Harry Potter: A Deathly Analysis

27 Jun

Originally published on B Channel News, Summer 2011 by Ed Sum. This article is reprinted here for archival purposes and revised to revisit where this franchise may go now that the films are over.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The cinematic translation of the Harry Potter saga is one of those franchises that almost succeeded in staying fresh. It’s more of a worthwhile experience to watch the entire video series back-to-back than trying to watch each film separately. The overall charm of the series is that there are small plot points that can be found which contributes to the larger narrative. But when director David Yates has other ideas, to see that he doesn’t continue from these story elements can get problematical.

About thirty minutes from each movie, from Philosopher’s Stone on, is part of the larger story–this narrative is the story of Voldemort’s resurrection to power. The rest of the time is the story of Harry Potter becoming a man.

Before watching Deathly Hallows Part Two, viewers have to remember what happened in Part One. In Part Two, the first scene ominously opens with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) claiming the most powerful wand in the Potter-verse–if that’s forgotten, well, it doesn’t take long to know why: the Elder Wand is the like of the Spear of Destiny. Those who possess it will rule the Earth. Voldemort wants to use it to rule over death.

Typically a sequel will begin by recapping the story for the audience. In the case of Deathly Hallows, it begins in the middle of the story. Perhaps a compilation edit will be released down the road that will bridge the two stories together.

Splitting up the film was a wise idea, just to give audiences time to breathe, but when the second film basically encompasses the last few chapters of the book, there were liberties taken to make this film run 130min. Some details were extended, and others shortened. The final product felt like Lord of the Rings with parts from book two and three being ripped out.

By itself, this film moves from one set piece to another and finally to Hogwarts, where most of the violence gets tamed down for a PG-13 audience. The war to end all wars should be wrought with horror and grief, be quick but brutal and yet, filled with tiny episodes to show how everyone is coping. None of that is felt, and nearly everyone was numb with distress rather than feeling the rage within.

The emotions displayed in the battle should’ve been like when Harry shed his last tear for Sirius, during Order of the Phoenix. The epic battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort looks superb in comparison to what was done in Deathly Hallows. The effort that Yates put in his earlier film is better. To have him continue steering the last four films helped build a consistent tone, but somewhere along the line, the energy to creatively continue on was lost.

deathly-hallows2-lord-voldemort-poster3

An important plot element in how Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort, was unloved by his family and pitied by Potter is forgotten in favour of an all out grudge match. Harry was hoping for an ounce of remorse from Riddle in the books, and that’s one detail that the final film decidedly removed.

Another problem is in how the secondary cast is treated. The subplot about Neville Longbottom’s role in the series was toned down. To see him slay the dragon didn’t have any meaning. Some reminders could’ve helped the viewer to give it context. Author J.K. Rowling did a better job of juggling a complex storyline in her books than cinema writers Michael Goldenberg or Steve Kloves ever could. It was either Goldenberg or Kloves that handled the movie adaptation for the last four films.

At least the transition of who owns the Elder Wand is marginally glossed upon. When considering how often wand-maker Ollivander has noted that the wand chooses its master, that’s one detail that isn’t forgotten. Actions speak louder than words in this case, and it’s a detail that’s thankfully kept.

But to truly appreciate Harry Potter and the “Seven Book” saga, Warner Bros. should’ve considered creating a seven-year epic on television than a ten-year journey on film. It would take less time and 26 episodes per season to round out the books. The shorter books might take fewer episodes to retell and the longer books can take more. Also, multiple directors and producers could be involved in the process. Depending on the treatment, some series have lasted beyond 12 years on air. An epic drama like this one could have that affect. With the Potter-verse now permanently engrained upon pop culture with theme parks and a hint from J.K. Rowling that she may revisit this world with a spinoff last April, the possibilities can be anything. Either Harry’s kids will get their own adventures or Neville Longbottom will get the proper character treatment he deserves. After all, he was born at the same time, to learn that he has his own destiny to fulfill can be terrific.

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