Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2011

The end

And an excellent end it is, as 'Harry Potter' goes out strong in 'Deathly Hallows: Part 2'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Lewis, Alan Rickman, Warwick Davis, Maggie Smith, Evanna Lynch and Helena Bonham Carter
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 10 minutes
Opened July 15, 2011
(out of four)

Being the last word on a singular, linear series like Harry Potter has its share of complications. The final film and the series itself are not (and cannot be) mutually exclusive - a rare distinction that applies to no other film in the franchise, not even the first one.

The first film in this series, for example, wasn't particularly good, but just look where we are now. Can anyone consider the eight-film series a failure, just because of its sluggish start? Of course not. But we most certainly would have had Deathly Hallows proven disappointing.

The principle applies to certain kinds of movies and certain kinds of TV shows. I know I (and plenty of others) will never remember LOST as fondly after its unfortunate finale as I would have had it gone out on a high note. The opposite is true (though many would disagree) of The Sopranos, which concluded brilliantly and memorably.

But people can be disappointed with The Godfather Part III without it diminishing what came before, because there was little direct narrative connecting tissue between the first two films and the third one. But if Return of the King had failed? That changes the legacy of the trilogy completely.

And don't even get me started on The Matrix Revolutions.

Fortunately, Deathly Hallows fits in the Lord of the Rings category - and that is not unexpected, given the fine (if uneven) start the two-chapter final installment got last summer. Part 2 opens with a brief reminder of where Part I left off, then (in what is essentially the opening shot) pushes in through a heavy fog to reveal a gloomy-looking Hogwarts surrounded on all sides by Death Eaters. It's a fabulous way to establish the mood - a consistent area of strength for director David Yates, who helmed each of the last four.

Part 2 is filled with evocative details and setpieces. Yates relishes the Gothic elements of the architecture and production design, underscoring the strange and grotesque morality hovering over everyone now that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned.

There's a great setpiece in the Gringotts bank that, with its dryly surreal atmosphere and visual distortion, reminded me of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. And there are of course passages that seem straight out of an early Spielberg or Lucas fantasy. Yates' ability to merge the atmospheric backdrop with the energy of his action sequences, to balance the film's darkness with moments of levity, turns what could potentially have been a monotonous two-hour action movie into a genuinely thrilling conclusion to what now officially feels like a saga.

As many have pointed out (and complained about), Part I was virtually all set-up and little payoff, setting the stage for all kinds of the latter this time around. But Yates isn't satisfied simply with delivering special effects or action on a platter. No, he emphasizes the way the film's events reflect on each character - most poignantly in a scene near the end, as one character surveys the aftermath of what has just happened, and smiles a contented smile. The implications of the moment, and for the future, are made clear without a single word.

As I said, Part 2 picks up pretty much right where its predecessor left off, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), the now-extremely-foxy Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) still in search of the remaining Horcruxes - a search that will take them from Gringotts (which is dangerous enough) to Hogwarts (which, these days, is even more dangerous), with Snape (Alan Rickman) both in control of Hogwarts and under the control of Voldemort.

Thankfully for Harry and Co., courage has not yet been snuffed out by the Dark Lord - and it comes most prominently in the form of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith, in a meatier role than recent Potter films) and Aberforth Dumbledore (Ciarán Hinds), brother of Albus (Michael Gambon).

One of the surprising details about Part 2 is that, at just 130 minutes, it is the shortest film in the series. Given the amount of ground it had to cover, that may have been cause for alarm - but as it turns out, Yates only needed 130 minutes. (In fact, maybe a minute or two less, if he'd excised the not-totally-convincing and not-totally-necessary epilogue.)

But what Yates does is keep the film focused and propulsive, never allowing it to waste time taking a bow for itself (which even Return of the King was guilty of), or forcing the appearances of any of the series' many recurring characters. He knows exactly what the film needed to accomplish, and it does so with confidence and grace. And I have a feeling that putting the two halves of Deathly Hallows together will make for an even more satisfying whole.

In any case, Part 2 is a fitting capstone to a film series that has only gotten better over time. This one had the unenviable responsibility of holding the fate of the franchise on its back, and it did so without a sweat.

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