The Potter-loving generation has often been a bit too hard on the series’ visual counterparts over the years. Strictly speaking outside the realm of creative criticism, the frequent condemnations from the fans have normally been centered on absent plotlines or digressions from a source material that has, for many, come to be held as canonical, almost holy.
Six films and 13 years since J.K. Rowling’s coffee napkin scribbles became a published product, a community of admirers has arrived at the first portion of a cinematic resolve. And for those longing for that page-for-page translation that has yet to be offered, rest assured.
Screenwriter Steve Kloves has meticulously reconstructed a narrative that is unquestionably faithful to Rowling’s original last hurrah. School is out for Harry, Ron and Hermione, and every portion of their final soldiering toward the defeat of Voldemort’s guard of ethnic cleansers (one that Kloves somewhat superficially parallels to Nazi Germany) is given its fair amount of screen time. But does this level of loyalty to the original tale yield the flawless product so many scorned viewers have longed for?
For the Potter-dweebs, it will be a thrilling question to discuss. The comparatively stark aesthetic approaches taken by director David Yates can be so satisfying at times that it becomes hard to imagine the first final installment (an oxymoron that will soon be addressed) approached with any other vision.
But since this penultimate film arrives at a point in time in which the considerable majority of the audience is out of primary school if not well into their adulthood, surely a level of relatable pathos must be represented within these beloved characters — an issue that transcends Yates’ level of photographic sophistication. Since this is a conflicted dialogue, but one that still bases itself around heavily adored pop culture, it’s best to start with the good.
In a series long dominated by grand sweeping camera movements, Yates now works with a subtle, Kubrick-like lens. The soaring landscape shots are held at bay and traded in for an unsettling, flat, crawling approach to Harry, Hermione and Ron’s solemn trek across the wizard-world wasteland. Tackling their sojourn with such visual tension allows Yates’ close, expressionist shots of these characters, in times of pure anguish or suffering, to appear all the more jarring.
Even with this intellectual camerawork, it’s hard to not share momentary points of frustration when seeing these beloved youth characters, now fully developed, still conversing and interacting with their environment so childishly.
This resonates through some pretty vapid dialogue. If Harry, Ron and Hermione are supposed to be fighting tooth and nail against the magical end times, why do they seem to enter every moment of discovery with such apparent dimness and disinterest?
Their meeting with mad journalist Xenophilius Lovegood, a scene of great revelation and the crux of the film’s climactic portion, is approached by the characters with no sense of urgency and minimal intellect. The way Kloves’ script seems to so painstakingly spell out every mystery of the plotline insults both the intelligence of the characters as well of the viewers.
In a way, it’s what so many have long been asking for — that definitive, untampered adaptation. But this faithful method leaves very little to the imagination, and even the thematic exploration and crescendos of character development become a bit undermined by this half-vision of a finale.
And it is really on those two planes where the film disappoints. Yates and Kloves have taken a rather shallow approach toward maturing these childhood heroes (apparently an increase in visible blood and teenage skin is all anyone should need to feel involved in a more adult experience). Even more so, this stunted growth only is made more frustrating by the realization that we’ve only been given half of our epic conclusion.
While many will ultimately just be upset at the fact that those dazzling wizard battles are waiting for them in part two, others will feel a more basic disappointment in how detached of a relation the audience now shares with these 17-year-old children.
Still, this is no complete failure. As always, the aesthetic of “Harry Potter” is seamlessly captured, and the horrors of this war are made perpetually evident through the sparse, haunting camera movements. It is just a bit difficult to feel entirely fulfilled by half of a finale that should have been an all-or-nothing affair.
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