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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two” (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; David Yates, 2010

Part I.
All fine things must come to an end, and so finally has the Harry Potter series: the books first of all, and now the movies, climaxing at last in a final explosion, a last spell, that last credit-crawl, that closes the long-awaited unreeling of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

So Goodbye, you no-longer-little wizard, and Farewell to your Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry friends. Adieu. Adios. Ciao. Sayonara. Auf Wiedersehen. Arrividerci, Harry.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is, as we expected, a slam-bang finale to an increasingly ambitious and increasingly accomplished film series. a string of eight rousing and well-produced (by David Barron, David Heyman and others), and superbly scripted (Steve Kloves) and mounted movies based on J. K. Rowling‘s seven outrageously popular best-selling novels for children and young adults — a parade of literary/cinematic magic tricks that started with the expected and obvious — the spectacular but almost ponderous cuteness of the first two Potter movies (H. P. and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Chamber of Secrets) directed by Chris Columbus — and then took a jaw-dropping leap into art cinema with the trail-blazing third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuaron, proud member of the Three Amigos), marked time with the fourth entry, Goblet of Fire by steady, workmanlike British director Mike Newell , and then plunged into the magical murk and mire of hazy gray British literary nightmare with the last four Potter films, all helmed by the lesser known (at first) David Yates, who did most of his previous work for British TV (State of Play) but now was apparently assigned, in the last three Potter novels-into-films (The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows 1 & 2) to distill as much of the pure, raw Rowlings Potter as a moviemaker with indulgent, Potter-loving producers (one of whom was Rowling herself), with an endless stellar ensemble of prestigious, British character actors (from Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, together again, at least in the same castle, to Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton and Timothy Spall) — and what seemed an almost limitless budget (in endless sentences endlessly unleashed), possibly can.

After last year’s surprisingly morbid and gloomy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, we left our three somewhat fagged schoolmate/heroes — bespectacled target-of-all-evil Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), lean and redheaded sidekick Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and the now wistful and womanly Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) — temporarily exiled from the castle battlements and halls of learning at Hogwarts, an institution now firmly in the hand of the satanic and hideously noseless (and hot-to-kill-Harry) Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). That palace of magical knowledge was now sadly in the grip of wizardly doom and 1984-ish fascism. They tried to figure out Voldemort’s downfall.

Shall we plunge into the swift currents of synopsis once again? Ah, why bother? But then again, why not? We’ll race through a Potter tale one last time, as the movie itself most assuredly does, except when it indulges, in its stellar cast, that great actor‘s tendency to pause….and pause….and pause again. (Hi Ho Mike.)

Look now and listen, and maybe someday, you yourself will dream a dream that makes five billion or more in grosses world wide: The three Hogwarts amigos start their quest in the gray haze that Yates brought with him (Yates-haze, I guess), with the aid of a Goblin (Warwick Davis) and a gray-haired acting genius (John Hurt). Neither is sanguine about the trio’s prospects for survival, but soon the three chums in disguise (wait ‘til you see!) are back in school, back in its hallowed halls and its deathly depths.

We are back with them in the groves of wizardly academe. There is a walk though studious rows of stooped Hogwarts goblins and a descent ito hell. Beasts appear. Rooms piled with books and furniture burst into flame. The snake slithers. Old friends and foes pop in and out. The forces of evil cavort: Voldemort and his cohorts, steely eyed Severeus Snape (Alan Rickman, who will cry) and the mad, cherry-tart-faced Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, God damn and the devil bless her), and others up to no good.

Up to good, by contrast, and braving Voldemort‘s noseless wrath, are our friends, the Potter trio, plus stately but worried-looking Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and the great tall, rowdy Rubeus Hagird (Robbie Coltrane), and Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) somewhere, dithering. There’s a feint. Voldemort seems briefly banished from Hogwarts, but returns, arrogant as a CEO in a G.O.P. administration, backed by a huge army of evil-doers. Danger looms. There is an incredible revelation from the departed soul of ex-Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Harry overhears. All hell, alarmingly breaks loose.

What happens, and what we’ve always expected will happen, explosively then…happens. Hogwarts may well be reduced by the credits, to a smoke-choked rubble that summons up London after the blitz. But…

Ah, no more, no more, no more! No more dark temptations to spawns of hellfire, and to the dark, dark arts of Spoiler Alert. This last part of the last Harry Potter ends where we want it to. There are no more battles to win, no more dragons to ride. There also may be no great British actors left to stick in the cast. Gambon, at any rate, wins the Great British Potter Actors trophy hands down, as he also did in Altman’s Gosford Park, with Maggie Smith right behind him, as she also was in Gosford Park. We have followed our brave threesome, Potter-Beasley-and-Granger (how very English they sound, like a firm of solicitors or like fine candymakers), and we will follow them to the end, and then 19 years past the end. (Spoiler, Spoiler!) Voldemort, you dog, you swine, you devil: die and die and die again! Harry, take a bow. Quickly lad, clean your specs. A pretty lady (not Hermione; she’s Weasley’s) awaits you. And destiny! And glory! And a train! Matriculate and graduate with grandeur.

And graduate from Hogwarts must we all, sadly, inevitably. Youth fades and time flies, especially when you’re making billions.

Part II.

What should I say more or praise or question about this movie? The splendid visual effects, the memorable characters, the incandescent action? That most beautiful, memorable scene in the picture: Harry and Dumbledore in the white, empty dream of an abandoned station, walking and talking together? Well anyway, a last salute to the creators, the technicians, the artists, the cast. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is good and more than good, as you knew it probably would be. So let me talk a little instead about what this movie should mean to the movie industry and people who finance them. But what it probably won’t mean to most of them at all.

The Harry Potter series, is the most financially well-performing in movie history — because of inflation, to some degree, but a hell of a lot of money nonetheless. It is also intelligent, ambitious, creative, and made out of artistry and passion — not the best movie of this year, but one to be proud of, nonetheless — just as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (now on DVD) was before it. Both series prove that you can make fine movies, and great profits — by taking a major literary work (not just for children and young adults) and honoring and doing it right: enlisting the author where possible and making it with craft and love, or even reimagining it with care, as Howard Hawks and his writers would do.

There are great directors who are also great screenwriters: Ingmar Bergman and Billy Wilder, for example. But most of the best directors at least honor great writing and writers and material and try to work with them or adapt them, like Orson Welles and John Huston. The writing in the Potter series carries the films along, and gives both actors and filmmakers the chance to soar.

What has seemed so damned peculiar, during the 2000s so far, is how good writing and literacy has come to to be so prized for children‘s films, and so present at least in lower-budget adult films, and so relatively ignored in so many big-studio movies allegedly for adults. The Harry Potter series is much influenced by the British TV tradition of long, fine literary series of great British TV novel adaptations. That is indeed, part of the artistic terrain where Yates comes from. (He did Anthony Trollope‘s “The Way We Live Now,” as adapted by Andrew Davies) Part of the great cinematic tradition, of American or foreign movie auteurs — of Renoir, of Ford, of Huston, of Lean, of Visconti, of Bresson, of Lang, of Fassbinder, and most certainly of Orson Welles — was their respect for good literature and for the best available writers.

You need great directors for great movies, assuredly, but almost any of them will surely tell you (from beyond the grave, if necessary ) that there’s better off going into battle with the best writer possible at their side, with a great singing sword of a script.

The Harry Potter films are a series to remember, partly because they took such a rich source, and then mined it so well and truly. And that’s something the movies can do for a primarily adult audience as well. God knows it should be. But, alas and dammit, it probably won’t be. Nowadays, sadly, many producers seem to feel that “adult” means prurient, and that age means enough dirty words to get you into negotiation. Perhaps their minds have been debauched by the ratings system.

So lets salute Harry Potter‘s producers, who took a more ordinary adaptation and made it extraordinary, made magic manifest, made children grow up, made fantasies come alive, before our eyes.

All honor to Heyman, Barron, and to Yates and his predecessors. But let’s especially salute J. K. Rowling and Steve Kloves. She, the novelist, put it all on the page, as a series of books that conquered a world of readers. He, a scriptwriter, wrote it all for the screen (except for one of the films, Phoenix), as a series of movies that conquered it again. There’s a fantastic, wondrous art to what they did, to what Yates and the others built on, to the glorious cascade of images and action and effects that pour from their tale. It seduces us, fascinates us. But it all begins by putting one word, correctly, after another. Ah. Magic.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”

  1. Mr. Average says:

    Actually, the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” movies both started in 2001. In fact, “Harry Potter” pre-dates “LOTR” since “HP” started playing in November while “LOTR” started playing in December.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon