In life, as there are beginnings, endings come to everything. Reading a book, you can feel the block of unread pages getting thinner, approaching its conclusion, closing the cover on the alternate universe the author has created. You may return to that universe in a series of books featuring the same characters. Reading The Deathly Hallows, knowing it was the final Harry Potter book, took that away. J.K. Rowling approached her work with tender loving care, delivering a conclusion thoroughly satisfying without needing to write more.
On the other hand, Warner Bros. decided to settle the final book with a double-header, two-part feature film. Harry Potter has been Warners’ flagship franchise for the past ten years, and it is easy to accuse Warner of going for a cash cow bailout with the series concluding. Note that the Twilight franchise is taking the same approach for its final book. However, the plan to split the books into separate films emerged from pre-production on The Goblet Of Fire, fourth book and film, the first of the Potter books to become the bricks the series is known for. Also, it was shot back-to-back like The Lord Of The Rings films, treated as though was one film, appropriate considering it is just one book.
Skip this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers, for a synopsis does not work unless you include details from the previous books/films. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is dead, OKAY! As a result, Hogwarts is closed because of the increasing power of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters, and the entire world hangs in the balance. Of course, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is the only hope, and following the deaths of numerous friends, decides, alongside loyal Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), to take his own course of action. This course of action involving the destruction of Horcruxes, objects that Voldemort has embedded fragments of his soul in to achieve immortality.
Right now that the synopsis is done, we can get down to the big picture (literally and figuratively). For starters, Hogwarts is out! Although this is part of the books, it is a narrative change benefitting the film adaptation most. The Harry Potter series maintained an episodic feel to them, and on occasion became repetitive structureally. With the template changed, screenwriter Steve Kloves shines. As you can tell from the synopsis, there is a lot of ground to cover exposition wise. Kloves' screenplay is a lean machine, with the structure and exposition dealt with nigh on perfect. In the context of the fact that this is a two-parter, the decision to end the film where it did was excellent. Only Inception has given me a more satisfying ending all year. I went to see this with my fellow film critic (www.danlandmovies.blogspot.com - his blog looks far better too) and during our post-film discussion we spoke of the ending. No spoilers don't worry, but we both thought when the final shot came how good it would be to end at that point, and it did, so hats off to everyone there. Also, the incidental works as well as the expositional. The little interludes in the narrative offer great moments of respite, before we return to the impending doom. Dialogue in these scenes is wonderful. Kloves wrote all of the films bar the fifth, and obviously has an understanding of these characters. Although I'm sure he must be sick of Harry Potter considering the amount of hours he has put into the works (possibly as much as Rowling herself!), it pays off. Every piece of dialogue, despite the ‘fantastic’ plot, is as natural as any so called 'real' kitchen-sink drama.
Naturalism is an element that generally does not get used to describe the Harry Potter series, but it runs through both the book and the films. However, you get more of this element in the films, mostly because of the three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Everyone seems obsessed with the idea of the three growing in to the roles: does anyone remember that from the off, they were always right for the parts? It is the characters that have grown, and having an appropriate understanding of their onscreen alter egos, the three have adapted their versions of the characters. Radcliffe has always been the anchor of the series, being the protagonist after all. Here, his portrayal of Harry, full of both acceptance and doubts regarding his position in the wider scheme of things, is just great. Completely sinking into the role, we do often forget that we are watching Radcliffe, but instead watching Harry Potter. All things considered with the harder role, Radcliffe does a fantastic job, far better than most lead actors of a franchise or any film for that matter. Emma Watson portrays the determined Hermione with gusto. It is so easy to believe in her as Hermione, who thanks to Watson we accept as a fully rounded character. With Harry now centre stage as man of action Watson takes a more subtle approach to Hermione than before. Much has been made of the improvement of Rupert Grint as an actor. I don't think that this is the case, for he has always been good, but his character has changed. With Ron now more confident as opposed to playing second fiddle, Grint has relished for a number of films the opportunity to be more in the spotlight. His portrayal of Ron is the other end of Radcliffe's Harry, having all the same emotions with less baggage. Grint's Ron is just great. In the wake of these three, terrifically believable three-dimensional performances, it is easy to forget the fine ensemble cast so I'll mention Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and Brendan Gleeson. Oh, and hello to Jason Isaacs.
Director David Yates is a fine choice on the part of Davids Heyman and Barron to continue his work in the series. Potter has gone through three previous directors. Chris Columbus' direction of the first two films, while handling exposition well, had a tendency to drag on, and the incidental wasn't well-balanced. Alfonso Cuaron embedded The Prisoner Of Azkaban with dark undertones and terrific visuals. Mike Newell's The Goblet Of Fire was a fine balance of light and dark, although way overlong. Yates has directed all installments since The Order Of The Phoenix, with Potter having found its director. Prisoner Of Azkaban is often stated as the best, but Yates' work on The Half-Blood Prince and this arguably tops that work. Yates makes all the right artistic decisions for the project. Importantly, while they are fantastical films, Yates ensures that there is naturalism and familiarity, so that we inhabit a fully realised world. Also, in this film especially, there are brilliant realisations of Orwellian magnitude involving the Death Eater's takeover of the Ministry Of Magic. This political undertone adds yet another layer to the work. Each of these layers could not have been realised without Yates' direction.
Other elements worth mentioning include the fantastic cinematography by Eduardo Serra. Personally, I was impressed with Bruno Delbonnel's work on the last installment and disappointed by his not returning, but Serra's work paid off tenfold. His visual style is artistically interesting. There is a consistency to it, but he changes the work depending on the mood and nature of the scene he is shooting. Seeing as how I forgot to mention it earlier, he shoots a wonderful sequence where Harry and Hermione dance. With the resonating music of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds' 'O, Children', Serra and the band create a lovely self-contained scene, of which alongside the great animation scene, there are so many. The colour tones of the film are well balanced and contrasted. Although a bit of a smelting pot of cinematic tricks, such as the obligatory DV running scene, which is unbelievably nauseating, he shoots a great film.
Finally, time must be taken to speak positively of the overall mise-en-scene that we are presented. Stuart Craig, set designer of all of the previous films, creates some tremendous locations. The Orwellian Ministry Of Magic is a creation of genius that the great man himself would have loved in an adaptation of 1984. The textures and the walls look terrific and the statue placed upon people turned to stone is a brilliant idea. While this set stands out, the wedding tent at the Weasley's is also great. Another element that is great is the props and graphics. Newspaper clippings and public orders on the bounty placed on Harry Potter are well made, and you can almost feel everything the characters interact with. Last but not least, the costumes by Jany Temime must be mentioned. She has worked on the Potter films since Prisoner Of Azkaban, and has designed each costume appropriately for the characters. It feels as if the actors/characters have chosen their own wardrobe. Each wear their garbs in a world that has been masterfully created, and it is hard not to believe in the credibility of this Harry Potter film.
Considering my track record, you might be surprised, but I really loved the new Harry Potter. I've always liked them, but considering my tendencies to lean towards films such as No Country For Old Men, The Wrestler and Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (my three previous films of the year), this would usually be out the running for this year’s top 10: it isn't. However, there are a number of problems, not many, but enough of them to irk me. For starters, the film is incredibly inaccessible at times. I follow the series and was still lost on occasion. Saying that, like Inception, it does a terrific job of demanding our attention. However, my main problem is the score of the film written by Alexandre Desplat. Desplat has already fallen under my gaze this year for his score in The Special Relationship, a film I liked but a score I loathed. The score here isn't as loathsome, but it is incredibly irritating. It makes all the moves at the moments you expect it to. Also, it is intrusive in a number of the film's key moments. Most noticeable is during a 'rabble-rousing' speech by Ron, where Desplat takes a similar move as he did with The Special Relationship, injecting the venom of soaring violins and gradually building brass instruments. It denies the whole scene of scene credibility. I'm not using Desplat as scapegoat again because it's true. There are moments, such as the dance to 'O, Children' and a 'death' with no music and just the sound the weather and people that display good decisions made with regards to soundtrack. The choice of putting Desplat's contributions in these scenes is wrong considering the contribution isn't write to start with. Also, being a two-parter, the credibility of the work depends on the follow-up, and in a way by nature this film will inevitably be seen as 'setup' or 'exposition' rather than the great work it is.
For the most part, I loved the new Potter film. I wouldn't go so far to say it is a masterpiece, but it is the best of the Potter films and worth anyone’s time to see. The two-and-a-half hour running time sinks in like an hour-and-a-half long film. I was worried about potential toilet breaks, as I usually am with long movies in cinemas. Movies should be uninterrupted experiences, although if toilet breaks are necessary a pause button helps. No bother here, as I was thoroughly entertained by fine performances, solid and efficient direction, a grand screenplay and some the best cinematography and production all year round.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.9/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pretty pleased (both at the movie and a decent amount of sleep)