HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (PART 2) – Worth A Ticket – The Event of the Summer
The boxoffice totals for tonight’s midnight screenings of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 aren’t available quite yet, but it was a remarkable experience to go to a shopping center multiplex and find its 6-story garage filled up to the roof even though every store and restaurant in the place was long closed.  (And then, leaving after 2AM, to walk through the throngs just arriving for 3AM overflow shows.)  J.K. Rowling’s 7 novels, and the 8 films based on them, are arguably the most powerful narrative engines of their generation, a combination of plotting, character and a completely imagined, inhabited magical world that’s left its contemporaries in the dust.

If Deathly Hallows Part 1 was the healthy meal audiences needed to consume in order to gather their energy and maintain good health for the struggles ahead, Part 2 is practically all dessert. Where the earlier Potter movies were set over the course of an entire school year, the bulk of Deathly Hallows Part 2 takes place within a single 24-hour period, and it’s a collection of mammoth action sequences that keep following one after another.  Unlike, say, some Michael Bay movies one could name, these sequences aren’t spectacle simply for the sake of showing off the filmmakers’ technical prowess, but carefully crafted steps that proceed toward the confrontation that’s been a decade in the making (more than that if you start with the first book’s publication):  Harry vs. Voldemort.
Despite all the budget in the world and a combined 4 1/2 hours of screen time to play with, Deathly Hallows wasn’t an easy work for screenwriter Steve Kloves (veteran of all the films except Order of the Phoenix) to adapt.  Rowling’s plotting is so dense that thick slices of the novel’s pie (Dumbledore’s history is mostly gone) still had to be omitted, and short shrift is given to others.  Even the deaths of well-loved characters are sometimes observed only in a couple of shots, and while some iconic characters (Maggie Smith, front and center as Professor McGonagall) are showcased, others (Hagrid) are reduced to a few on-screen moments; when one budding romance is revealed, the characters haven’t even shared a scene together in this movie.
Compared to a typical Hollywood action epic, some of the narrative choices can seem eccentric.  Twice the action is interrupted for long stretches, first (vague Spoiler Alert)  for what is essentially The Severus Snape Story, and then for what readers will recognize as The Dumbledore Railway Scene.  Enormously important twists in the action are determined by obscure rules of wand ownership, which have to be expositioned after the fact.  The latter part of the story becomes somewhat spiritual, in the fairly familiar quasi-religious form that was always latent in a saga that calls its protagonist “The Chosen One,” but which the previous stories avoided.
With all these quirks, the film is a mostly triumphant entertainment.   David Yates, finishing out the series with his fourth consecutive film, moves smoothly from beautifully observed character moments to epic scale, from humorous action sequences that evoke the earliest films in the series (the Gringotts heist) to heartrending revelations about characters we thought we knew.  He’s working here with the same technical group as in Deathly Hallows Part 1, including cinematographer Eduardo Serra, editor Mark Day and composer Alexandre Desplat, all of whom do beautiful work; special note should be taken in this installment of Stuart Craig’s massive production design (no doubt aided seamlessly by CG) for the war-torn Hogwarts, and the combination of make-up technicians and CG wizards who pulled off the how-are-they-gonna-do-this? epilogue.  (The 3D is a conversion, and while it’s not necessary by any means, it’s quite good as conversions go.)

The Potter series, though, has most distinguished itself from all other franchises by the phenomenal skill of its cast.  Even the Lord of the Rings series didn’t have the depth of characterization and quality of performance that these films have drawn; for this final installment, Ciaran Hinds and Kelly McDonald join the astonishing ensemble.  With all the plotting and action, and the return of many old characters (dead and alive), inevitably while Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are impeccable, they have less to do here than they did in Deathly Hallows Part 1, where they were responsible for carrying whole chunks of the story.  Part 2, though, is very much Daniel Radcliffe’s movie, as Harry pieces together the story of his own life, learning truths about himself that Rowling had been nursing through 6 previous books; his stunned disillusion and then his resolute decisions to go on anyway are as inspiring as those of any screen hero one can name.  There’s nothing glib about the character or the performance; Harry’s ultimate heroism is his insistence on being ordinary.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see the like of the Potter series again, at least for quite a while, although we’ll certainly get  many attempts to duplicate its appeal.  (Coming next year:  The Hunger Games, to name just one.)  Its original author, the filmmakers, cast and crews have done an exemplary job in a genre that’s often a cynical display of trailer moments with no particular interest in context.  And credit is due, too, to Warner Bros:  it can’t be a coincidence that two of the three best franchises of the past decade, Potter and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, come from the same studio (and the third, Lord of the Rings, was from New Line, a Warners division).  One can’t begrudge them any of their billions.
There are people already begging J.K. Rowling to come back to Hogwarts and keep the stories going (and no doubt Warners would be happiest of all if she did).  But think about the last Indiana Jones movie, the last Godfather, Wall Street 2.  Rowling and the thousands responsible for making the films have managed to bring an epic tale to a satisfying conclusion.  Harry Potter deserves to enjoy his life.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."