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Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:14 pm

Harry Potter’s magical finale

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Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter and Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.

A great deal of skill, a little bit of luck and many wise decisions all played a part in making the Harry Potter franchise the most successful in film history. It’s only during the final moments of David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 that we begin to appreciate just what an incredible achievement this has been. In the movie’s final scenes the emotional investment viewers have made in this saga is wonderfully returned in a poignant series of moments that reaffirm the story’s most important themes. These are that loyalty and honor are not antiquated notions but continue to yield incalculable moral riches, and that love, friendship and faithfulness are the only things that truly matter, whether it be in a world of wizards or our own.

The film is constructed like a well-tuned clock, picking up precisely where the previous installment left off, building up a head of steam as the action steadily increases from one elaborate set piece to another. Finding the remaining Horcruxes, objects that contain pieces of the evil Lord Valdemort (Ralph Fiennes), is the goal and this quest takes the film’s intrepid trio – Harry, Hermione and Ron – to the goblin-run Gringott’s Wizarding Bank and ultimately to Hogwarts Castle, which is now being run as a fascist state under the eye of the new headmaster Snape (Alan Rickman).

We’ve come to expect a high degree of production value from these movies and this final installment doesn’t disappoint. Among the most overlooked artists in the franchise are Stuart Craig and his legion of assistants who’ve toiled tirelessly to bring Rowling’s world to life, adding layer upon layer of detail to make this as real and memorable as any other place that’s appeared on the big screen. But the man who fails to get the credit he deserves is director Peter Yates, who was given the reins of the biggest film franchise in the world and was able to ensure that not only were all of the technical elements functioning in unison, but more importantly, that the emotional thread of the story became richer and continued to resonate throughout the final four episodes.

As expected, each key character makes a final appearance here, and while some of them only pop up for a moment or two, it’s good to see them all, if for nothing else but to be reminded of what an incredible array of thespians were involved along the way. They’re all solid, even in throwaway moments. The deepest impressions are made by Fiennes, bringing a sense of majesty to the evil he personifies, Rickman, who makes every syllable count and reveals a depth of feeling in Snape we always knew was there, and Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, who wisely underplays the most powerful of moments. For me, seeing these three powerhouses volley back and forth is worth the price of admission.

Funny to think that when production on these films began more than a decade ago, the producers considered replacing Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as the principal three after the second film as the fear was that they would mature much quicker than the films could be made and that they would ultimately end up seeming far too old for their roles. Seems silly now and, thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. This was the wisest decision made in the franchise’s history as it allowed us to watch these three grow up on screen, adding an emotional resonance to the story that no amount of fine writing or acting could have achieved. The emotional and physical development between these actors and their characters has been intertwined in an unprecedented manner and the emotional dividends that result are incalculable. And while this farewell is bittersweet, the tears viewers shed as the final curtain falls are ones not only of sadness but of thanks for the unexpectedly rich experience this has been.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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