Warner Bros. // 2011 // 130 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // November 11th, 2011
"It all ends."
Not many movies could use the tagline "It all ends" without seeming a little too self-important, but if any film franchise of this century has earned that grandiosity, it's Harry Potter. As a longtime fan of both the books and the movies, I saw the finale in July with sky high expectations and was thrilled to have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Blu-ray) 3-Disc fulfill or surpass them all.
Picking up where the last year's Part 1 left off, this final installment begins with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, December Boys), Hermione (Emma Watson, The Tale of Despereaux), and Ron (Rupert Grint, Driving Lessons) desperate to close in on the last few Horcruxes that they must destroy before Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient) can truly be defeated. Their quest leads them, fittingly, back to the place it all began: Hogwarts, which is now under the violent rule of Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, Sweeney Todd) and his Death Eater cronies. Soon the trio, students, teachers, and the Order of the Phoenix band together within the castle to keep Voldemort and his army out, hoping to give Harry enough time to finish his quest and kill the man who threatens the entire wizarding world.
If none of that made a lick of sense, you've got a lot of homework to do before enjoying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2! This is not a film that will explain what's already happened. In fact, many plot points will remain incomprehensible to those who have only seen the films and haven't read the even-better books by J.K. Rowling.
Spoiler Alert! Now that so many people have seen the film, I'll be taking the opportunity that reviewers of the theatrical release didn't have to discuss it in full, all the way to the end.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is a near-perfect film. Critics, as well as fans, have been singing its praises for months now and while I could go on and on for pages about everything that's great about it, let's take most of that as a given and instead I'll dig in to a half-dozen scenes that shine the brightest from this finale. If you miss the ultra-comprehensive litany of praise, there's probably some software out there that will let you input a terms like "acting," "cinematography," "music" and then randomly generate effusively positive adjectives...
* Bellatrix, the Dewey-Eyed Schoolgirl
One of the most humorous scenes in a generally serious film occurs when Hermione uses Polyjuice Potion to disguise herself as the cruel and twisted Bellatrix Lestrange, hoping the impersonation will get them into Gringotts Bank. The ruse gives Helena Bonham-Carter another opportunity to delight Harry Potter audiences, but in a different way from her usual crazy sadist mode. Aided by a voiceover from Emma Watson, Bonham-Carter does a pitch-perfect impression of Watson's Hermione trying to do an impression of Bonham-Carter's Lestrange. It's a fabulous comedic turn and a great showcase for one of the series' most lively performers.
* Defending Hogwarts
Professor McGonagall's (Maggie Smith, Gosford Park) rousing triumph over Snape in the Great Hall is short-lived as Voldemort quickly announces his intention to storm the castle and seize Harry. The scene that follows provides one of those great moments in the genre where something utterly fantastical is happening on screen that nonetheless has a profound emotional resonance with our own world. As McGonagall calls forth the castle's statuary to defend it, with both strength and frailty in her voice, the adult characters we have come to know through the series raise their wands and chant into the night sky to create a luminous, all-too-thin magical barrier around the school. Molly Weasley, who has been a fierce and loving mother to so many of the kids, is there, as is Horace Slughorn, who seems to finally have made the "choice between what is right and what is easy." The score swells up with a very specific mood -- a feeling that the right side will prevail, but not without terrible losses -- and the film achieves a deeply emotional moment of good individuals coming together with a unity of purpose in dark times. It's a moment that surpasses the make-believe of walking statues and magic spells to fulfill a powerful desire in our own world's dark times.
Plus, Maggie Smith gets to giggle with girlish delight and say, "I've always wanted to use that spell."
* The Death of Severus Snape
When Voldemort finally turns on his right-hand man, Snape, and lets the snake Nagini finish him off, Alan Rickman gets a chance to express his characters real feelings -- so long hidden -- rather than just dripping venomous and carefully articulated lines as he walks the halls in billowing robes (not that we don't all enjoy that). Snape's moment of connection with Harry, the boy who looks at him through lost love Lily's eyes, is wonderfully sad. The flashbacks of his life that follow both enrich the previous death scene and set the stage for the next and most important "death" scene: Harry's.
* Ghosts in the Forest
As Harry walks through the Forbidden Forest to sacrifice his own life and enable the Dark Lord's destruction, a moving scene shows him using the Resurrection Stone to summon up visions of his dead loved ones: his father, his mother, Sirius, and the just-slain Lupin. It's a beautiful fantasy, that the people we've lost will return to us in our final moments, looking just as we remembered them, and walk with us to life's precipice. In many stories, such a scene could feel maudlin and overblown, but because Harry Potter has portrayed so many deaths in its protagonist's young life and has fully rendered each one, it really earns the emotion of this ghostly reunion. I was hearing a lot of sniffles from the audience during this scene when I saw it in the theater, my own included.
* Voldemort the Benevolent
There's a strange charm in the scene that shows Voldemort beginning his official reign over the wizarding world once he believes Harry Potter is dead. Far from being all fire and brimstone, he seems to be making a sincere effort to be at least vaguely benevolent, welcoming his inferior enemies into his fold. It's definitely funny -- especially when he gives Draco Malfoy history's most awkward hug -- but also reveals some nuance in the character and Fiennes' performance. Voldemort behaves not like a mustache-twirling villain, but like a man with weak morals who has just won the power he's been craving and goes about wielding it with more pragmatism than spite.
* Harry Rejects the Throne
As the film draws to a close and Voldemort's ashes drift away from the castle grounds, Harry does one last heroic thing: he breaks the Elder Wand in two, giving up its literal power and symbolically rejecting the political power he could surely seize after saving the world. It feels like a small act after all that's just happened, but it is one that speaks volumes about his character and about the solid values of the Harry Potter series itself. After Ron has just gotten excited about the wand's power and Harry tosses it into a deep valley, you can see Hermione look at Harry with an expression of admiration. I like to interpret this expression as, "Gee, maybe I should have picked him after all."
Though I don't include the controversial epilogue in my list here, I actually do like its concept, even if the effects used to age the young actors are only okay. Some fans were disappointed that Harry and the gang seemed to have settled in to comfortable middle-aged lives, but for the most part, they were never characters who craved adventure -- especially Harry and Hermione. They were characters who craved community and had adventure thrust upon them, even if they did very well under those conditions. J.K. Rowling puts it best: it's a good ending because Harry is "acting what Dumbledore preached and didn't live." He's embracing love and human connection, living out the values that saved his life as a baby and won his cause as a teenage hero.
Predictably, but gratefully, Warner Bros. has created a Blu-ray release for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 that is worthy of the film's quality in terms of both technical presentation and extras. The image is sharp with good contrast and an excellent rendering of this installment's drab color palette, evocative of war films (which it is, really). The DTS-HD Master Audio track presents the nuances of the excellent score just as well as it does the booming action sequences. Image and sound come together especially well in some of those action sequences, with the inferno in the Room of Requirement, for example, showcasing the audiovisual powers of both the Harry Potter crew and Blu-ray as a format. As with the past couple of films, the Blu-ray presentation far exceeds its included DVD counterpart, which looks dark and lacking in detail in comparison.
Special features start with the Maximum Movie Mode available on Disc One. As in Deathly Hallows, Part 1, this is basically a souped-up, multi-contributor alternative to a commentary track, wherein tons of cast and crew members appear onscreen standing next to the film's image as it runs and talk about different aspects of the production. They also make good use of extra-textual material, bringing in scenes from previous films to remind us of certain backstories or switching the image to behind-the-scenes featurettes that illuminate how the scene we're watching was created. Emma Watson pops in here and there to read synced-up passages from Rowling's book, which is especially nice. As in the last release, this feature is pretty cool and also gets wider participation from the cast this time around, which fans will love. There are far too many featurettes included within to go into detail on them, but suffice to say you'll learn loads about the production from all the content on this disc. A 3-minute segment of farewells from the cast and crew is also housed on Disc One.
The second Blu-ray disc has lots more goodies, the most substantive of which is a 53-minute conversation between Daniel Radcliffe and J.K. Rowling. The two are sweet together with a good rapport, and their discussion is wonderfully detailed, emphasizing how and when Rowling decided on particular plot points in the books and her thoughts on the casting (Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint are great, but all too attractive, she says), with sprinklings of Radcliffe's memories from the film productions. Rowling is especially gracious about changes the films have made with her material, accepting these much more maturely than some of her fans! Two more featurettes show us the casting and makeup process for all the goblins in Gringotts (11 minutes) and offer in-depth analysis on the series' female characters (23 minutes). The latter is particularly good, with Rowling demonstrating, once again, that she's quite a good feminist and speaking somewhat emotionally about her identification with Hermione and how she tried to create that character as a role model for a certain kind of girl who is underrepresented in our culture: "You see, I was a plain...bookish, freckly, bright little girl. I was a massive bookworm, and I spent a significant part of my reading looking for people like me." Seven minutes of deleted scenes mostly expand moments that are already in the film in other forms: the plan to get into Gringotts, the trio's meeting with Aberforth, the explosion of the wooden bridge, and Slytherin's confinement in the dungeon. The scenes also add some very brief additional moments of romance between Ginny and Harry and Ron and Hermione. The only one I think really should have been in the film itself is of Lupin and Tonks reuniting and embracing at Hogwarts just before their deaths. This disc also provides a playable demo for the second of two LEGO games about the franchise, initially dropping you down into Part 1's graveyard and letting you play as Harry or Hermione. Lastly, there are short previews for a Warner Bros. Studio tour of the Harry Potter sets in London and J.K. Rowling's new Web experience, Pottermore.
People seem to be up in arms about the digital copy that's included here, which is this UltraViolet streaming thing rather than an actually downloadable copy. I don't really make use of digital copies myself, yet, but it does sound like something to be annoyed about since one will have to be hooked up to WiFi to play it.
Even in a film this excellent, there are always a few nits to pick. It gets off to a bit of a slow start, it skips the lovely scene with Dumbledore's portrait from the book (too much exposition, I suppose), and it can't possibly do as good a job with Ron and Hermione's big kissing scene as Rowling did because the movies skipped Hermione's S.P.E.W. activism altogether -- which precipitated that kiss. There is also a small but greatly irritating addition of a romance between Neville and Luna that doesn't happen in Rowling's books. She, unlike screenwriter Steve Kloves (who I generally like very well), seems to be able to conceive of happy endings for her characters that don't necessitate every single one of them romantically pairing off.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 gives the series a truly worthy ending and reasserts the strength of a story that has now been with us for fourteen years. It's such a gift to have had this wonderful tale adapted so well for the screen, and I like to imagine showing them to my own kids and even grandkids someday...after they've read the books, of course!
Not guilty. For the last time, "mischief managed."
Review content copyright © 2011 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Maximum Movie Mode
* Deleted Scenes
* Playable Game Demo
* DVD Copy
* UltraViolet Copy
* Official Site