Saturday, August 31, 2013

Harry Potter 7.65 – Redemption

Harry Potter and the Green Lightning Part 2

Those who have been reading these Files for a long time may recall that I wasn’t exactly enamored of the first part to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I judged to be tedious, overly moody, and choppily filmed above all else.  The movie’s most egregious sin, lulling me and many of the saga’s other fans into extreme boredom and a state approaching slumber, I blamed squarely on the financially motivated decision to split the finale into two sections that each amounted to about 150 minutes instead of to release it as a single 3-hour presentation.  While Deathly Hallows Part 2, or HP 7.65 as I shall hence describe it, doesn’t quite make up for the stunning disappointment that was Part 1 and should have been condensed by half an hour, it admirably restores the series’ central appeal that the former two entries so unforgivably bastardized.  Emanating pure excitement, adventure, drama, and romance, HP 7.65 embodies the antithesis of its predecessor in every way and constitutes the pinnacle of a beloved fantasy series.

Resuming obviously from where Part 1 ended left off cheated audiences, this installment opens at Percy Weasley’s oceanside cottage, where Harry and his friends have paid their honors to Dobby and now enlist the service of a goblin named Griphook to infiltrate Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at the Gringotts bank, in which they expect to acquire and destroy another of Voldemort’s horcruxes.  After doing just that (and arousing an awesomely fearsome dragon in the process), the trio of young wizards return to Hogwarts, now commandeered by none other than the apparent traitor Severus Snape and an assortment of villainous vandals who have sworn allegiance to Voldemort.  Harry drives out the Death Eater swine and rallies the faithful members of Hogwarts to build a final, climactic defense against the Dark Lord and his army.  The good guys’ rush to eliminate all the horcruxes and the bad guys’ rush to kill the last impeding figure to Voldemort’s immortality culminate in a visually spectacular final battle which tests loyalties, leaves no family unscathed, and changes the wizarding world forevermore.

One of my biggest complaints about the first 65 hundredths of this conclusion was the overall lack of action and the complete incoherency of what little action existed, an illness that Part 2 graciously remedies.  Foregoing long walks in the woods, endless camping trips, and casual dances in the tent for dazzling wand duels, menacing fairy-tale creatures, and lots of destruction, this episode almost makes up for the abject boredom induced by HP 7.0 and harkens back to a time when Harry’s movies were designed to entertain, not to pontificate about… something – whatever the deep themes of Part 1 were supposed to be.  The cinematography is awe-inspiring, reveling in wide shots at magnificent castle structures nestled within grand, mountainous landscapes and allowing viewers to observe the flashy, fireworks-like conflict without the shaky and switchy camera so notorious in earlier entries, although I would contend that this movie has its own share of problems in the lighting department, being so literally dark and shadowed in the middle third that nighttime or basement viewing is pretty much required to enjoy it.  Nevertheless, HP 7.65 is undoubtedly the most visually striking and best conceived chapter in the series, using CGI to enhance rather than to undermine its effects and to create trolls, dragons, and serpents that give even the LOTR creatures a run for their money.  The makeup department deserves praise as well for transforming Ralph Fiennes into a demonic, snub-nosed force of evil and for creating a host of devious, sharp-nosed goblins.

Disregarding the action and spectacle, the storytelling especially raises HP 7.65 above the level of its forerunners.  More so than all the previous movies in the series, this one excellently develops the main characters so that they represent genuine, multi-dimensional heroes instead of just grumpy teenagers grappling with the pangs of love and, in Harry’s case, destiny’s call for him to be the Chosen One.  HP 7.65 gives clear purpose to Harry’s actions and consequences to his inaction, making this fight between good and evil far more weighty and emotionally satisfying than it has empirically proven.  Yet it’s the supporting players, particularly Alan Rickman’s Snape in the film’s most sophisticated and intriguing role, who leave the most impressive impact on viewers.  In what arguably constitutes one of the year’s best performances, Rickman impeccably captures the inner torment, passionate fury, and unbreakable loyalty that distinguish his character as the least obvious but most honorable hero in the series; amidst the turmoil and chaos of a climaxing war, Snape graces relatively few scenes in comparison to the main stars, but his brief time on camera leaves a more indelible mark on the franchise than Daniel Radcliffe could ever hope to impart.  Snape’s conflict illuminates a valuable message about the deceptive potential of surface appearances and strikes at the heart of Harry Potter’s faith that noble men may rise from the seemingly darkest of places.

To the elitist Oscar-voter who reviles fantasy and inquires, like Harry, “Is this real, or is it all in someone’s head?” I can only answer, like Dumbledore, “Of course it’s all in someone’s head, but why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”  Harry Potter 7.65 is exhilarating, extravagant, and eye-boggling entertainment that shrewdly reflects the real emotional struggles facing all people: the quest for personal glory, the temptations of unlimited power, the fear of death, the resistance against demons external and internal, the profound force of love and its ultimate triumph over evil. Such themes are the beauty of effective fantasy, and such themes are the beauty of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  If only it had a more beautiful name…

Grade rating: A-. It sweeps you off sure footing and leaves you gayer than an Albus Dumbledore.  Sorry, I had to throw that joke in somewhere.
Cumulative two-part rating: B.  Alas, like Revenge of the Sith to Attack of the Clones, this can only partially redeem the misery of its first half.

Unrelated movie note: Upon picking up and watching Oblivion on Blu-ray shortly after it was released, I found it to be even more entertaining and well made than I had originally thought in theaters.  It brilliantly captures all the elements that comprise great science-fiction, from beautiful effects and glorious atmosphere to mythical heroes and a mysterious, multi-layered plot.  Though not as thought-provoking as Tom Cruise's earlier sci-fi work Minority Report, it still broaches some intriguing themes of identity, the noble life, the search for objective truth, and the potential for men to do terrible things when they hold misguided perceptions of reality.  In light of Oblivion's smarter-than-average story and visual majesty (I never realized how stunning those clouds looked), I'm revising my original B grade to a B+.  So far it's the best movie I've seen of this year.*

* That the only other movie happens to be Man of Steel might be a factor in that judgment.

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