June 25th, 2011
Harry Potter – The End is Nigh
By Bernice Watson
Twenty-one years ago, on an otherwise unremarkable train journey from Manchester to London, a young woman named Jo Rowling suddenly envisioned a scruffy-haired, bespectacled boy wizard. With this moment of creative inspiration Harry Potter was born. Rowling began working on the first installment in the series that very evening and the first steps were taken towards a franchise that would take the world by storm.
Over two decades, seven best-selling books and seven blockbuster films later we now find ourselves rapidly approaching the release of the final installment in the filmic adaptations. This could quite possibly be the last we will ever see of Harry and friends.
Due to hit cinemas in the UK on July 15th, the second half of the two-part finale represents the end of an era. Of course, true fans already know how the story ends because the final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released back in July of 2007.
WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
It’s been four years since we found out that Harry defeats Lord Voldemort and goes on to live a full and happy life. Four years since all the mysteries were solved, red herrings dispatched and secrets revealed. Since then other franchises have risen to challenge the Potter Empire and, as the films lumber on in the wake of the books, one wonders if even the seemingly inexhaustible marketing machine that is Hollywood can stimulate the same level of interest that the series once enjoyed. It remains to be seen whether this film will be the entertainment high point of the year or just the last hurrah for a series that peaked in ’07.
Four years after the release of the first novel the inaugural film made it to the big screen in the UK. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone debuted in London on 4 November 2001. The film fell neatly between the release of the fourth and fifth books and comfortably rode the cresting wave of Potter-fever. Steven Spielberg initially negotiated to direct the film but eventually pulled out of the project. Spielberg wanted to do either an animated adaptation with Haley Joel Osment voicing Potter (cringe) or a single film that condensed multiple books (wince). Bullet dodged. Eventually director Chris Columbus (Home Alone 2, Mrs Doubtfire) would step up to the big chair for the first two films in the series.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opened to generally positive reviews. Audiences and critics alike were impressed and relieved by the care taken to keep the film as close as possible to the novel. There were points in the film where the American director was obvious. Certain somewhat cheesy interludes, particularly near the end of the film, did not seem in keeping with the tone of the novel. Some critics wistfully reflected on how different it would have been had, say, Tim Burton taken the reins. Although generally there’s no point in dwelling on what might have been it is certainly a compelling idea to consider for one moment. Overall however it was a successful transition for the characters and the story.
It is my personal opinion the filmic adaptations peaked with 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón’s contribution was darker, more emotionally resonant, haunting in places and visually enchanting. It took the series to a whole new level. Azkaban received an enthusiastic reception as critics and viewers alike appreciated Cuarón’s directorial style.
From Prisoner of Azkaban onwards every new Harry Potter film has aspired to dizzying new heights of excitement and the much coveted, often touted title of the ‘darkest one yet’. With each release promotional material screams that this Potter film will have you perched on the edge of your seat, awash in spine-tingling anticipation. The problem is that after ten years of ever-mounting Potter tension, and the last four years of Warner Brothers trying to maintain public interest in the series since the release of the last book, I think it’s drained my ability to care. I’ve become numb. The combination of already knowing (for some time now) how events will unfold and having experienced the film hype roughly every year for the last decade has left me fresh out of enthusiasm.
It’s not only audiences who may find themselves feeling tired in the face of another epic Potter cinematic extravaganza either. The actors too - were relieved to finally finish with a franchise that had dominated the last decade of their young lives. Not that any of the principle stars regretted being a part of the project - but they were all ready for new challenges or, in the case of Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), keen to get away and live an ‘ordinary’ life for a while. It seems like many people are eagerly anticipating the final film in the same way one looks forward to the end of a long and busy day. Not quite the impact Warner Brothers was looking for I’m sure.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, directed by David Yates (who also directed the previous two films in the series), opened to fairly favorable reviews. The criticism most often leveled at the penultimate film is that is tended to drag as we watched our three protagonists on the run from Voldemort and his cronies. Inevitably it felt like exactly what is was – a prelude. At times it struggled to stand on its own. Like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back the last film left our characters at the lowest point in the narrative, prepping audiences for the battle to come and the daunting challenges that face Harry, Ron and Hermione. Hopefully the sometimes slow pace of the penultimate film will serve to underscore the excitement and emotional high of the final. The calm before the proverbial storm.
So what can we expect from the final installment? Well, I guess the big show down between Harry and Voldemort is what most people are going to see. We’ve waited a very long time to see Harry put Voldemort on his arse and it’s finally going to happen. Brilliant. Apparently the ‘Battle of Hogwarts’ makes up a large part of the final film, speaking to Empire Magazine Daniel Radcliffe said, “The Battle of Hogwarts is basically the second half of the film.” Sounds good. We’ve all been waiting for it and I have high hopes that the action in Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is going to live up to expectations.
I’m predicting some fairly spectacular, big budget fight scenes complete with pyrotechnics and gasp-inducing stunts. Seeing Hogwarts as the scene of an epic battle between good and evil fought by magic is going to be awesome. Just seeing the iconic castle that has been home to the characters for so long being blown apart in the chaos is going to be like watching a beloved character die. It’ll be emotional.
I want to cry like a little girl when Fred Weasley dies and I want to feel fierce vindication when Molly Weasley beats the crap (magically) out of Bellatrix Lestrange. I’m especially looking forward to the delivery of the legendary Ellen Ripley-esque ‘Not my daughter, you bitch!’ line. In an interview with Empire Julie Walters said, “Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is Mrs. Weasley’s big moment. She’s right in the middle of the Battle of Hogwarts. The battle is huge, painful and heroic for her.”
So here we stand. The end is nigh. I hope that this final film lives up to all our expectations. When it’s all said and done I have no doubt there will come a sense of completion and closure but I can’t deny that this film does feel a little like the last leg in a long and tiring journey. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter in both its literary and filmic incarnations but even I’m starting to feel my enthusiasm flagging. The series has started to feel uncomfortably like it has missed its exit cue.
May this final film fill audiences with renewed passion for the story and characters and do justice to a series that has dominated the entertainment landscape for so long.