Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows, Pottermore and saying good bye
As we sat in the darkened cinema I could hear sniffling. We were all saying good bye to a chunk of our childhood.
Indeed, it all ends here as millions around the world unwillingly let go of a rope that for the last fourteen years has allowed us to descend– nay, apparate - into the most fantastical, timeless world ever to have been conjured (pun intended).
Last Thursday author JK Rowling joined the Harry Potter cast in Britain, fictional home of Potter’s mystical world of magic, to promote the final film in the seven-film series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two.
The cast, transformed from mousey-haired, ambrosial little children into chic, downright dapper young adults, spent hours mingling with fans as they made their way from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square, the longest red carpet in film history.
In front of a crowd of thousands, out of them many who’d camped out on the streets of Central London days in advance of the premiere, a teary-eyed Rowling vowed to her longstanding and loyal fans that “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”.
“I don’t think the end of the story happens tonight, because each and every person…will carry this story with them through the rest of their lives, and it will affect what they do” added Daniel Radcliffe, the young actor who shot to fame as the films’ bespectacled protagonist.
Joining Rowling and Radcliffe was the rest of the film cast including Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon along with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the two other nodes of the book’s infamous, three-cornered axis of friendship.
Grint, the actor best known for his role as the violently red-headed Ron Weasley, in true fashion of his on-screen persona, humorously and sheepishly thanked Rowling for all that she had done “for ginger people”.
Watson appeared on-stage epitomizing a modern-day Audrey Hepburn with her long locks fashioned into a chic bob. Granted the Promethean bounty of unlimited intelligence both on-and-off screen, she described the experience as the “most amazing roller coaster ride” as she sobbed gracefully (and comfortably thanks to “precautionary waterproof mascara”).
As the film’s publicity machine continued on its week-long circuit of promotion around Europe and across the pond to the US, one thing remained strikingly apparent.
The powerful hold that the Harry Potter franchise enjoys over its scores of fans around the globe cannot be traced back to just one factor, but is instead shrouded in various layers of talent and luck.
The success of the series does not rest entirely on Rowling’s exceptional writing style. Nor is it solely attributable to some amazing directorial feat. Instead, the fictionalized world has maintained a fourteen-year monopoly on our hearts simply by providing us with the intangible tools of survival: hope, courage and friendship.
The world of Harry Potter has come to denote the safest of refuges: a world with infinite potential, strength in friendship, a realistic acceptance of the existence of evil, the means to overcome it, and, the granting of our worldly desires through clever, unimaginable means (Accio Marauder's Map! Accio invisibility cloak! Accio butterbeer!).
Watching Deathly Hallows Part II: Before the show
Early Friday morning, twenty four hours before the official release date of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two, my sister and I attended the midnight pre-screening in Vancouver, BC.
Eight hours before show time I left my sister with a folding chair and blanket outside the movie theater. In her distinct, homemade Deathly Hallows white tee, pipe cleaner wand and 3D round-rimmed glasses, she could be easily spotted in the sea of Muggles.
An hour before show time, Starbucks handy to fuel our night, I joined her and hundreds of Potter loyalists who’d camped out all day in anticipation. The energy was palpable; the building saturated with a bittersweet sadness masked by excitement.
I edged around spontaneously formed card games, a large group around a portable flat-screen playing older Harry Potter films, and, yet another group, dressed in Slytherin regalia, prancing and posing, wands in hand - definitely practicing the Dark Arts. All this, a tangible and durable remnant of a world that begun materialising twenty years ago on a train from Manchester to London.
Tonight, the Potter magic was doing what it has always done best: bringing together strangers irrespective of age, sex, creed, religion and race.
Sitting in the darkened theater, I had an absurd, dramatic urge to nudge those around me and warn them to the pending, inevitable flow of my tears. ‘Please forgive me in advance,’ I wanted to say, ‘I am only turning a chapter in the book of life, saying goodbye to a chunk of my childhood’.
But no such warning was unnecessary because as soon as the Warner Brothers logo flashed across the screen (darkened from the usual promising yellow and sky blue to match the mood of both the film and the audience) sniffling signifying suppressed tears could be heard around the room like surround sound.
After ten years, eight films and twenty hours of running time, the Harry Potter franchise is nearing its end with a current cumulative global box-office gains of $6.3 billion.
And if pre-ticket sales, which brought in a staggering, unprecedented sum of $25 million is any indication of success, then the final film may just beat the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first film of the instalment, which set a milestone in 2001 when it grossed $974 million.
The last movie - underwhelming
The film itself, following its traditional, Shakespearean-esque story arc of many tragedies and many successes, does not disappoint but nor did it provide an immediately gratifying sense of closure.
With a running time of 131 minutes, the shortest in the franchise’s history, the film in its haste to reach a successful summation almost feels rushed, with key components, emotions and dialogue from the book ineffectively translated onto the big screen or in effect, completely missing.
What the film does accomplish successfully is the way in which it, almost poetically, ties in the knots of a season of struggle, confusion and chaos (spoilers ahead for those who have not read the book).
Director David Yates, who garnered much appreciation for the way in which he portrayed the darkened wizarding world with an adult-feel in Part One, transplants the same momentum in Part Two as the film opens to a lifeless, blackened Hogwarts guarded by soul-sucking Dementors shrouded in wisps of gloom and smoke.
This agitated sense of gloom and doom is maintained throughout the duration of the film as Harry, Ron and Hermione’s journey to seek and destroy the bits of Lord Voldemort’s soul harboured in the Horcruxes essentially turns the wizarding world into a bloodied warzone.
Perhaps, one of the most poignant and memorable aspects of the franchise has been its soundtrack. And Part Two of the Deathly Hallows is no exception.
There is something hauntingly peaceful about the way in which the ordinarily luminous and majestic castle of Hogwarts disintegrates into rubble, fire and blood to a background scored by Alexandre Desplat.
But even the eerily perfect soundtrack cannot breathe life into the battle and action sequences which are a touch underwhelming.
As Hogwarts’ students unite to fight to the death against Lord Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters, the viewer is left craving the sense of urgency, which perhaps only the book can bring.
With the exception of the occasional outburst of heroism (note the increasingly-dashing Neville Longbottom played by Matthew Lewis who undeniably injects the plot with comedic and heroic relief), moments of shock and loss (note blood-spattered walls following a snake attack on a Professor as well as the death of many young students), and bouts of euphoric relief (note Potter’s return to Hogwarts and later from “death”), the film remains fleeting (note the death of a beloved main character which is done so swiftly one is left wondering if anything happened at all).
As the film moves with rapid-fire succession, spewing action and plot at conveyor-belt like regularity, one quickly learns to find comfort in the small things. For instance, the film’s depiction of the highly emotive, rapid heartbeat-inducing montage featuring the conflicted character of Severus Snape (played by Alan Rickman) does full justice to both the book and one of its most challenging characters.
And despite the film’s many sins of omission and fleeting array of hurried emotions, if one were to seek the opinion of the vox populi the consensus would surely be that the film doesn’t completely strike out.
The final scene, which is epic both in facial expressions and physical setting, quickly shifts to an epilogue. At first, inducing a fit of laughter (the original cast is depicted as pot-bellied and middle-aged) the epilogue quickly turns into a nice summation, which in a fell swoop gathers up and closes the story of “the boy who lived”.
Good bye forever? Not quite
After a decade spent waiting in mystery and intrigue for the resolution of the books and then the films, the franchise shows no signs of stopping, as it shifts to a new frontier: an arcane, secretive upcoming venture by the name of Pottermore.
Like the feeling one gets from a first date Pottermore (which went live two weeks ago) comes bearing much mystery, intrigue and promises of a long and satisfying commitment with her fans.
Despite much anticipation, hype and many predictions, the site launch included just a simple and vague pre-recorded two-minute video with author Rowling.
And even though many journalists and bloggers have been speculating, the project remains shrouded in its very own invisibility cloak.
The only certainty is that Rowling, an adept storyteller and brilliant marketer of ideas, is not pulling the curtain on the Potter series.
She is simply shuffling down a broad spectrum, moving from the existing book and film franchise to a more interactive, social networking medium, forever more connecting her fans to all things magic.