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The magic of Harry Potter knows no bounds.
I’m sitting outside of a small, charmingly seedy movie theatre in Parry Sound, Canada (ten points to Gryffindor if you know where that is), when a man shouts from a passing van, “Harry dies!”
The four Canadian natives camped out next to me laugh as I retort, “Yeah, because we’re all waiting to see the movie to find out what happens.” Because NOBODY waiting for four hours to see the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 midnight premiere has read the books.
Even in a town as small as Parry Sound (population: about 6,500), where the guy who rips your movie ticket and the guy who owns the theater are the same person, devotion to the boy with the lightning scar isn’t hard to find. And that’s the beauty of Harry Potter: No matter where you were, you weren't alone July 14 as you ticked away those minutes until the lights went down and the final chapter rolled onto the screen.
I will be the first to admit that I do not like the Harry Potter movies. I’ve been a die-hard fan of the books since I was six years old, and I’ve never been able to separate the movies from J.K. Rowling’s pitch-perfect novels. I don’t like the acting, or the extreme liberties taken in the name of "poetic license." But of course that never stopped me from eagerly anticipating each film, even if I was doomed to be disappointed.
And while director David Yates’ track record with The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows – Part 1 had greatly lowered my expectations, I was more excited than ever for the conclusion to films that had defined more than a decade of my childhood.
At 10 p.m. the box office finally opens. Just past midnight the end begins. Two hours and five minutes later, when the credits roll, I’m stunned. Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is far from perfect, but for the first time since The Prisoner of Azkaban, plenty of the magic from Rowling’s pages makes it to the screen.
Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, with the evil Lord Voldemort taking the unbeatable Elder Wand from the tomb of HP hero and mentor, Albus Dumbledore. Having narrowly escaped death yet again, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must continue their hunt for the elusive Horcruxes, hidden objects that contain fragments of Voldemort’s soul -- his secret to immortality. Gone is all the beating around the bush that dragged down Part 1, the trio wastes no time getting down to business in Part 2. The action starts with a thrilling bank heist at Gringotts (complete with a head-spinning roller coaster ride to the underground vaults and a fire-breathing dragon) and ends in their return to school, sparking the epic battle at Hogwarts.
But the real weight of Deathly Hallows is Harry’s acceptance of his fate: that to defeat Voldemort, he has to sacrifice part of himself.
Deathly Hallows is the most intricate and complicated of the books, so it’s not surprising that a lot gets lost in the film translation. To tie up loose ends, Yates is forced to make quite a few changes that weren’t adequately explained in the previous movies, including giving Harry a Spidey-like sense for locating Horcruxes and smoothing over bumps in Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship. These attempts at simplifying the storyline work occasionally, but fail at pivotal points such as the King’s Cross scene that reunites Harry and Dumbledore. Screenwriter Steve Kloves’ script flows well enough, but he has a bad habit of overwriting and swapping out J.K. Rowling's trademark understatement for sappy Hollywood cornball.
The script does not give Ralph Fiennes much to work with in his portrayal of Voldemort. Though Fiennes’ version looks evil, he is the film’s greatest weakness. Rowling’s villain is cold, cruel and fearsome, but the Voldy in Part 2 is a joke. He speaks in an airy voice more suitable to Jack Sparrow, holds his wand like a conductor’s baton, and bestows a fatherly hug on Draco Malfoy. The real Voldemort doesn’t hug people.
Luckily for Potter fans and critics alike, there are more than enough good things to make up for the film’s deficits. Watson, Grint and even Radcliffe (whom I’ve never liked) deliver their strongest performances yet, supplemented by Neville Longbottom’s (Matthew Lewis) shining moments and the delightful return of Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall, who notes one student’s “particular proclivity for pyrotechnics.” Try saying that five times fast.
The HP special effects team worked overtime in this film, providing dazzling images as the witches and wizards of Hogwarts cast protective spells to save their school. The visual spectacle in Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is unmatched by any of the previous Potter films, taking us beyond the limits of our imaginations as we go deep into Gringotts, revisit the Chamber of Secrets, and witness a terrific scene in the Room of Requirement featuring cursed fire with flaming serpents and dragons. It’s a feast for the eyes.
What sets Deathly Hallows - Part 2 apart is the way it tugs at the heartstrings during a poignant rendition of my favorite part of the book: the revelation of Severus Snape’s true nature. Props to Alan Rickman for pulling off the impossible –- doing justice to the Prince’s Tale.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is the end of an era, marking the last time that we Potter fans wait in line at midnight for the next installment in Harry’s story, whether it be a book or a movie. The conclusion leaves a few things to be desired, but overall it’s a grand finale, and it accomplishes exactly what it’s supposed to: I cried when it ended.
Grade: **** 4 out of 5 asterisks
Photo: (below, click to enlarge) Taken by Gelareh Asayesh (my mom) outside the Strand Twin Theater in Parry Sound, Canada. In the photo, from left to right: Max Asayesh-Brown, 14 (my brother); Mina Asayesh-Brown, 17; Josiah Fincham, 17; Eva Fincham, 19; Heather Fleming, 20; Ada Jaworska, 20.