Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Harry Potter 7 Part 11

Reviewing Harry Potter 7 part II is like trying to describe my senior year of high school — almost impossible to do in 500 words or less — so I’ll begin with the simple observation that people with glasses should not watch 3D movies in the theater. Ever. That the latest craze sweeping the movie-going public is not designed

with the bespectacled in mind speaks volumes about how likely a given attendee is to see a preview or poster and exclaim, “Gee! I hope they did that in 3D!” — much less agree to pay $20 for the experience.
I was not actually looking forward to seeing this film as much as those who have been subject to my persistent Harry Potter references would think. There was so much that the makers could mess up. Like so many, I grew up with these books. The novels’ release, and the characters’ ages, proceeded at nearly the exact same pace as my own.
I have an emotional connection to the characters and their journeys; I remember the midnight release parties, the frantic need to finish each new volume as soon as possible, the slow realization that J.K. Rowling was serious and would not spare us the ugly reality of death or torture or bureaucracy, that none of the questions about who was good or bad were as simple as we thought, that someone I cared about could die. When I think of Harry Potter, I think of growing up, of how magical and exciting and scary it was and is.
When the movies were first released I didn’t like them, for the same reason that I don’t like wearing someone else’s sneakers. Even if they’re the correct size, they don’t feel right…they’re formed to someone else’s feet, not my own. The films did not conform to my imagination of Hogwarts, and that ruined the magic for me.
I expected this film to be the same as its predecessors, so I was surprised by how familiar and right it feels. The actors have grown with the characters too, and they’re more comfortable in them now, slipping into the scenes like putting on an old jacket, with an ease noticeably absent from the earlier films. Nowhere does that certainty show more than in the final installment. As one dude sitting behind me said as we left: “It’s been ten years, and it’s finally over.” The sense of achievement, of completion, is palpable, and I could feel it ripple across the crowd. It was done, and we were satisfied.
Watching the movies in short succession is particularly interesting. The first two years at Hogwarts are bright and magical; by the eighth movie, the film is practically black and white, desaturated of even the little color present in Part I. It mirrors the darkness of the world itself, all the magic and color of childhood drained, only stark reality left.
I skipped out on the theater experience for most of the previous movies, and I’m glad I didn’t for this one. Even though they left out parts of the book, or even blatantly changed others — Harry very explicitly didn’t say goodbye to Ron and Hermione; the Voldemort of the novels couldn’t feel his Horcruxes being destroyed; Harry and Voldy did not wrestle with each other while falling off a turret and inexplicably clawing at each others’ faces — all of the changes made sense in the interest of time, pace, or avoiding the stilted feeling that comes from following the book too closely.
Or they tied up ends not answered in the book, such as Neville’s crush on Luna. None were a source of outrage, and some were quite funny. After McGonagall brings the statues to life to defend Hogwarts, she quips rather cheekily, “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!”
I did wonder how in the world it would feel to watch this without actually knowing what was going to happen — in other words, for those who didn’t read the books. I’ve often thought that much was left unexplained because the filmmakers assumed we understood from reading the novels, and had more than one moment where I thought, “If I hadn’t read the books I’d have no clue what is going on.” The fourth film was particularly bad about that.
Luckily, I had my boyfriend with me, who has read the books, but also suffers from some odd brain malfunction that makes him like a goldfish: he can’t remember anything that hasn’t happened within the last 3 minutes. He exclaimed in surprise when Snape was killed, and when Harry discovered he was a Horcrux, and when George died, but followed the course of action well enough.
And even though I knew about these things years ago, and was distracted by nitpicking all the missing and altered details from the novels, I still managed to get swept up in these moments and cried and laughed and applauded at each. That’s a testament to how good the movie was. It was enjoyable both for me, the nitpicky book-loving fan, and him, the might as well have been the movie only audience member.
I was impressed a great deal by the special effects, mostly because they were not particularly noticeable, and that’s saying something when the movie involves a dragon, trolls fighting animated suits of armor, battles of magical spells and aging 20 year olds into their late 30s. They did what special effects are supposed to do: enhanced the story, made it believable, without being the story or distracting from the story. Even the 3D was less about “Hey, it’s 3D!” (a la Resident Evil 4) and more about sweeping you into the moment. It was also the first 3D film I’ve seen that didn’t hurt my eyes.
Bottom line: The final installment is well worth the trip to the theater, regardless of whether you’re a casual viewer or a die-hard fan. It’s a suitable ending to a franchise that has ensnared our senses for more than a decade, and a lovely way to lose two hours of summer. I just wish I hadn’t been so startled by the last spoiler I’ll leave you with: 36-year-old Ron is fat.

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