Posted by: Ken Brown | July 13, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des TodesImages copyright Warner Brothers.

Love is stronger than death. – Unknown

The power of love over death has been a major theme of Harry Potter ever since his mother’s self-sacrifice first saved Harry’s life and caused Voldemort’s initial downfall. Throughout the series, Harry’s love for and trust in his friends were also critical in many of their narrow escapes and victories, though cruelly exploited in the Order of the Phoenix. In fact, the whole thrust of the series can be seen as a profound meditation on what it means to truly overcome death, and this theme comes to a head in the Deathly Hallows (or die Heiligtümer des Todes, since I watched it in German).

Without giving any Part 2 spoilers for the sake of the one or two people left in the world who haven’t read the book, the film admirably emphasizes the power of self-sacrificial love. This is seen not only in the resolution of various love-interests (and I’m convinced that showing that love wins out is one of the major purposes of the infamous epilogue), but most especially in the climactic scenes involving Harry, Voldemort and a professor who will go unnamed. No, the film does not quite live up to the book in the latter case, but it comes close enough.

That love is stronger than death does not, in this story, mean that no one dies, but that love wins out through death, indeed that love is most perfectly expressed through bravely facing death for the sake of one’s friends, not cowardly killing to preserve one’s own life. This is, of course, one of the many ways that Harry Potter reflects the Christian story, and it is embodied not only in the climax of the the Deathly Hallows but also in the scene from Part 1 involving the Slytherine Horcrux and the cross-shaped Sword of Gryffindore. Closely mirroring a baptism, here it is only by diving to the depths of the deathly cold pool that the sword can be retrieved and evil destroyed. Harry cannot save himself in this instance, but must be saved by another, as he so often was before, just as he also does for others. One could hardly find a better image of the communal nature of salvation.

Thus it was especially satisfying to see both halves of the film back to back (our theater played them as a double-feature, with the second half beginning at midnight). I haven’t been in as full and enthusiastic a theater since The Return of the King, and the audience clapped and cheered and laughed out loud on numerous occasions. Between the two halves, they fit in most everything important from the book, with just a handful of explicit changes, many intended (it seems) simply to limit the amount of time the characters spent under the Cloak of Invisibility or disguised with Polyjuice Potion. Logically, this strains the credibility of the plot a bit, but emotionally you really want to be able to see your character’s faces, so I don’t begrudge them the change. That they expanded many of the duels is also understandable, though somewhat unbelievable in a world in which one unblockable curse can end any fight in a second (though the same complaint could be raised about the books as well).

A few of the other changes were less necessary and therefore puzzling (for instance, why move the Voldemort-Snape scene from the Shrieking Shack to the boathouse?), but all around they were much more faithful to the book than any other adaptation I’ve seen. The main thing to get cut down was the material about Dumbledore’s past and Harry’s resulting doubts, which left the King’s Cross scene less moving than it should have been, but it didn’t overly detract from the story. The only change that really bothered me involved Voldemort’s use of the Elder Wand in the final battle, but now I’m getting too close to spoilers, so I’d better move on to more technical aspects of the film (feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments though!).

The acting was all around very good, as was clear even through the excellent German translation. Germans are quite proud of their dubbing, and rightly so. The voice actors all fit and did an outstanding job, and the only time I even noticed the dubbing was in the opening scene of Part 1 with its extreme close-up of the Minister of Magic giving a speech. There were a couple of scenes where I found the German difficult to follow, but I’m sure that says more about me than the film. There were also a couple of one-liners that I could understand in German, but would rather have heard in the original English. For instance, Molly Weasley’s last line (if you’ve read the book, you know which one I’m talking about) always seemed more deliciously startling in a series that almost everywhere else avoided profanity. It just doesn’t have the same punch in a foreign language.

Finally, as this was my first experience with modern 3D I should say a word about that as well. All around the 3D conversion seemed to be very well done, certainly better than I had been lead to expect of the genre. This was true not only of the full-blown action scenes but also of more mundane settings. The Gringotts sequence was particularly impressive in 3D, though sitting one row from the back of the theater significantly diminished the effect, since I could easily see the edges of the screen. I sat that far away intentionally, as did not want to risk a headache, but next time I would sit closer to the middle of the theater.

Whether because of this or despite it, I found the 3D overall more distracting than immersive, and it did not feel any more realistic than 2D. But neither did it feel boxy, and unlike some forms of 3D, I was able to look anywhere on the screen at any time, without finding it blurred or hard on the eyes. Our theater used Real-D 3D (without even charging extra for it!), and the glasses fit just fine over my normal ones. Certainly the 3D did not ruin the movie for me, nor was the picture too dark, but I wouldn’t have paid extra for it. Indeed with 3D or without, the special effects where phenomenal, and the action and magical warfare were every bit as exciting and imaginative as you could hope.

In short, it deserves every bit of the 97% it is currently getting on Rotten Tomatoes. It is exciting, moving, thrilling and at times hilarious,  and as brilliant and fitting a conclusion to the franchise as anyone could hope for, surpassed only by the book itself in scope and depth.

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Responses

  1. ‘why move the Voldemort-Snape scene from the Shrieking Shack to the boathouse’

    Perhaps they wanted to give him a nicer place in which to rot!

    It has always appalled me that the ‘infallible’ Ms Rowling could not let Christian forgiveness overcome her fear that her messianic little hero would have to share the honours with his Judas.

    PS They actually wanted to give Snape a death (post-Nagini) that had some beauty to it, like his life.

    • If that’s true about the reason for the shift in location then I appreciate it a lot more.

      But I’m not sure I understand your comment about forgiveness. Who was not forgiven who should have been? Certainly Snape is revealed to be a much, much more noble character than we ever realized, both in the book and the film, and his death only enhances that (in my opinion).

  2. Stuart Craig , the production designer on all the Potter films, gave a fascinating interview regarding Snape’s death and Alan Rickman’s profoundly moving interpretation of it. So yes, it’s true.

    And that’s my point. The filmmakers (and many filmgoers and readers) obviously cared more for her creation than Ms Rowling and her refusal to acknowledge Snape’s heroism until the excrescence that was ‘The Epilogue’ not only caused quite a vociferous backlash against her personally but in my opinion, undermined her hero fatally.

    In the book Harry shows no discernible reaction to The Prince’s Tale apart from the information regarding his own death. Snape’s body is not recovered and the only further mention of him in the main body of the book is during ‘King’s Cross’ where Harry still refers to him with, what reads as, his habitual disrespect.

    We forgave Snape, Harry did not. Or rather Ms Rowling could not because it would have intruded upon the rather protracted and (as Snape would have expressed it), vomit-inducing Potter lovefest that ensues.

    • That’s a bit harsh.

      I’ll grant the point about the recovery of the body. Though Rowling says precious little at all about the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts, she does note the recovery of other bodies, so that’s pretty inexcusable.

      I must confess haven’t noticed Harry’s “habitual disrespect” in the King’s Cross scene, though perhaps I just missed it (I don’t have the book at hand), but even if there it would hardly be surprising after the man’s cruel treatment of Harry for the previous seven years (which still occurred, despite Snape’s love for Lilly). And in any case, that is not the last we hear of him before the epilogue. Unless my memory has completely failed me, Harry and Voldemort themselves discuss Snape in the final battle, with Harry telling him that “Snape was never yours.”

      The Prince’s Tale gives us a much more well-rounded and sympathetic view of the man (it is, after all, his own!), but does not eliminate the more problematic aspects of his personality. That is not, of course, an argument that Snape did not deserve forgiveness (the whole point of forgiveness is that there is something to forgive, and Harry was not innocent in their relationship either!), but even with so dramatic a revelation as that, one can hardly expect Potter’s attitude toward the man to completely change in a moment, though upon later reflection it clearly did.

      We may not like the Epilogue (for other reasons), but it IS a constituent part of the book and leaves no doubt about Harry’s final opinion of Snape: “the bravest man I ever knew.” Like Dumbledore, Snape was an imperfect but ultimately very great man, not just in our opinions, but also in Potter’s (judging by the naming of his son).

  3. hey Ken!
    i like your article!
    remind me what was different in the end about the Elder Wand?
    i read the books so long ago and i JUST saw the final movie last night, so its been a while.
    i have been away from the books for a long time, but what i remember is all the emotion leading up to what happened at the end, and in the final battle.
    i just felt that the last few movies (especially 6) were very rushed to get all of the action out in the movies and a lot of the emotion was dropped or just hightened prematurely.
    not that i didnt like the movies, i just remember the feeling i was getting when i read the books, and the movies just didnt do that for me.
    you’re right about the inner monologue though, maybe thats what i was missing.
    anyway, all in all, i DID like the movie, but i wouldnt recommend watching the movies as a substitute to reading the books.
    maybe i would with Lord of the Rings just because those movies were so well done and the books can take a long time to read.
    i felt this especially when i saw the 3rd movie. even though the 3rd was my favorite movie, i felt the humor all of the sudden dropped from the movies, and along with the characters being wizards, it seemed to have taken a little bit of the human element out of it; a reminder that they are the same as us, they can just use a wand.

    so thanks for your words!
    maybe you can review The Hunger Games next!
    those books were good, but the Abarat Series by Clive Barker is really where its at. most of the public just has never heard of Abarat, but its definitely a great young adult read.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      As for the elder wand: in the book it is made clear that it never fully worked for Voldemort because it had already “chosen” Harry, when he disarmed Malfoy (they did at least retain Olivander’s line: “The wand chooses the wizard”), and therefore it never actually killed Harry at all, but only the bit of Voldemort’s soul attached to him. What they changed though, first, is that they skipped over the way that Harry choosing to die for his friends (even though the killing curse failed) did the same thing for everyone in Hogwarts that his mother had done for him: ensured that Voldemort could not hurt them. Thus, in the book, all of Voldemort’s spells fail after this (especially when he sets the sorting hat on fire to try to kill Nevill, who emerges unharmed). It was a nice way of rounding off the series and emphasizing the power of self-sacrificial love, and it largely disappears from the movie.

      That said, I actually rather like the second change: that they had Harry destroy the Elder Wand in the end, rather than bury it with Dumbledore as in the book. It did annoy me at first that he didn’t fix his original wand with it first, but it offers a bit clearer symbolism of the refusal of illegitimate power, not to mention being sensible after he had already seen that a tomb was no hindrance to someone really bent on claiming the wand for himself.

      As for the Hunger Games: I’ve read all three books and mostly enjoyed them, but I’m not sure I have anything profound to say about them. The premise was interesting and offers a nice critique on our tolerance of blood-lust for “entertainment” and our willingness to ignore or rationalized the victims sacrificed in the name of peace, but I found the main character a bit grating and the love triangle unconvincing.


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