Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mischief Managed: A Review of The Deathly Hallows Part 2, and a Look Back on the Harry Potter Franchise

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Directed by: David Yates

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Micheal Gambon, Raplh Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, James and Oliver Phelps, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman

Year: 2011

Genre: Fantasy/Action

Score: 5/5

As some of you may know, I'm a massive Harry Potter fan. It's still my favourite book series, and seeing the movies several times in theatres has been a tradition of mine ever since I saw The Sorceror's Stone back in 2001. While I would normally just do a traditional review, I feel like this is too important for that; like it deserves something more. Harry Potter has been an instrumental part of my life and childhood, and I wanted to do something different as a tribute to the series' end. So instead of simply talking about the film's acting, direction, et cetera, I'm going to do a reflection, or a look back, on the entire Potter series (books and movies), and how they've impacted my life, and then end it with a review of the final movie.

I suppose the logical place to start is the books, considering they were the start of this whole phenomenon. As I've stated above, Harry Potter is my favourite book series to this day, and for a number of reasons. Despite the many books I have read and enjoyed (the many Star Wars books, Ender's Game, the Series of Unfortunate Events books, the Charlie Bone series), none of them have had characters that I've felt so connected to as the Potter characters; after reading these books my entire life and essentially growing up with them, it almost feels like I knew these characters personally. Every time I turn a page, or start to re-read one of the books, I feel like I'm reunited with old friends. Another reason why I like them so much is, well, they pretty much taught me to read. Now, mind you, I've been reading comic books since I was around 4 years old, but Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone was the very first full-length novel that I ever read, and I was engrossed in it from the start. Of course, I was actually a Potter fan before I even started reading them; I used to listen to the books-on-tape of the first one all the time before I knew how to read, and that's why to this day I always picture Jim Dale's voice in my head when I read the books.

I first read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone when I was six years old, and fell in love with the series from the start. While not my favourite Potter book, it was the book that made me a reader and a die-hard fan, and I still get a chill of nostalgia when I pick it up and read that first chapter, the first chapter of a book I ever read. The follow-up, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is probabely the book I read the least in the series (mainly do to the fact I misplaced my copy many years ago), but I love in nonetheless. The elements of horror and suspense JK Rowling put into it always resonated with me, a life-long horror fan, and I hope to find my copy so I can re-read it soon. The third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my second-favourite book in the series), is the first book that I found really emotionally gripping, so much so that I felt genuine sadness many times while reading it; that's the mark of a truly brilliant writer. After that came Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is by far my favourite book in the series. The inclusion of the Triwizard Tournament made it a very fun read, it introduced one of my favourite characters (Mad-Eye Moody) and the ending where Voldemort returns and duels with Harry as the ghosts of his parents appear is still my favourite moment in the series. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth (and longest) book, is a very enjoyable read, but there are definately some very dull moments...but of course, you're bound to come across that when your book is well over 800 pages. The sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was certainly an improvement over the fifth book, and focused much more on character development and Tom Riddle's (Voldemort's) past, which made it a very interesting read, and my third-favourite book. Then, of course, came Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in this fantastic series. Reading this was a very bittersweet experiance for me. While it was an entertaining and engrossing read, like all the other books, the fact that it was the last installment in the series made me quite sad, sad to know that there would never be a time where I would find myself looking forward to another Potter book premiere. Sad to know that there would never be another moment of me begging my parents to rush me to the nearest book store so I can get the new adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. But mostly, it felt like I was saying a long, slow, sad goodbye to old friends, friends that I had known all my life. As I read on and reached the final chapter of the book, and read those last few words: "All is well", I found something very odd indeed fall onto the page: a single tear. It was an emotional moment, knowing that this was the last time I would see of these characters I had become so attached to. "Oh well," I thought, "At least I still have the movies to look forward to." Which brings us to said movies.

As I stated earlier, seeing the movies several times in theatres has become a bit of a tradition to me, ever since I saw The Sorceror's Stone when I was six years old. It was a feeling of relief, going back every year or so to see these characters again, to be engrossed in that magical world. Before the premiere of the last movie, I decided to re-watch the entire series again, so I can share my opinions of the franchise as a whole. The first film, Sorceror's Stone, was directed by Chris Columbus and released in 2001, shortly after I started reading the book for the first time. And I was astounded at how well they translated it from book to screen, particularly with the actors. I thought the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasely, and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger were some of the most perfect casting choices since Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins. These actors looked exactly like how I pictured them to look when I read the book, the only difference being that Daniel Radcliffe has blue eyes (not unlike my own), while Harry Potter was always described as having his mother's bright green eyes. But really, that's only a minor complaint. Other casting choices, like Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonnagal, and the late, great Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore were absolutely spot-on, and one of the many reasons why I think that one of the best attributes of this franchise is the casting (seriously, whoever the casting director was is a genius). It remains a childhood favourite of mine, and one that I can watch again and again without getting tired of it.

I was actually in for a nice treat in 2002 when I went to see The Chamber of Secrets with my family. We had gotten advanced passes, and were able to see it the day before it premiered. My god, what a great experiance that was. I'm one of the people who consider this to be better than it's predecessor, mainly due to the fact that it got the book's horror atmosphere down perfectly (the voice they used for the Basilisk was especially creepy). In addition to that, the casting of Kenneth Branagh (an excellent actor and pretty good director) as Gilderoy Lockhart was spot-on, and the portrayal of Dobby the House Elf was perfect. The aftermath of the film's release, however, was paved with tragedy. Acting legend Richard Harris, who had portrayed Albus Dumbledore so memorably, has passed away. In addition, Chris Columbus (director of the first two movies) left the franchise due to Harris' death and the stressful shooting schedule, saying "I had a wonderful time working with this cast and crew, but it got to the point where I barely had time to brush my teeth in the morning". The series' future was then cast into doubt.

In 2004, the franchise bounced back with The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is in my opinion the best film in the entire series. The new director was Alfonso Cuaron, who was most well-known for his sexually explicit film Y tu, Mama Tambien, and additions to the cast included Micheal Gambon, replacing Richard Harris as Dumbledore, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, and David Thewlis, giving the film's best performance as Professor Remus Lupin. Like the book, the film is emotionally driven, but the thing Cuaron did best was translating the book's creepy atmosphere. The highlight was definately the film's climax, which involved a werewolf and time-travel. Sadly, this was the only Potter film Alfonso Cuaron directed, but he left his mark on the series by making the best film.

The Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell, was released in 2005, and this was definately the one I was most looking forward to, given that it was my favourite book. While the film wasn't as good as The Prisoner of Azkaban, and it left out ALOT from the book, I actually find it to be the one with the most re-watch value. For some reason, this always tends to be the one that I can watch over and over again the most, and for a number of reasons. For one, the film has two fantastic additions to the cast: Brendan Gleeson, who was hilarious as Mad-Eye Moody, and David Tennant as Barty Crouch, Jr. (who was one of my favourite actors in the movie). Now, being a massive fan of Doctor Who, I was already a big David Tennant fan. In fact, he's by far my favourite Doctor, as well as my second favourite actor, so his presence in the movie is enough to give the movie a re-watch value.

Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, both directed by David Yates, are my least favourite films in the series, but I do like Prince alot as it's own movie. While it left out alot from the book (the epic battle at Hogwarts from the book is completely dropped from the movie), I love how it's completely driven by the actors. By far the most well-acted installment in the series, it has a particularly great performance by Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, who's emotional breakdown at the end of the movie is incredibley moving. This is also well-known as the movie where Dumbledore dies, a scene which is also done with great care. However, these two are the most forgettable in the series, but still solid films. In 2010, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was released, this time still directed by David Yates (the only Potter director who's helmed more than two installments). A vast improvement over the last two, this film was very slow-paced, and focused more on character development. While this was a very good adaptation of the first half of the book, I wish they could have included the subplot about Rita Skeeter's inflammatory biography of Dumbledore. But either way, they included all the important plot elements, and Dobby's death was done spectacularly (with an outstanding performance by Daniel Radcliffe), so I have no real complaints.

So now we finally get to the review of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Better than Goblet, but not as good as Azkaban, this is certainly one of the best films of the series, and done perfectly (although they left out some things that I was hoping they wouldn't). First, I'll get the negative aspects out of the way so I can focus more of the positive. The only real dissapointment I had was that they didn't show Fred Weasley's death. I know that seems odd, given that he and George were my favourite characters, but I feel like they should have done the character justice and made his death just as epic as it was in the books: Heroically fighting off several Death Eaters at once, he makes one final joke, and is killed by Bellatrix Lestrange; his body falls to the ground, and the camera pans up showing "The ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face" (as written in the book). Other than that one complaint, though, they really handled this movie perfectly. Between Neville being a complete badass (honestly, he's one of the best things about the movie), Mrs. Weasley killing Bellatrix (saying her famous line from the book), and Harry and Voldemort's epic fight scene, it was a real blast watching the movie. But the best scene, by far, is when Snape is killed, and Harry goes into the Pensieve and sees his memories; they reveal that Snape wasn't a cold-hearted monster who hated Harry, but that he was actually had an unrequited love for Harry's mother Lily, and that he killed Dumbledore because Dumbledore ordered him to. This scene was done perfectly, and actually started to get me choked up; and when it shows Snape finding Lily Potter's corpse, I full on cried. Not many movies make me do that (the last one I remember doing that to me was Chasing Amy), so I award major props to David Yates for making those scenes as emotional as they needed to be. Overall, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is a perfect end to a great series, and almost like a chapter of my own life ending. It's sad to know that there will never be another Potter book or movie, but it gives me great joy to see both the book series and the movie franchise ending on high notes.

All Is Well


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