Up until last week I knew pretty much nothing about the Harry Potter series. I’ve never read the books, and while I went to the first couple of films when they were released, I couldn’t really remember all that much about them.
But with the series set to come to an end, and the fact that I want to appreciate the new ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ island in Universal Islands of Adventure, I decided to watch the first seven films over the course of a week in time to go and see the final part – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – upon its release at the cinema.
Now, doing this has caused a bit of a stir amongst my friends, family and acquaintances. Within moments of tweeting that I was at the film, I had a reply of ‘Saddo’ from one of my Football Manager researchers, while a mate of mine sent me a text saying “Oh what happens? Let me guess; Harry plays Quidditch, does some magic and beats V0ldemort at the end of the film. And someone good will die, and the ginger boy and Hermione will get married and have babies etc etc”. Other than that, my brother mockingly asks if the line “You’re a Wizard, Harry”
is said in each film, while my mum just looked at me with the sort of withering disdain you’d associate with someone being done for shoplifting for the 25th time.
The message was clear; Harry Potter isn’t considered ‘cool’ in the circles I operate in.
So it’s to these people that I write this review.
The Development of the Series
Watching all eight films in such a short space of time means I suppose that I’ve treated the films like one long continuous strand, a bit like watching a season of something like 24 on DVD over the course of a couple of days. So it’s a tad difficult to differentiate between the first seven films, compared to people who have read the books or have gone to all the films when they were first released at the cinema.
My impression of the series as a whole is that it starts off in a nice and whimsical way and probably aimed more at the kids market, but as the characters aged (and credit has to be given not only to young actors for doing such a good job growing up with the franchise, but also to the producers for having the nerve to keep the same cast throughout all 8 films), the core audience aged and the story progressed, it became increasingly dark.
By the time it got to Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows it felt like a completely different series than the ‘Wizarding World’ of the first couple of films. Gone were the gimmicks like Quidditch and flying cars, along with the ‘comedy’ facial expressions of Rupert Grint and childish scenes involving the morbidly obese Richard Griffiths (seriously…how is that man not dead?) In their place were some rather serious issues like dealing with death, destiny and the testing of friendships.
And indeed, from an artistic point of view the film was literally more grim as well. The bright colours of the early films were replaced by bleak darkness.
So What About the Film Itself?
I don’t want to spoil this film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, nor do I want to spoil the whole series for people who have yet to give any of them a chance, so I’ll avoid discussing the plot in detail.
But I have to say that this film was terrific.
Picking up right away from the end of the last film, there isn’t any wasted time. No lulls, no stalling – just solid writing and action all the way from beginning to end.
By this point in the series, we’ve come to know all the characters well – and not just the major ones either.
Almost every of them gets a good send-off and a completion to their individual story-arcs. Some of them are predictable (obviously the main villain will get his comeuppance and Harry will triumph) but others prove quite shocking.
Reading Wikipedia, it seems that the Deathly Hallows was written with the theme of death in mind (hardly surprising considering the name), and indeed death plays a major part. In some of the more recent Dr Who stories, the Doctor is regularly accused of leading people into battle, and ultimately to their deaths, to suit his own agenda. Well, the same sort of accusations are thrown at Harry Potter in this film. While the fight is between Harry and Lord Voldamort, the battle takes place on a far grander scale, involving hundreds of people on either side. And many characters – some loved, some hated – die. While a few of the deaths prove to be quite shocking, all of them provoke some kind of emotion from the viewer.
Over the course of the eight films, the viewer develops an emotional attachment to characters. In fairness, eight films amounts to around 18-20 hours of storytelling so it’s not that hard to do in theory, but then again, I had no attachment to any of the characters at all 10 days ago, so you have to give a lot of credit to the writer for making characters that the viewer can invest in quickly.
The special effects too are very impressive. In one of my recent reviews, I heavily criticised Transformers: Dark of the Moon for its over-reliance on special effects and visuals over substance (so much so that I got hate mail from a Special Effects Fan Boy, who suggested that by not liking the film, I was in fact ‘a homo’. Nice). Well, I stand by that, because this film proves that style and substance can work together. Top notch special effects combine with a strong plot and good acting. Despite being dark and grim looking (which is something I don’t usually like) it looks fantastic.
What I would say though is that having seen it in 2d, I saw nothing to suggest there was any need to go to a 3d showing. And I’ve read as much from people who have elected to see it in 3d. I say save yourself the money; see it in 2d.
Moving away from the visuals, I have to praise the quality of acting on display. Naturally, the fine supporting cast of experienced actors still outshine the main characters who are – to be fair – still young and reasonably inexperienced in spite of appearing in 8 films. But the three lead actors still do a nice job. Of the three of them, I would say that Rupert Grint is the best and probably has the brighest acting future. Yes, he still has a bit of comedy in his performance, but he’s developed a lot since the first films and he shows that there are more strings to his bow.
Away from the leads, the best performance – as has been the case in almost all the Potter films – belongs to Alan Rickman for his understated portrayal of Snape. Again, it has to be said that I haven’t read any of the books, but I read a comment the other day from someone who said that he felt Rickman brought the character of Snape to life better than any other actor could. Helena Bonham-Carter is also ridiculously over the top (in a good way) as Bellatrix LeStrange, and yet shows terrific diversity when she had to play the part of LeStrange being played by Hermione (if that confuses you, you’ll have to watch the film to see what I mean).
If I was going to complain about anything, I’d say that Draco Malfoy’s story arc wasn’t given a satisfactory conclusion, and I would have loved to have seen Delores Umbridge get her comeuppance (she doesn’t need to appear in this film at all, and should have been dealt with more effectively in Part 1). Apart from that, there were some things that didn’t make too much sense to me. For example, John Hurt turns up at the start of the film playing a character who I think we’re supposed to know, but who hadn’t appeared in any of the other films. (Update: It’s been pointed out to me that he was in the first film, and indeed had a very small cameo in Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now to me, I think that is an issue because even having only watched the first film a week or so earlier, I hadn’t remembered who Hurt’s character was, so what chance do non fanatical viewers who saw the first film years ago have?)
The problem, as I’m lead to believe is the case, is that in translating the rather long books into two-and-a-half hour films, some plot points get left out/glossed over, meaning that sometimes things feel a bit confused and/or rushed. But those incidents are said to be few and far between.
Should You Go and See Deathly Hallows – Part 2?
Put it this way…anyone who has seen the first seven films will go and see this. So the question is moot.
The real question here is whether or not you should watch the Harry Potter series as a whole, because there’s no point in seeing this film if you haven’t seen what comes before it. As a stand-alone film it’s probably as confusing as an Ian Levine influenced 1980s Doctor Who story. You won’t have a clue who people are or what it happening as it relies heavily on continuity.
No, you shouldn’t see this film if you’ve seen none of the other ones. But you should absolutely watch the other ones and then come to see this.
From a psychological standpoint, people often attack forms of entertainment that they understand to be popular but aren’t known to them. Kids in the 90s would be massively critical of Dr Who because it wasn’t on TV. Similarly, stuff like wrestling comes in and out of fashion every few years. Well, the Harry Potter series is the same. It seems to me that people either love it (sometimes to almost fanatical degrees) or – without having ever seen it or read it – hate it with a passion.
I would urge people to at least give the films a go. I personally really enjoyed them, but I won’t be joining in a game of makey-up Quidditch – like some weird people do – any time soon. Nor will I dress up as a wizard. And most probably I won’t read the books either.
But as a series of films, I found them very enjoyable and would say that they are well worth anyone’s time. And my theory is I’ve probably enjoyed them all the more by watching them together in such quick succession. For continuity reasons, it’s probably handy that I watched the earlier films in recent days rather than years ago, because there’s a need to understand the entire story towards the end of this film.
So for those people who criticise them, I say to you to watch them first and the chances are you’ll re-evaluate your opinion.
And for those of you who have seen the previous seven films, rest assured that this film brings everything to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. On the whole, I would say that of all eight films, this one was the very best.
A fine conclusion to the series.