ve grown up with them as imaginary friends and inspiration — a proper sendoff. And so he does.

I’ve always liked the characters and story of the Harry Potter series. Harry, The Boy Who Lived. The dark, ego-and-insecurity-driven Voldemort. Greasy, churlish Professor Snape, brought to life so deliciously in the films by Alan Rickman. The loyal, giant, Hagrid, Harry’s friend, mentor, and occasional bodyguard. Ron and Hermione, the loyal best friends with whom Harry comes of age while fighting against Voldemort, who robbed Harry of his parents and, unintentionally, created in Harry the one rival who could defeat him.

One of the interesting things about the book series is that the level of its writing mirrors, more or less, the age of the characters. Thus the first couple books are written rather like school library books targeted squarely at tweens. In the later books (excluding Goblet of Fire, my least favorite of the series, mainly because it really needs whole chunks of literary babies ripped out and thrown into the fire) the storytelling takes a very sharp turn into some dark philosophical territory. The last book, especially, reads more like a novel for adults than for kids, with long, glacially paced stretches when Harry and Ron and Hermione are hiding, and much in between the lines about good versus evil, fighting for what’s right, courage and bravery in the face of unrelenting pressure.

The pacing of Deathly Hallows has a purpose, in both the novel and the first part of Harry Potter 7, the movie, in evoking the frustration, isolation, and sense of desperation that Harry, Ron and Hermione feel in being wanted as criminals, outcast, hunted, all while fighting desperately to save the world from Voldemort. Now, with the final installment, Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who wrote the scripts for all but the fifth book, and did a remarkable job honing the fairly long final book into a pair of cohesive, taut screenplays) tie the last two films together into a whole that leads up, as well as a fan of the series might hope, to that climactic moment when Harry and Voldemort must meet to at last confront the fate that has always tied them together.

And really, when you consider both the enormity of adapting the series as a whole, and the challenges and pressure of adapting the final book in particular, Yates has done an exquisite job here. The two-part Deathly Hallows films, as has been the case since the first Harry Potter film, are visually stunning; you could get lost for long stretches (or at least I could) just pondering the remarkable intricacies of the way Hogwarts was brought to life, the detailing of the Hogwarts Express, Gringotts bank, and (in Part One) the Ministry of Magic, post-takeover by the dark side.

If you know anything at all about making movies, you surely have to appreciate what a mammoth task this series has been, and I have to laud Warner Brothers here for both having the foresight to see that this series had this potential, and its commitment — no doubt in part due to the unusual leverage series author JK Rowling has had in the adaptations — to seeing it done right.

An aside about the 3D: I saw Deathly Hallows, Part Two at a 3D preview screening where they handed out Harry Potter-shaped 3D specs. I’m not particularly a fan of the rise in 3D features, but here, I must say, it was done extraordinarily well. The 3D effects are soft, flowy, not distracting in the least, and have the impact of making you feel like you are right in the heart of the battle. I’ll be seeing Part Two again tonight at a midnight screening in 2D, so I’ll have a better idea after that of which I prefer. But for now I’ll say that if your kids are bugging you to see this one in 3D, this is one of the few times I could recommend paying that premium.

As for the film itself, I’m sure there are fans who will quibble over this or that bit not being exactly right; you can always find things to pick apart, if you look hard enough. The pacing of the final half of the last book has a sudden shift from the relatively slower pace of the first half into the rather frantic moments up to and including the final battle that encompass much of Part Two, and in the movie, getting everything in that brings the series to its conclusion while keeping the running time reasonable required a bit of a sacrifice here and there.

The deaths of some crucial characters — passings that many fans, myself included, might have liked to mourn a bit more as they happened — are done in the blink of an eye, when we aren’t even watching. We learn of their deaths as Harry does, just as he’s finally figured out exactly what must be done — what it has always been fated that he must do — and so we, as Harry in that moment, are not granted the time to properly take in the magnitude of loss.

But in the context of the heat of a battle that embodies the very idea of good versus evil, right versus wrong, there wouldn’t be time to stop and properly mourn losses that, in the bigger picture, are really just a few among many; the survivors in that situation would have to pick up and move on and finish what had been started, and leave their grief aside for a time when they could allow themselves to feel it. And so we must as well.

One other minor quibble: If you’re attempting to come into the series at this point (or even, really, with Part One of Deathly Hallows), not having read the books or seen the other films, you’re very likely to be completely lost. More importantly, you’re likely not to be as emotionally invested in everything that’s happening — or to grasp the way many of the pieces finally fit into place at the end of a series that spans seven years in the lives of these characters. For those up to speed on the universe created by J.K. Rowling for her characters to inhabit, though, Kloves and Yates do a fine job of tying everything up and bringing the story to a close.

Although Harry Potter books are on our bookshelf and we’ll be able to revisit the movies as often as we want, there’s a certain sadness in leaving behind something that’s been a part of the fabric of our lives for a decade now. Stern but kind Professor McGonagall, wise, complicated Dumbeldore, all the Weasleys, brave, loyal Neville Longbottom and spacy, trippy Luna Lovegood, and yes, even Harry’s rival, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Ralph Fiennes’ spine-tinglingly evil Voldemort and Helena Bonham-Carter’s scene stealing Bellatrix LeStrange — I’ll miss all of them. I’ll miss especially Professor Snape, brought to life so astoundingly well by Alan Rickman that it’s impossible to imagine any other actor embodying that role.

But mostly, I’ll miss watching the three young actors, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as Hermione, continue to grow their characters as they grow and mature themselves. Harry, Ron and Hermione together epitomized love and friendship and bravery in a way that few characters in children’s books ever do. J.K. Rowling created these memorable characters, but let’s not forget that it was these young actors, who had the weight of carrying a best-selling series onto the big screen thrust upon them when they were all themselves just awkward preteens embarking on their own real-life journeys into adulthood, who made Harry, Ron and Hermione come to life for millions of fans.

They did so with a grace and style that, I daresay, many thought they didn’t have it in them to pull off. So it is to them that we should most take off our own hats, in thanks to them for taking us along with them on their journey. Well done, all of you, and thank you most sincerely from this fan, one among many, for making the journey such a memorable and exciting one.

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3 Responses to “Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two”

  1. jennab says:

    Kim, you did a great job of capturing how this series is embedded in the adolescence of so many of its young readers. Their coming of age…both the readers, like my son, and the characters…is bittersweet for parents on every level. We’re seeing 7.2 at a Sunday evening show…my son refuses to see it with me because he KNOWS I am going to CRY through the whole thing…I can’t wait!

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