I think there is in everyone’s life, some piece of popular fiction that is nearly defining of a particular era of their existence. Lasting much longer than the war it actually portrayed M*A*S*H was practically a cornerstone of every American’s television watching experience in the days when they were really only three or four channels on TV. Radar, Hawkeye, and Hot Lips Houlihan were basically a part of your family that you only got to see once a week, and it’s finale still remains the singe most-watched non-sporting event episode of television of all time. That was my parents’ generation. For my generation, for millions and millions of children who are now adults, it is without question the Harry Potter franchise. Another girl and I were the first kids at our school to read the books way back when I was in the 5th grade in 1999. We pushed those books on the other kids like crack and before long, every kid in the school was reading them. As I grew up, Harry grew up. Those novels were as essential a piece of my childhood as any real life friends. Before too long, the film franchise came around (I got on the evening news for being the first kid at my theatre in line for the movie), and while they would never be able to truly capture the magic of J.K. Rowling’s words, after they dropped Christopher Columbus after the second film, they become great fantasies in their own right.
The last book came out four years ago, so if you haven’t read it yet, you probably haven’t read it on purpose and aren’t a Harry Potter fan, and as such, I’m not going to be remotely concerned about spoilers for this review. So, read at your own risk I guess. The 7th chapter in the series picks up almost immediately after the end of Book 6 with the death of Dumbledore at the hands of Professor Snape. Harry has just learned that his mission is to destroy the Horcruxes, which are basically objects that Voldemort has used to store pieces of his soul. He can not truly be defeated until every last Horcrux is gone. Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend the film on a mission to both identify what objects are Voldemort’s Horcruxes and how to destroy a Horcrux when they actually find one. The film only constitutes the first half of the book as the second half will come out this summer. This would also be the first film that doesn’t take place at Hogwarts at all. The second film will only be there for the climactic final battle.
While this film is essential for setting up the end game of the series and presents a lot of critical information and plotting for that final battle, I’m not saying anything too controversial by saying it is fairly slow. There’s a lot of walking, a lot of talking, and an incredible amount of exposition. If it weren’t for the fact that this allows them to make the final movie as epic and true to detail as possible, I would almost want to question the decision to split the books into two movies. However, that isn’t to say that this film isn’t full of a lot of touching and great moments. There’s a scene after Ron runs away (that wasn’t in the original book) where apropos of nothing, Harry and Hermione share a really cute dance to a Nick Cave song. It was great at showing how despite the fact that they are in the midst of an epic war between good and evil and the fate of the world is in their hands, they are still essentially just teenagers. Dobby’s death at the end of the film brought my sister to a state of uncontrollable weeping. I cried worse when Dobby died (and when Harry buried him) than at the death of Dumbledore. Director David Yates (the best for the series since he came along for film 5) does a great job of filling the film with several creepy and stylistic moments as well, such as the scene at Godric’s Hollow.
Whoever was in charge of casting these films deserves a medal. Say what you will about the quality of J.K. Rowling’s story or the way that the films have been adapted, but there is no way to deny that these films have a done a great job of picking the best and brightest of British talent and placed them in roles that they seem to fit perfectly. The three main kids were all perfectly cast. Even if Daniel Radcliffe isn’t a great actor (which I don’t think he is), he just looks so much like what I always imagined Harry looked like that it’s to the point now that I can’t re-read the books without seeing him as Harry. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are terrific talents that will have a long career after this series is over. However, the real genius is in the adult casting. Helena Bonham Carter is superb as the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange. Alan Rickman’s best role of his career might be Severus Snape. Imelda Staunton never ceases to be disturbing or terrifying as Dolores Umbridge, and Ralph Fiennes hasn’t had a role as great as Voldemort since The Constant Gardener or Schindler’s List.
I can clearly remember the day that the last Harry Potter book came in the mail. It’s become a symbol of the end of my childhood. I’ve been able to keep a hold of that dream a couple of years after that thanks to the regular release of new entries of the film adaptations but in a couple of months that will finally be coming to a close as well. Like millions upon millions of people world wide, it’s a really bitter-sweet emotion to finally have come to the end of such a long and loved road. If I ever have children of my own some day, I can guarantee that Harry Potter will become a part of their lives as well. Much like when my father read a couple of pages of The Hobbit to me every night when I was very, very young, I will instill that same sense of adventure and imagination in my children as well.
Final Score: B+