When my father showed me the Star Wars trilogy nearly two decades ago, it made me want to be a filmmaker. I wanted to create that sense of awe, that sense of wonder. I wanted to make an audience feel what I felt the first time I witnessed the ignition of a lightsaber.
Or the flight of the Millennium Falcon.
Or the destruction of the Death Star.
That cringe of terror when Luke loses his hand in The Empire Strikes Back. The sting of sorrow when Yoda dies in The Return of the Jedi.
All these moments are etched into my memory, burned into my mind’s retina like a joyous, cinematic tattoo.
As I grew older, I had only one regret with the films: I wished I had been around when they were first released.
Imagine the awesome reaction from an audience heretofore unexposed to worlds such as Dagobah and Hoth. Imagine their wide-eyed smiles when effects, impossible years before, graced those enormous screens in front of them.
It must have been special to witness those three flicks upon their initial release, experiencing them with the rest of the world for the very first time.
Now, though, I feel as if I’ve been a part of something as monumental – if not more so – as the original Star Wars trilogy.
I speak, of course, of Harry Potter.
That same cringing, frightening, engrossing aspect that sucked me in so wholeheartedly during Star Wars was duplicated tenfold while reading J.K. Rowling’s modern literary masterpiece. (I say masterpiece as singular, for, make no mistake, while it’s a seven-parter, it fits together into one cohesive, extraordinarily well-thought-out piece).
And, being lucky enough to have grown up in these decades, with these technological marvels, we spoiled Children of Fantasy got to enjoy what every child growing up for the last 80 years yearned for: a rollicking visual interpretation of the literature we’d fallen in love with.
Really, we got two literary fantasies to froth at the mouth over: Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. And while I can’t speak for the kiddies who grew old with and studied the latter, I can say, from a mere peon’s perspective: those movies freakin’ rocked. Never read most of ‘em, but I can say their cinematic brethren blew the door wide open for fantasy films.
And yet…they didn’t supply me with the same connection I’ve had with the Harry Potter franchise. It’s obvious why: I read one series and not the other.
I read the The Sorcerer’s Stone when I was 12. Begrudgingly, I might add.
You know those articles over the last 10 years which have basically credited “Harry Potter” with singlehandedly ensuring a generation of kids and teenagers actually enjoy reading? Well, I’m one of those kids.
I hated reading with a passion. My father sensed this (he really is a smart man), and decided the best way to get me to read in my free time was to pick up some books at my middle school’s book fair.
I was hesitant.
He was my father.
Guess who won that one.
So he buys “The Sorcerer’s Stone”, “The Chamber of Secrets” and “The Prisoner of Azkaban” for me, and I go home, vowing never to read any of them.
Guess who won that one.
By the time “The Goblet of Fire” came out less than six months later, I had torn through all three books, captivated beyond belief by Rowling’s exciting and magical world. (It’s also important to point out that, during the grueling wait between the finish of “The Prisoner of Azkaban” and the release of “Goblet”, I read several more novels, including “Jurassic Park” and “The Hobbit”. My dad’s fiendish plan to make me more-than-literate had worked, damn him!)
So here I am, in the Fall of 2000. In love with movies, in love with Harry Potter, and about 50 pounds overweight. And then the announcement comes that Warner Brothers is releasing a movie… based on Harry Potter.
Not just one….but seven.
Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe. Oh wait, it’s because I’m a fat 13-year-old asthmatic.
There’s a certain sense of entitlement that comes with growing up in the age of a pop culture phenomenon: it makes you feel like it’s yours and always will be. You were there when it happened, were moved by it, engaged in it, in love with it. You found it before the masses fell over themselves in anarchic droves to be entranced by its spell.
And you had the inexplicably rapturous honor of recommending something to your friends they hadn’t heard of.
Do you know I remember watching the first trailer for The Sorcerer’s Stone? I remember sitting in the Brookland Middle School library, hunched over one of the few computer screens which had high-speed internet access (and how!), listening to the acid-tongued Uncle Vernon shout angrily at Harry “There’s no such thing as magic!” I remember thinking Vernon and Harry and Hagrid looked like mirror images of their literary descriptions. I can recall the spirited and spiritually uplifting John Williams music that was as bombastic as it was fitting.
And I remember thinking: wow. We’re getting a lot of these over the next ten years.
And now, ten years later, Newton’s Laws of (E)motion come to the forefront – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Or, more appropriately: for every ounce of happiness I got out of the Harry Potter novels – and their adaptations – there will be an ounce of sadness at the fact that the journey is almost over.
It feels like those ten years zipped by. The next books came and went, obviously; Rowling delivered on her promise of seven novels, Warner Brothers delivered on their promise of seven films (err…eight), and the directors, all talented, all unique, gave us Rowling’s vision along with a dash of their own. Boy, was it fun.
And boy, have these films grown.
It’s never more obvious than with the latest installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry, Ron & Hermione – along with the kids who’ve worshipped their characters – have sprouted into full-fledged adults, and the story envelopes them accordingly.
The Wizarding World is in disarray, and so, too, is our perception of what might happen as the story progresses. The comforting characters and familiar story-lines that were loved by us and protected the characters onscreen – Dumbledore, Hogwarts, Quidditch – have vanished, taking with them any remaining inkling of childhood our heroes had left. As if to visualize this with a striking metaphor, we see Hermione, in the opening moments, erase her entire existence from her parents’ memories to protect them from the impending wizarding war.
It’s poetic, it’s quiet, it’s unfair and it’s brutal – not to mention representative of the film as a whole. It’s also one of many brilliant scenes in The Deathly Hallows, an artistic work that is at times stoic, lightning-quick and utterly suspenseful. David Yates, the increasingly talented director of The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, seems to have grown in his abilities to helm a picture as much as these actors have at emoting.
Fitting that a series which began it’s first two installments under the guidance of one director should finish off the last three (er…four) under a similarly singular vision. Yates’ job couldn’t have been more difficult: he began his duties with adapting the longest in the series (Phoenix), but he’s also had the dubious honor of directing the novels that are by far the most adult in the series.
Take a minute to let the counter-intuitiveness sink in.
He had to direct the adult side of a series which began with a very childish demeanor.
Not saying Harry Potter was ever without its dark patches. We’re talking about a series which literally starts its chronology with the horrific betrayal and murder of the title character’s parents. (Inciting incidents don’t get more graphic than that! (“Machete” aside.))
And yet, Yates has done it. A man who had directed nary a major motion picture came aboard to carry Harry Potter all the way home three years ago, and he’s succeeded in every aspect, exploring the darker side of Rowling’s world in a way so poetic and cinematically captivating you have to wonder how he pulled it all off.
But to dismiss this or any of Yates’ entries as mere journeys through a Darkness on the Edge of Town would go against Rowling’s prose. She’s always found the whimsical side of everything, and Hallows is no exception. We get a lovely, understated dance scene between Harry and Hermione (an addition not found in the book, but it works as a cathartic mechanism), the trio’s signature banter (their chemistry at this point is flawless), and several fantastical (and fantastic) set pieces dripping with Rowling’s ironic tendencies.
Of course, every British actor who’s anybody returns, including the always-fantastic Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, and Brendan Gleeson as the growling, snarling Mad-Eye Moody. The deliciously evil Helena Bonham Carter positively oozes psychotic imbalance with her portrayal of Bellatrix, and Bill Nighy makes a welcome but regrettably short cameo appearance as the Minister of Magic.
Make no mistake, though, this movie belongs to Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.
The action continues to impress. One scene in particular is downright terrifying in its chaotic nature: at a family wedding, a beautiful, glowing blue light appears and, in a calm voice, warns the attendees that the ministry has fallen, the minister is dead, and, most horrifying of all, “They’re coming. They’re coming.”
Who is “they”? How did the Ministry fall?
And before the audience has a chance to let the weight of the situation take hold, all hell breaks loose. Spells fly, tents are torn, wizards are murdered.
Everything. Falls. Apart.
Because that, ladies and germs, is the meaning of The Deathly Hallows. Things fall apart, in every way possible. The government? Destroyed. The barrier between muggle and magic? Gone. The safe confines of Hogwarts? A thing of the past. And how about our faithful trio?
They apparate out of the ensuing madness, truly alone, save for each other.
It’s one of the most exhilarating action scenes I’ve ever witnessed, and instantly made me wish there was more of it. (Honestly, when’s the last time you saw an action set piece in a film and thought “that should have been longer”?) If this film has a standout asset – and trust me, there are a plethora of them – it’s its ability to have scenes be precisely as long as they need to be. Nothing drawn out or superfluous. To-the-point filmmaking at its finest.
One last thing. There’s a breathtaking animated sequence which serves as the visual element to a narrated story about the Three Deathly Hallows. It’s a testament to the inherent darkness of the last three films that, in the series’ only animated segment, the style is morbidly enchanting. It’s an absolutely stunning scene that, I imagine, looks incredible on IMAX.
So, is Hallows the best of the series? Hard to say, as I really enjoyed The Order of the Phoenix. But, as a faithful follower of Rowling’s unparalleled works, I prefer to look at these films in two parts: the first four and the last four. Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell gave us the blueprints for Hogwarts and introduced us to the main characters inhabiting the film world of Harry Potter, right up to the point Harry witnesses his first death at the end of The Goblet of Fire.
But David Yates, in taking the reigns for part 5 and beyond, gave us the rest. He saw our heroes build an army in Phoenix, lose their great philosophical guide in Half-Blood Prince, and, most importantly, embrace their adulthood – and all the lonely, heartbreaking moments that lie within – in The Deathly Hallows.
As Hallows, Part 2 looms, so does the end of an era. Those of us who read the books have already said goodbye to the world of Hogwarts, and all the witches and wizards we grew accustomed to within those walls. A second goodbye seems almost too cruel, but it’s a necessary reaction to the joyful action of having the movies in the first place. Were they always faithful? No, but they were there, they were fun, and they were true to the spirit of the novels.
And as a child who grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, witnessed the growth of a great author, and the birth of a fantasy movie franchise that has propelled a book series further and further into the lexicon of literary history, I can’t think of a more fitting tribute than that.
5 everlasting childhood memories out of 5