Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Second Part of the Seventh Part of Something

We are not, strictly speaking, the world's largest Harry Potter fans. We have not read the books, and we didn't start watching these in the theater until the third movie. Similarly, while we have seen every Harry Potter film, we've seen each of them once. They are neither our favorite movies, nor our favorite genre films.

But, as geeks, they have certainly been good to us.

There can be little debate that the movies have been solid from the start, and further that they've improved over time. No other film series has managed half as many entries without at least one major misstep. Likewise, the fact the series has endured eight films without major cast changes earns it a mark of respect.

As the weekend draws to a close, it appears that the finale to Potter will claim the title of highest grossing weekend of all time. And, frankly, it earned the honor. This is the best movie of the series and one of the best films of the year. It hits the right notes, and delivers an experience that is nostalgic, engaging, and dramatic.

It's worth taking a moment to reflect on the rarity of a film series ending on its highest note. This is incredibly rare in film. In fact, we're at a loss to think of another case where more than two good movies culminated in a finale superior to its predecessors.

Both the Star Wars trilogy (we're doing Lucas the favor of ignoring the prequels entirely) and Lord of the Rings were good throughout (in fact, were quite a bit better than the Potter series), but both ended with films that fell short of their predecessors. The issue seems to come down to pandering: whether it's the Ewok village or a computer-rendered Legolas killing an oliphant and sliding down its trunk, these movies have a way of dating themselves.

But the end of Harry Potter contained nothing of the sort. In a sense, the series had gotten that out of the way during the first few installments. It had, to put it another way, grown out of it. Nothing campy was left; no matter how ostensibly silly aspects concept might have been, the producers accepted them and treated them seriously. The goblins, trolls, giant spiders, and dragons were elements of the setting and plot, but the film focused on the drama of the characters' lives.

If more genre films were made this way, our theaters would be a far better place.

The best scenes are small moments. Characters reacting to revelations realistically. Young characters we've watched for years finally growing up and coming into their own, while older characters let down their guard and show where they really stand and how they feel.

The fights are also good, though they certainly could have been better. If there's one area that could have been improved, this is likely it: the war was closer in scale to what we've seen in the Narnia movies than the Lord of the Rings. But the emotions were closer to the latter, which is far more important in the long run.

On a five star scale against nothing less than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows earns four. This is certainly the best live-action film we've seen this summer, and comes close to overtaking Kung Fu Panda 2 as best overall.

We'd tell you it's worth seeing this, but there's little point: we've seen the box-office estimates for the weekend, and odds are you've already gone.


Cybil Solyn said...

As someone who read all the books. The problems you have with the final film is the same in the book and among my biggest complaints with the series. Characters are bumped off with almost no one noticing or caring, and the battle kind of just happens all over the place in a montage fashion. I actually felt, like LOTR, that the film did a much better job pulling it all together and showing us the highlights. I also now understand the plot better. And I READ all the books! Great review.

Jennifer said...

Personally, I'm a HUGE Harry Potter fan (like the kind who listens to Wizard Rock and has read every book at least twice and the earlier ones more like 5-8 times each).

For me, I'd order the films like this:

Order of the Phoenix (almost pitch-perfect)
Deathly Hallows 1 (perfect pacing, cinematography, faithful to book, tense, etc.)
Azkaban (really interesting cinematography, got the book just right)
Deathly Hallows 2 (really great in most ways, but failed to capture the tension and excitement of the Battle for Hogwarts)
Half-Blood Prince (good, solid, not-insulting to the book)

All the others were either too childlike (1 and 2) or completely insulted the intelligence of the source material in some way (Goblet - in which gender stereotypes are added willy-nilly to the Harry Potter universe)

I STRONGLY recommend reading the books, too. The first two are sort of like nice Roald Dahl children's stories. Azkaban starts to get really good, then by 4-7 you've got some of the best fantasy ever written. Order of the Phoenix is one of the best dystopian scenarios I've ever read, just set in a school.

I think by reading the books you can appreciate the films more, but also see where they missed out on potentially amazing sequences. The Molly/Bellatrix fight for example was AMAZING in the book and kind of "meh" on-screen.

Anyway, I hope you check them out.

- Jen