The Cynical Optimist: Deathly Hallows Part 2

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Plot Synopsis: With ”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”, the eighth and final film in the Harry Potter saga, Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their quest of finding and destroying the Voldemort’s three remaining Horcruxes – items of a mystical nature responsible for the Dark Lord’s immortality.

[Spoilers Ahead...]

Review: The key to any great book-to-film adaptation lies in the film’s success at focusing and amplifying the emotions readers experience when they read the source material. By this measure, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have failed to produce a worthy adaptation of ”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the last book in J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, presented in two parts.

On second thought, labeling Yates’ film as a complete failure is a bit too harsh. No doubt ”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” will make hundreds of millions of dollars and delight casual and die-hard fans alike the world over. But then again, this film would make $800 million regardless of the quality of the content – it could be two hours of ”Murphy Brown” reruns and Harry Potter fans would still freak.

While the special effects are spectacular, the film fails to deliver on an emotional level – absent are the crescendos of heart and character that gave the book such weight. What the filmmakers have carelessly neglected are the sacrifices made by Harry Potter’s friends. It is through these sacrifices that Harry’s journey and ultimate destiny is given significance.

The sacrifices of beloved characters such as Fred Weasley, Tonks and Remus are simply glossed over as the film hurries on the heels of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Other characters we’ve come to love, like Hagrid, simply appear out of thin air with no explanation of their absence.

This is not a new happening in the cinematic world of Harry Potter, though – previous films have skipped over important story and character elements in service to Daniel Radcliffe’s titular character, and as a result much of the magic and heart of this book series is lost in translation to celluloid. In ”Deathly Hallows: Part 1”, the deaths of Hedwig, Mad-Eye Moody, and Dobby were similarly made insignificant.

The final book is rife with moments of emotion and excitement, from the Battle of Hogwarts to Neville Longbottom’s confrontation with Nagini to Molly Weasley’s wand duel with Bellatrix Lestrange – but these moments, when played out on screen, exist only for milliseconds. And here is the second crucial problem with the Harry Potter films – they do not stand on their own.

Unlike Peter Jackson’s ”Lord of the Rings” films, the source material is required reading to fully appreciate and understand the narrative and the motivations of the characters. By the time audiences reached the sixth film, ”Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, the narrative had grown too complex, riddled with plot holes as a result of neglecting subplots from the books – reading the books was not only recommended, it had become a necessity.

More often than not, these subplots are directly related to the title of the film  - the entire motivation for the story to continue! There’s barely mention of the Deathly Hallows themselves in this film, gone too are the backstories of Grindelwald, Dumbledore and Aberforth — elements I would consider crucial to fully appreciating the conclusion of Rowling’s epic yarn.

As I assumed in my review of Part 1, “I imagine the few remaining hours of Harry Potter will be just as rushed, halfhearted and empty. At the end of the day these films should be able to stand on their own, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that they can’t.”

Turns out I was right. ”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is a rushed, surface-level adaptation that fails to provide the catharsis and satisfaction I felt while reading the book. It is a serviceable summer blockbuster with some truly awe-inspiring computer graphics and set pieces, however, it consistently reminds the viewer of how much better their own imagination is; how much more powerful the story is when written in words, instead of special effects.

Bottom Line: The ”Harry Potter” films were rushed into production to take advantage of the popularity of the book series. When Peter Jackson undertook the task of adapting the ”Lord of the Rings”, the books had existed for nearly 50 years — and the filmmaker himself had a deep love for the source material. With these Harry Potter adaptations, Warner Bros. assembled directors and writers for hire essentially, people that could churn out screenplays and deliver huge tent-pole releases one after another.

I’m not saying the series has been a complete failure – I have found several of them to be enjoyable (the first two films are near perfect adaptations, while the third one is perhaps the most inspired of the bunch), but these past three films have been sloppy to say the least.

Final Thoughts: People will rave about how good this film is – some particularly psychotic individuals will suggest the film deserves an Academy Award, but this is not ”The Return of the King”, nor is it ”The Empire Strikes Back” — it ain’t even ”Avatar”, for Cameron’s sake.

”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is simply the end of a long series, and people tend to get overly sentimental when they’ve invested 10 years into a film franchise and watched the actors (and their characters) grow up on screen. People are willing to be less critical of something they’ve devoted themselves to – and I am no exception to this rule as a ”Star Wars” fan who has made excuses for the prequels in the past.

The main thing is, if you didn’t read the books you’ll miss out on the meaning of it all – if you did read the books, you’ll wonder where it all went.