There are only two Harry Potter movies I saw in theaters, Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows Part 2. The first was back when Order of the Phoenix arrived, and I was completely lost, having not seen any of the movies before. I actually started watching the Harry Potter series at a friend’s house, where they planned a marathon of the first six movies around the time Part 1 released. I very much enjoyed the first two movies, but had to leave before they started the third because of work. It also meant that I didn’t see enough of the movies to feel comfortable watching Part 1 in theaters just yet. But I did watch the first six movies that week.
You could say I was kind of hooked after Prisoner of Azkaban.
Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the only movie in the series I watched in theaters, after watching every previous movie. My friend insisted on watching it in 3D IMAX. One could say that’s a serious upgrade from watching the first couple of movies on DVD.
Anyway, Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2 were filmed back to back, and the filming took place for more than a year. While the first movie was described by both the production team and the cast as a down to earth, road movie, this one is described as “operatic, colourful and fantasy-oriented”, and a “big opera with huge battles.”
Since the first part didn’t take place at Hogwarts at all, this one makes up for it by not only having pretty much the entire second half taking place at the wizarding school, but featuring the series’ climactic battle there. Production Designer Stuart Craig spoke about the Battle of Hogwarts, saying “the great challenge is the destruction of Hogwarts. The sun rising behind the smoke … the massive remains of destroyed walls, the entrance hall, the entrance of the great hall, part of the roof of the Great Hall completely gone …” He also described it as an enjoyable challenge. I could imagine they had fun demolishing the sets they had been using for a decade specifically for the movie.
Another major sequence is a heist at the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Thanks to having goblins as the bankers and tellers, they were able to exaggerate the size of the sets, which they also found enjoyable. In the vault they break into, there’s a bunch of treasure with a replicating curse, to trap and suffocate anyone who tries to steal anything. “We made literally thousands of pieces for it and vacuum metallized them to be shiny gold and silver.” They also built a floor that could rise, to give the treasure a swelling appearance when they started multiplying in the movie.
This movie also features the most complex CGI effects in the series, most notable with the Battle of Hogwarts. There’s a lot of magic flying around. There are magical barriers, lighting effects from curses being thrown around, CGI giants swinging around makeshift weapons the size of trees. And it all looks very good even today, at least partly thanks to relying on practical effects as much as possible.
Alexandre Desplat handled the soundtrack for both films. The first one very sparingly used themes from John Williams’ work in the first three movies, which makes sense from a thematic standpoint. This movie uses the Harry Potter themes a lot more, and with new compositions that fit the movie’s tone quite well. Of all the non-John Williams soundtracks in the series, I find this movie’s to be the most memorable. Desplat knows when to make things sound intense, the emotional moments in the soundtrack further enhance how dark this movie can get. I won’t show you a clip that includes the movie footage, but this is one theme I find particularly effective.
Of course there are also themes that are fun and adventurous, just like there are fun adventure moments in the movie. This soundtrack won the Film Composer of the Year award for Desplat, as well as nominations for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the Grammy Awards, the Satellite Awards, and several others.
Deathly Hallows released in July, 2011, and became the first Harry Potter movie to earn over $1 billion in its initial theatrical run. It earned $1.34 billion worldwide. If you combine that with Part 1, the final book’s translation to film earned over $2 billion, with a combined budget of $250 million. Any way you look at it, that’s a huge success. It’s the ninth movie in history to earn over $1 billion, and at the time it was the third most profitable movie in history. It still remains Warner Bros highest grossing movie, the highest earning movie in the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise, and the highest earning movie in 2011 (both Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides also passed $1 billion that year). It also tied Avatar’s record at the time for fastest $1 billion, at 19 days.
The movie also received a lot of critical praise, earning a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Daily Express’s review called it “a terrifying showdown that easily equals Lord of the Rings or Star Wars in terms of a dramatic and memorable battle between good and evil.” Roger Ebert’s glowing review said “the finale conjures up enough awe and solemnity to serve as an appropriate finale and a dramatic contrast to the lighthearted innocence of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Richard Roper gave the film an A+, saying “This is a masterful and worthy final chapter in one of the best franchises ever put to film.”
The movie also won a number of awards from different ceremonies. David Yates won a special BAFTA Award for Artistic Excellence in Directing. The Scream Awards awarded Part 2 with the Ultimate Scream (best movie), Best Fantasy Actor (Daniel Radcliffe aka Harry Potter), Best Villain (Ralph Fiennes aka Voldemort), Best F/X and a couple others, along with numerous other nominations. It won Best Special Visual Effects at BAFTA. Emma Watson (Hermoine), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Alan Rickman (Snape) also received multiple nominations each across different ceremonies. Last but not least, the movie received three Academy Award Nominations, for Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup. Hugo won the first two, and The Iron Lady won the third.
As for myself, while Order of the Phoenix and Prisoner of Azkaban are my two favourite Harry Potter movies, this is a close third. It’s a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to what is overall a very good series. As much as the book goes deeper into the lore, character motivation reveals and all that, it gives us everything we need from a storytelling and dramatic standpoint. Ron and Hermoine deepen their relationship in this movie, and it’s a satisfying payoff. Snape’s true motivations are revealed in a nearly perfect sequence. As dark as the movie is in general, there are moments of fun, glory, and some genuinely good comedy to balance things out.
The movie also does a good job at sticking with the mystery side of the Potter series that’s been a major part of the storytelling from the start. But make no mistake; this is a straight up war movie in a fantasy setting. The Battle of Hogwarts is really intense, but it’s generally shown from a dramatic standpoint instead of glorifying the fighting. It makes for several very effective sequences, most notably the courtyard apocalypse sequence.
This movie does make some major changes from the book. It cuts down on the dirty information on Dumbledore’s past, while still hinting at it enough for the audience to know that Dumbledore wasn’t always the kind, wise and caring headmaster that he eventually became. Snape’s death scene is moved to a different location, although that doesn’t impact the story whatsoever.
There’s also one noticeable change that has a real world explanation. During the Battle of Hogwarts, the main trio confronts Draco and two of his friends in the Room of Requirement. In the book, it’s Draco’s typical trio of himself, Crabbe and Doyle. Crabbe ends up accidentally killing himself after creating a massive fire. His actor, Jamie Waylett, was arrested around the time of filming for cannabis possession, and was later sentenced to community service. As such, in the movie he’s replaced with Blaise Zabini (a very minor Slytherin character in the books), while Doyle is the one who sets the fire. On that note, Waylett has had further legal troubles since, including 2 years of jail time for carrying a homemade petrol bomb and looting in the 2011 London riots. I guess that makes him a different kind of great casting for this series.
The two most significant changes come with the movie’s conclusion. First, Voldemort’s death in the book is just a normal death. His body remains lying on the ground as a perfectly normal mortal. That’s thematically significant, as he strived to be immortal and anything but mortal. It’s a form of poetic justice. In the movie, he fades into flying ashes. It’s a neat effect, but it doesn’t work from a thematic standpoint. The other change is how Harry handles the Elder Wand. In the book, he repairs his own wand that was broken during a scene in Part 1. We don’t see him do that here, and it would have been a nice moment. But in the movie, we directly see him destroying the elder wand, ending its long, violent history of people seeking its legendary power. That wasn’t in the book, and I believe that’s a brilliant change, showing how mature and selfless Harry really is.
As with the last several books, the acting in general is phenomenal. All of the major cast members give a well-rounded performance. Radcliffe has clearly grown from his awkward performance in the first movie, proving himself to be a well-ranged actor. Grint is also convincing as a wizard who was perhaps somewhat dumb at first, but has grown into a fairly intelligent and skilled wizard himself. Watson is arguably the most skilled of the three in acting, and it really shows in both Part 1 and Part 2.
Tom Felton, while not on screen that much, is convincing as a young man in deep inner conflict. Rickman’s performance might just be the best overall in this movie. He’s genuinely intimidating one moment, filled with grief in his dying scene, and shows a combination of extreme guilt, despair, determination and boldness in the extremely well done flashback scene that explains his motivations. One thing I wish this movie could have done is given Draco a proper redemption moment, which he sort-of got in the books. Although he never received any nominations at the Academy Awards for his work as Snape, there are definitely those who argued he should have won Best Supporting Actor for this movie. I’m not quite sure I agree, but I won’t argue against the idea.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows started the trend of splitting off the final book into two movies, and at least in terms of Young Adult adaptations, it’s the only one that ever got it right. That’s not to say they couldn’t have done better with Part 1, but Party 2 is a very good movie. It’s a fantastic war movie. It’s a well done mystery story. It’s a great epic fantasy movie. It’s an emotionally satisfying finale to an 8-movie series. It’s still kind of hard to believe this turned out as well as it did, but Director David Yates pulled it off. This movie alone is a good reason to recommend the entire franchise, because so many long-form franchises botch the conclusion. Harry Potter ends on a very high note.
Next up is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I’ve only seen once so far. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t make a note to remember it all that much. I still haven’t seen its sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, but I plan to wrap this series up by looking at that one too. Then I’ll hopefully find the time to look at a weird Christmas movie that will hopefully be a fun blog post. In January, I’ll be doing Sean Connery Month.