I had two immediate thoughts when the credits rolled: I have to see this again and I can't believe it's over.
Beware: this review is
I'm not what you might call a hard-core Harry Potter fan. I don't own anything with Gryffindor's colors on it, or have my own wand. I've never written or read any HP fanfiction. And I've only seen the movies previous to this latest pair (meaning HP7 parts 1 &2) once or twice each. I have, however, re-read the books (all of them) multiple times, the seventh one receiving the most repeat visits, because once I began, the storytelling prowess of J.K. Rowling owned me.
I wasn't an easy sell, mind you.
I held out, thinking there's no way this could all live up to the hype. I purposely didn't read because everyone else was. And then, one day, I gave in. I don't know what did it, really. Curiosity, perhaps. The fifth book was out, and I'm not sure how many movies had been made by that time, but I decided to give it all a go. I read the first three books inside of a week. The fourth was checked out at the library, so I went to a used book store to buy it because I couldn't wait for whoever it was that dared impede my continuation of this saga to return it. I finished that book in two days, then got the fifth from the library and when I finished I found myself -- along with half the world -- dying of anticipation with the 6th and 7th books.
I had quite a movie night when I decided to catch up with the films as well. The thing I found fascinating was that even with the necessary editing and summarizing of details, characters, and scenes, each movie held up to the heart of the story J.K. Rowling laid out for us. As with any adaptation, there are things I loved about the books that I was disappointed not seeing in the movies -- but never to the extent that it ruined the entertainment factor.
Even my least favorite book -- The Half-Blood Prince -- became an enthralling movie. The way the entire creative crew behind these 8 films have brought this world to life is...well, magical. As the stories grew darker, so did the sets, the costumes, the lighting -- even Hogwarts itself. Everything was visceral and living and made us forget for those hours we sat watching that this wasn't actually real. The soundtrack evolved as well. The first few had almost a music-box like lilt to the theme, but by this latest outing, the heartbreaking sounds of cellos and violins were added, and the theme became deeper, more ominous.
I've always been a sucker for a damaged hero, and with Harry Potter Rowling gave me exactly the type of character I like to read. But while his name graces the franchise, the story isn't just about Harry -- it's about everyone who believes in him, everyone who stands by him and fights beside and because of him. And it's those characters who make this world such a rich, entertaining place.
The Deathly Hollows Part 2 was an epic culmination of 10 years of storytelling. I laughed, I cried.... I loved that not only were we able to stay with the same three actors who'd started this journey in the characters of Ron, Hermione, and Harry, but that we also had the same actors who played Neville, Seamus, Dean, Luna, Cho, Fred, George, Fleur.... Those kids grew up before our eyes. And to have the amazing talents of Maggie Smith playing McGonagall and Alan Rickman as Snape for every film.... It was truly like saying goodbye.
Daniel Radcliff has continued to engender my appreciation for how he brings this character to life. He shows us a Harry who is not overly arrogant or overtly humble. He's just a boy with a destiny he never asked for, yet is determined to see through for the sake of the greater good. And he's handicapped by this painful connection to the most evil, vile creature in his world. Yet he fights on with help of his two closest allies and best friends -- both of whom embody their characters wholly. I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at any of these three actors -- at least in the near future -- and not think, "Oh, wow! Ron/Hermione/Harry is in a different movie!"
The CGI effects -- like the multiplying spell in Bellatrix LeStrange's vault and the albino dragon in Gringotts that they use as a means of escape -- were fantastic in this film. In earlier films, there were times you could detect the man behind the curtain, so to speak. But here, if I didn't know better, I'd wonder why they didn't have 'dragon wrangler' listed in the credits. The protective shield of magic around Hogwarts, the wand works -- especially the green/red power surges from Harry and Voldemort's wands -- and the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-like ride through Gringotts were all wonderfully done.
The dialog remained witty and fresh -- even when it strayed from the parameters of the book. I especially like Ron's ad libs and facial expressions. From his reaction after seeing the bewitched goblin get roasted by the dragon ("Well, that's unfortunate!") to hauling ass around the corner in the Room of Requirement after Crabb (or was it Goyle?) set the place on fire. And I loved LOVED McGonagall's girlish, giddy, "I've always wanted to use that spell," after setting the stone guards in place around Hogwarts as well as Molly Weasley's, "Not my daughter, you bitch!" to Bellatrix before she zapped her into ash (Yay! Molly!).
Of the two kisses we saw, Ron and Hermione's was perfection. After everything they'd been through -- taking Deathly Hollows Part 1 into account with the 6 months of traveling and searching and Ron leaving and Hermione nearly giving him up for dead only for him to come back and then breaking out of Gringotts on a dragon before killing a Horcrux with the tooth from a dead Bassilix -- the kiss was perfectly timed and executed and...well, I'll admit it. I clapped.
But just a little.
And in all the movies, it's always been the moment Harry has been forced to overcome Voldemort's power and control that has grabbed my heart and clenched it tight. Like at the end of Order of the Phoenix, when Harry is writhing in pain on the floor of the Ministry of Magic as his friends look on in horror while Voldemort tries to take him over, I sat with my hand over my heart, waiting for Harry to tell the Dark Lord that he feels sorry for him because he'll never know love or friendship. These are simple themes, but in all of Rowling's magnitude of storytelling, they are the themes that bring an end to evil.
So in Deathly Hollows Part 2, the moments when Harry connected with Voldemort -- either by accident or of his own volition -- were captivating to me. I love how they're able to visually depict this link through edit and acting. It's just creepy enough and gives Harry -- this kid who has this impossible responsibility and destiny thrust upon his shoulders -- a vulnerability that I love.
I'm an emotional person, so crying during a movie is not all that 'out there' for me. I was forewarned to wear the waterproof mascara for this viewing, and I'm glad I listened. But the interesting thing is, I didn't cry in the places I thought I would, knowing the story as I did. The first time the tears welled surprised me the most because I didn't see it coming. I was waiting for the deaths of Fred and Tonks and Remus to hit me as they had when I read the book -- but, strangely, I wasn't as affected by those deaths in the movie. Perhaps those moments were rushed due to necessary pacing. *shrugs*
No, the first moment I choked up was after Harry appeared in the Great Hall and McGonagall chased off Snape. Voldemort's voice echoes through the school and everyone hears him say that if they give him Harry, they will be spared. For a moment, no one moves. And then a Slytherin student cries out, "What are you waiting for? Get him!"
Harry is standing alone, unprotected in the middle of the room. And then Ginny Weasley steps out in front of him. Soon after, Harry's friends and a few of the professors follow suit, but the moment Ginny puts herself in front of Harry, I felt the tears burn my eyes. Sure, Ginny is Harry's love interest, but to me it signified more than that -- he was worthy of their protection not because his name was Harry Potter, but because of who he was to them. What he'd done for them. Rowling had written us a hero and they treated him as such. *sniff*
The next moment I attribute to two things: Alan Rickman's amazing acting and Rowling's subtle way of peeling back the layers.
It started with the look on Harry's face when he goes to Snape who was bleeding to death from Nagini's (the snake) attack. This is the person Harry believes killed Dumbledore out of malice and a lust for power and yet, he looks so pained at Snape's suffering -- even before he knows the truth. Then later, Harry pours Snape's bottled tears into the pensieve, and he sees the real story -- how Snape loved his mother, Lilly, so much he begged Dumbledore to protect her, the utter heartbreak on Snape's face when he finds Lilly's body on the floor of Harry's nursery, how he clutched her to him and rocked with grief, the angry horror in Snape's voice when he realized that Dumbledore had been keeping Harry alive so that he could die at the "right moment" to defeat Voldemort, how Snape's patronus was the same as Lilly's and he'd been protecting Harry all this time....
I tell ya, I was a blubbering mess. That did NOT happen to me while reading the book.
But seeing Snape's story unfold before our eyes -- the unseen hero, the one mistaken for a villain for all these years -- my heart ached. This is storytelling at its best; this reveal of Snape's character wasn't a last minute Jodie Picoult-like twist. It was planned. From the first time someone had tried to hurt Harry at Hogwarts (Prof. Quirrell at the quiddich match) Snape had been protecting him while at the same time hiding behind the persona of hatred so that Voldemort would trust him and he could continue to work as a double agent. What a tragic figure -- alone, untrusted, unloved and yet...it was Snape who'd loved the purest, the longest. His love had saved Harry.
The third and final moment of tears (because after that point, I was breathless waiting to see what they were going to do next) was when Harry stumbled out of Dumbledore's office, the knowledge that he had to die etched on his face, and tells Hermione and Ron that he's giving himself up to Voldemort. His voice trembles as he says that there's a reason he can speak to snakes, that he can feel the horcruxes. He looks at Hermione and says he's known for awhile, and he thinks she has, too. Tears choking her voice, she tells him she'll come with him and wraps her arms around him in a desperate hug.
I ran out of napkins at that point and was trying not to sniff too loudly. The theme of the hero sacrificing for the good of the people has always gotten to me, but it was Hermione's offer and admission -- she knew part of Voldemort was trapped inside Harry, but didn't want to say it out loud because that would mean that she would lose one of her best friends and, by this point, only family -- that did me in. The movies did a wonderful job bringing to vivid life the bond between these three characters in such a way that despite knowing how it ended, I felt Hermione's fear of loss keenly.
The ensuing battle, as I said, left me breathless. The images of Hagrid carrying a seemingly dead Harry back to Hogwarts, of Harry and Voldemort locked in mortal combat, of Neville pulling the sword from the Sorting Hat and then heroically chopping the head from the snake and killing the last horcrux...they'll not be soon gone from memory.
This endless gushing is not to say that the series -- or this piece of it -- was perfect. There were details eliminated and folded, characters erased and streamlined. But whenever you take book to movie, you'll have the same. And there's no way a movie is going to fit every fan's preference for how the story "should have" been told. My only nit with this movie was that I wish the final battle between Harry and Voldemort had taken place in the Great Hall in front of everyone -- as it did in the book. Or if not in the Great Hall, at least have everyone see. Because there was something vindicating for me having all of those people who'd been fighting and bleeding and losing loved ones see that Harry was the Chosen One for a reason.
But that is one small point in a world that has kept me entertained for years -- and will for years to come. I am already looking forward to when my daughter will be old enough I can share this with her. A very imaginative five, she might yet be too young to wrap her mind around the scarier parts. But the themes of honor, loyalty, friendship, and love are ones that I anticipate sharing with her as she grows into her own version of storyteller.
Until that time, I believe I'll re-read my favorites of the series (Books 4, 5, and 7) and make plans to do a Deathly Hollows double-header before Part 2 leaves the theater.