Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I made it




The following post contains major spoilers about
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2! Read at your own risk! (But mostly about the story, not the movie itself.)

Over two years and four months ago, I wrote a blog post discussing my amazement at the fact that the end of the Harry Potter series had yet to be spoiled for me. The film of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had not even been released yet, so I still had a ways to go.

Well, I did it. I made it through to the end. I walked into the theater on Saturday afternoon, for the 1 p.m. IMAX 3D show of The Deathly Hallows Part 2, and I still did not know whether Harry Potter would live or die at the end. (As it turns out, he sort of did both.)


It's just amazing that in this day and age, I would be able to go so long without having such a big secret spoiled to me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the novel, was released four years ago this Thursday, meaning that J.K. Rowling's series of seven books had the same decade-long span (1997 to 2007) that the eight films had (2001 to 2011). The world has known for almost four years whether Harry would live or die.

I have only known for two days.

So thanks to everyone who helped make this possible by keeping your traps shut. You are a credit to your species.

Now that I've learned the secret, however, I guess I have a better idea why I never learned it before. Namely, the thing most likely to happen actually happened: Harry beats Voldemort in the end, and no other really major characters die. Yes, Snape dies, but you could sort of see that coming. And Bellatrix LeStrange dies, but duh, she's one of the main villains. I already knew that Dumbledore dies -- I allowed my wife to reveal it to me after she finished reading the book -- but that happens at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. So the series does not end with any really major surprises. If Harry had died in the process of killing Voldemort (the only way he could die, because there was never any way Voldemort would win), I probably would have found out. But the big surprise, really, was that there was no surprise.

Okay, I take that back. As I was watching on Saturday, I didn't know the true dimensions of how Harry was connected to Voldemort, that he had a horcrux embedded inside him that contained part of Voldemort's soul. And that both Dumbledore and Snape knew about this, and that perhaps Dumbledore had been manipulating Harry all his life. Well well. I was chilled by the revelation.

Then again, I didn't even really know what a horcrux was as recently as Friday night -- I had to ask my wife about it when we were watching Part 1. And that gives you an idea of how sketchy my understanding of the whole Harry Potter mythology has been. I've watched all the movies, the first four in the theater, followed by three on video before returning to the theater for the grand finale. But the saga has dragged and plodded for much of the time, as I felt like there was a lot of killing time to get to the "good stuff" -- stuff we've finally been seeing in the last movie or two.

For example, as I sit here now, I could not tell you what the significance was of the sorcerer's stone, what was hidden in the chamber of secrets, who drank from the goblet of fire, what the order of the phoenix was, or who the half-blood prince was. I know that Sirius Black was the prisoner of Azkaban, mostly because that movie was head and shoulders above the others. And I know what the deathly hallows are, mostly because I've just seen those two movies.

So "I made it" has a secondary meaning as well. I mean that I made it to the end, all eight movies, to finally get my reward.

And what a reward it was.

I absolutely loved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Where I thought the other movies continually introduced characters and subplots of questionable relevance, and I never remembered what happened from movie to movie, the final part felt streamlined and accessible. Not only that, but when it goes big, it goes BIG. The movie has easily some of the best action set pieces of the series -- love the entire Gringott's break-in -- and the epic final battle at Hogwart's does not disappoint. And part of the reason I felt so enthralled to see the good Hogwart's instructors fighting the bad was because it was an end to all the gentility and politics that had consumed many of the previous installments. The cards were finally on the table -- now it was time to just shut up and fight it out.

I think I loved this movie as much as I did, in part, because it reminded me of a Lord of the Rings movie more than any of its predecessors. But also because it reminded me of the best Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith. Why Revenge of the Sith? Because in Deathly Hallows, something finally happens. A part of the plot you've long been anticipating has finally arrived.

And that's what's really interesting about the Harry Potter series, taken just as movies. There's a whole lot of nothing going on for most of the series. Dress it up however you like, but in retrospect, it kind of looks like a TV series where they didn't figure out what their endgame was until season five of an eventual eight seasons. I think the reason most people tolerated this was because the books prepared them for it. Without having read the books, I just spent most of the series feeling impatient. In what other series of movies does your primary antagonist not even make an appearance on screen until the fourth movie? Just to be sure I'm right about this, I checked Ralph Fiennes' credits on IMDB, and true enough -- 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is his first appearance in the series. And apparently, the appearance of Voldemort didn't even interest me very much, since I consider that the weakest film in the series (followed closely by Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

The transformation that occurs between Part 1 and Part 2 of Deathly Hallows astonished me, however. Even as I was watching Part 1 on Friday night, I still felt a bit of a sense of ho-hum about the whole thing. I had to keep asking my wife (during breaks) for clarifications on things that I thought were not sufficiently explained, and who this person was, and who that person was, and why were they going off on this tangent so late in the story.

But I guess that's what a little plot resolution can really do for a movie. I was wide-eyed and excited from the first moment of Part 2, and the ride never let up.

I must pause also to wonder about the potential impact was of seeing the movie in the theater -- not just the theater, but in IMAX 3D. I know 3D wasn't an option until this movie, so I'm not comparing apples to other apples, but would I have felt more enthusiastic about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 if I had seen them in the theater? Maybe you, who saw them all in the theater, can answer this question for me: Is the last Potter movie as much better than the previous seven movies (except Azkaban) as I seem to think it is, or was I just really impressed by some quality 3D and a very large screen?

I'm just glad that I prioritized a theatrical screening of the last movie. I felt like I owed it to the series, a series that has brought me occasional joy alongside that occasional frustration. And like I said, I was rewarded big-time for making it to the end. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 delivers, and the add-ons (IMAX, 3D) are most certainly worth it.

So now we enter a world entirely post-Harry Potter, and even though I was never an ardent fan who consumed the novels within a week of them being published, I'm feeling a bit of the melancholy they're feeling.

So what's next, Hunger Games? I haven't read any of them and the first movie comes out next year. Maybe I'll get reading, so no one has the chance to spoil the ending of this one for me.

Then again, sometimes the humans surprise you, by keeping the surprises to themselves. In the case of the Harry Potter series, the humans who conspired to not spoil it for me gave muggles a good name.


Simon said...

If I might go into plot specifics, was Dumbledore really that big of a dick? And was Snape really the one to try and guilt him about it (I forget, was he the one who said that Dumbledore practically raised Harry, or is that something else entirely)? Because I knew, when the series started getting darker, they weren't going to let Dumbledore keep being a saint among men, but damn...

I liked it better than Part 1, anyway. And the siege scene was so excellent I cried a little.

Vancetastic said...

I know, Dumbledore's "true nature" (which I think is actually complicated) surprised me a bit. I had heard that the final book served as the redemption of Snape, but I was starting to wonder if I'd misunderstood until it was all finally revealed through his tear-memories. (As good as anything to call them.) Yeah, I think Snape said "You raised him to be a [sacrificial lamb]" - not the actual term he used, but I can't remember what the actual term was.

It was that large-scale stuff, like the siege, that made me truly love the film. I'm a sucker for that I guess -- as long as the stakes have been earned, which I think they had in this case.

It's funny, people I've talked to personally don't seem to be super-psyched about the movie like I am, but last time I checked, it had scored an 87 on Metacritic. Which is, like, really high.