Critic Vs. Critic: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (2010 & 2011) [1/2]
Since the start of The Critic’s Word, we have prided ourselves with the notion that we present to our readers with critiques built on high standards with quality writing, presenting only honesty and an unbiased moral high ground. Though because we support freedom of speech among our writers, there’s always going to be a spin zone due to difference of opinions, and from time to time one or more critics here will voice their opinion in a completely different direction of the others. So in the sprite of outspoken voices we at The Critic’s Word would like to present a new exciting edition of Critic Vs. Critic!
Tonight TCW’s Editor in Chief and Chief film critic Clifford Kiyabu sits down with fellow film critic, columnist and colleague Kelsey Zukowski. In this edition of Critic Vs. Critic: we talk about Warner Bros. Pictures’ final installment to the Harry Potter series Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I & II Written by Steve Kloves (screenplay), and J.K. Rowling (novel). And Directed by David Yates.
Clifford: Before we go into breaking down what we’ve seen in the final chapter of this magical series, I think we really must make note of the fact that this final chapter coming to a close truly is the end of an era. It feels a bit surreal realizing that it’s been a decade since we began this marvelous journey into the cinematic world of Harry Potter and all its companions with whom we‘ve come to love and hate along the way. From the Sorcerer’s Stone to the Deathly Hallows, we’ve invited these young individuals into our lives and watched them over the years grow into the people we’ve come to know today, from the characters they play on-screen, to the talented individuals we’ve come to know them as off-screen. Daniel, Rupert and Emma have been our beloved companions along this journey from beginning to sweet end, and for all fans true to the series, this last chapter is a bittersweet celebration, because it will be the last time we’ll experience this magical tale on the big screen in a crowded room filled with complete strangers with whom we share a common bond with.
Now Kelsey, I know you want to jump right into dissecting the last chapter but I think we really must look at this final installment not as part 1 and part 2 individually, but as a whole film as it was intended, because it was after all adapted from a single book. So with that being said, let me say this: Chapter 1 (or, the first half) was great, but not as great as some claimed it to be. I mean I thought it was on par with some of the previous sequels and I enjoyed it just the same, but I felt it was a little too slow paced than usual and at times felt almost as if it was coming to a screeching halt. It certainly didn’t feel like any other Potter film that came before it. To steal a quote from you; “The Deathly Hallows Part I is practically void of any light; darkness nearly filling it whole. In many ways it doesn’t feel like a Potter film”. Granted each of the Potter films have their own uniqueness about them that makes each film/book stand out on its own, but the first chapter felt extremely out of place, at times it felt as though I was watching a non-HP film which just so happen to feature the characters from the series. The first chapter was my least favorite part of the potter series next to Prisoner of Azkaban, but my dislike to Prisoner of Azkaban mostly steams from the fact it was the first film Michael Gambon took over the role of Dumbledore from the late Richard Harris, whom I feel played a much better Dumbledore then Gambon.
But with that being said chapter 2 really does pick up the slack for the first chapter and really serves up the showdown we’ve waited nearly a decade for. Unlike chapter 1, the film managed to be ever so dark, but maintained that radiant glow that always made the potter films so magical even in the darkest of parts, which is something the first chapter was missing, the first chapter showed us a dark void in which there was no hope of light at the end of the tunnel, as where chapter 2 showed us that it’s always darkest before the dawn.
Kelsey: That’s exactly why it’s so hard to believe that we have really seen the last Harry Potter film. I was 13 when the first film came out, around the age most of the main actors were. I grew up watching these films and I grew with the cast, characters, and this magical world they had brought to life. The last film was bittersweet, but honestly I couldn’t have wished for more. It oozed epicness, was full of non-stop world changing action, and had so many mind blowing revelations about characters we thought we know so well. In many cases, we find out that the last decade was really all about what we were able to experience with The Deathly Hallows Part II. This is what it has always been about; a reality the audience and so many of the characters were blind to until now.
I understand that The Deathly Hallows is essentially one chapter of the Harry Potter series, but I have an extremely hard time grouping Part I and Part II together. They are such completely different films; day and night. Although, part II still has plenty of darkness seeping through. Part I doesn’t feel like a Potter film at all. While it isn’t one of my favorites for that reason, I do like that it’s different from the others. Harry and his friends were always the underdogs. They were going up against one of the most powerful dark wizards of all time. Especially towards the beginning, they were young, inexperienced wizards. They were always in over their heads, but somehow they managed to beat the odds and defeat Voldemort time and time again. They could only get so lucky for so long. Yes, they are talented and strong individuals, but things couldn’t go there way forever.
The Deathly Hallows Part I brings them to the reality that their luck has run out. All hope is lost. The Harry Potter series was always about hope, possibilities, and escaping to a place where anything was possible, where good prevailed even in the increasingly dark times. All of that is gone in The Deathly Hallows Part I. Our protagonists are in way over their heads. Their entire world is utter chaos. On the defensive, running for their lives when they are the last hope for both the muggle and wizarding world. For most of the film they aren’t even getting anywhere close to stopping Voldemort or weakening his power, but they keep on going, keep on trying, nearly being driven mad in the process. Why? Because they have no other choice. They have to at least try even if it makes them hopeless fugitives. Honestly, if you think about it that is almost more heroic than any other film; fighting the darkness when there are no delusions of thinking it won’t consume you whole.
I have to disagree with you on Prisoner of Azkaban. I’m actually a little shocked by your stance as it’s one of my favorite films of the series, behind Deathly Hallows Part II and The Order of the Phoenix. Out of the first four books that I read, it was my favorite one. I really see it as a step in the right direction for the series. The darker the films got, the more intriguing they got. The first two feel much more innocent. I love them for creating the world of Hogwarts and everything that was established through them, but in comparison the first two films aren’t nearly as compelling as the Prisoner of Azkaban or later ones that followed its lead. It was also the first that showed that some people are not what they seem to be, a component that is reoccurring throughout the series. Prisoner of Azkaban did this through Sirius Black, one of my favorite characters of the series. Ron, Hermione, and Harry are clearly growing up and are stepping things up a notch. Harry grows a tremendous amount in this film from mentally what he has to go through in what he thinks is the reality of Sirius selling out his parents and causing him to relive the memory of their untimely deaths to realizing Sirius is the only real family he has left, the very person his parents would have wanted to raise him. I do agree that switching Dumbledores felt unnatural and it was a difficult transition. It was some time before Gambon really felt like Dumbledore, but it was a necessary change.
The Deathly Hallows Part II has it all. That glow is what put it over the top, so charged of energy, rich story and characters, and such an intense showdown, but the thing is Part I wasn’t supposed to have that. Part II was a better movie for it, but it would have taken away the dreary state that defined Part I and made the revival of Part II so exhilarating.
Clifford: So true, just about anyone who is a true fan can easily recall their first encounter with the Potter films. I was 15 when the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in theaters, and I remember at the time I had known zilch about any of the potter books or the series itself for that matter. If I remember correctly, I had no interest whatsoever to watch the film or read any of the books as it did not intrigue me at that current period of my teenage years, I only went to see it because it was a free movie ticket (and only a idiot turns down the chance of a free movie). But after my first viewing I left that theater room and began my delightful journey into reading the books because that was the kind of impact the film had on me, to which the series itself made me a lifelong fan. The finale of this series, although bittersweet, was as you put it, worth every minute. From the nonstop action and beautifully captured cinematic battles, to the powerful revelations revealed in this final installment, every single thing about chapter 2 was beyond epic and fully lived up to the hype and standards set before it from the previous films. And even though we had known good and well all along what was awaiting us, we were still very much surprised and emotionally moved by it. This is something I can honestly say few films in the history of cinema can stand out for.
One could even go a notch further and argue that the HP series was this generation’s Star Wars (Original trilogy of course). Sure we’ve all enjoyed those films and basked in its glory, but neither you nor me can honestly know what it felt like to experience the original trilogy in its entirety on the big screen for the first time like those who saw it in the late 70’s and early 80’s. And in a rare case like this one before us, this is what the HP films have done for our generation, no one old enough to remember or yet alive from this moment on will get to experience what we felt growing up watching these films on the big screen for the very first time, this is our cinematic moment, or in other words, our epic journey that no other future generation will get to experience from this series.
As for my stance on Prisoner of Azkaban, I’d thought you might be a little surprised by it seeing, that you‘ve never made it a secret about your love for the film and the book. But don’t get me wrong, Prisoner of Azkaban is a very good film as is all the films in the Potter series. I just felt that the cinematic atmosphere in PoA was a little too dark from the last two previous films, and granted the book is equally dark, but to go from a more lighter tone with 1 and 2 to an extremely dark setting in PoA felt a tad bit out of place for me. Maybe it’s just me but that’s how I feel about it, I agree it was a step in the right direction for the series, but I would have preferred it much better had they gradually made it darker rather then take a leap forward like that. But I won’t lie that a major part of my liking this film the least still falls flat on Michael Gambon coming in to take over the role of Albus Dumbledore, because when I envisioned Dumbledore in the books, I pictured him as reserved and wise. He might seem weak because of his age and appearance, but proves to be the most powerful Wizard in the wizarding world when need be. If you remember in the book the Order of the Phoenix, when Dumbledore faced off against Voldemort he was patient and wise in his actions in the fight and retained a calm mood and a cool head that angered Voldemort as well as made him fear Dumbledore. This is not what I felt while watching Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore. I also feel that had Richard Harris lived to continue in the role, Dumbledore’s death in The Half Blood Prince would have been much more emotional and moving.
But I will say that the one truly magnificent thing that I am grateful towards Prisoner of Azkaban was that it serves as the gateway for Gary Oldman’s entry into the series as Sirius Black. Oldman’s performance as Black and Alan Rickman’s performances as Severus Snape alone makes Prisoner of Azkaban and every film to follow it worth watching, Black may have appeared to be the villain in the start of Prisoner of Azkaban which lead Harry to hating him, but his revealing to be one of the good guys, and proving to be the only family Harry truly has left was indeed brilliant and touching. And Rickman’s performance as Snape was probably one of the most moving in the series, because he brought to these films a delightful touch of class only a veteran actor of the theater arts such as himself could. And his breath taking performance in Chapter 2 only amplifies it, which further validates my argument that Rickman brings to these films a touch of brilliance and grace that grants credibility to both the character and the series that no other actor could have done had they been placed in this same role. In short, Rickman was born to play the role of Severus Snape. he only thing that I was a little skeptical about seeing prior to seeing chapter 2 was the 19 years later part, because I was a bit worried that the transition from paper to screen would come off feeling a little cheesy having Daniel, Rupert, Emma , Bonnie and Tom portray their characters in the 19 years later scene. But shockingly enough it worked extremely well, and if either of them look anything like they did when they reach their late 30’s then it will be something to see I tell you what. To Be Continued…