Hallow and Goodbye
I have gradually come to the conclusion that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books are essentially unfilmable. I know this is a bold statement, and one with which some circumstantial evidence (not to mention $6 billion worth of box office receipts) may seem to conflict. Nevertheless, I honestly feel that as entities in their own right, the films just don't stand up, and they exist only as companion pieces to the novels. The only film I've seen which approaches the quality of the source book is Prisoner of Azkaban, while most of the recent installments have fallen horribly short.
I think this is because Rowling's world is so rich and textured, and her plots and characters so detailed and intricate, that they simply don't lend themselves to any other medium. Lord knows I'm not the biggest fan of the books, but I'm bright enough to recognise that their success isn't wholly a fluke, and I did enjoy them all (even if Order of the Phoenix dragged on to a ridiculous degree) – so I have been able to keep track of the films, pretty much. My parents, on the other hand, haven't read the series and have emerged from each successive adaptation in a deeper state of bemusement.
I always wondered if this was just them, but as luck would have it there I was at the Putney Odeon tonight as the final credits rolled on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (the safe pair of hands responsible belong, as before, to David Yates) when I found myself sitting next to a woman who hadn't read any of the books either. I should point out that it was she who kicked off our discussion of what we thought of it, as I am not in the habit of initiating conversations with strange women at the cinema (or indeed anywhere else).
Well, I made various non-committal noises and averred that I didn't imagine anyone who hadn't read the books would 'get' the films. 'I haven't read any of the books,' she said. 'But if you just go in assuming there's going to be a big spectacular battle and that Harry's going to win in the end, it's enjoyable enough.'
I can't argue with that, and indeed, on those terms this film passes muster. But if you've never read the book and haven't seen the previous episode recently, you can forget about keeping track of what's going on. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his chums are in search of Plot Coupons which will help them get shot of the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, barring his nose). Having wandered all over the country last time out, this time (after a brief spot of bank robbery) they return to the wizard school at Hogwarts where they believe one of said coupons may be located. Voldemort and his followers are soon on the scene and a battle of truly epic proportions is clearly in the offing...
Hallows Two's origins as the second half of a very long book are really very obvious. Just as Hallows One didn't have a proper ending, this one doesn't have a proper beginning, and most of the rest is comprised of material that would really be the climax of a less grandiose project (it's sort of shapeless and perhaps a little repetitive). If you view the films as a single entity, then I suppose this makes sense, and as I said before it doesn't even attempt to stand up as a film in its own right – there's no recap, and it's assumed that the audience is entirely familiar with events from the first couple of films even though they're nearly a decade old now.
Even on these terms, though, is it any good? I don't know. The visuals are as spectacular as one could hope for – though given the budget these guys have to work with, that's hardly a surprise – and the Potter rep company are all present and doing sterling work, even if most of them have hugely diminished roles this time around (special commendation to Matthew Lewis for actually making an impression in such high-powered company). And, every now and then, and often when you least expect it, there are fleeting moments of genuine magic to be found.
As you might expect, not all of the book's plot makes it to the screen. Grimly predictable though it was following the excision of most of Voldemort's backstory from Half-Blood Prince, most of Dumbledore's history has got the chop from this one, and one suspects the revelations about Snape only stayed in because the plot demanded it. The decision to include the epilogue sequence from the book is, for once, questionable – it's unintentionally funny and the young leads just look like they're dressing up as adults. 'That was naff' piped up one young voice as the final credits rolled, although – who knows? – he may have been passing comment on the whole enterprise.
On the whole it really is just business as usual, albeit on a grander scale. The thing is, though, that there were sections of this film that – unsurprisingly – put me in mind of the final chapters of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Now, when both of those final films concluded I found myself genuinely struggling to maintain a properly stalwart and manly demeanour – but in this case, I found myself completely unmoved. I never invested in the cinematic version of these characters, never really cared about the story.
Wiser heads than mine have applauded this series for having things like proper characterisation and plotting and themes and atmosphere, and given the woeful standard of many FX-driven blockbusters this is not something to overlook. And, like all the other Harry Potter adaptations this one is polished and efficient. But that's really all it is.