DOUBLE FEATURE MOVIE REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 AND PART 2-- 5 STARS

(QUICK NOTE-- I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 when it originally came out in November 2010, but wanted to wait until Part 2 came out to judge the full chapter as a complete body of work.  They should be discussed and viewed together.  Therefore, this review covers both films.  As an extra note and disclaimer, I have not read any of the books in the series whatsoever.  I judge and look at them solely for their qualities as films.  I have said many times that no movie, no matter what, can ever match its print source material, whether it's a comic book, Shakespeare, or modern fiction like Harry Potter.  The books and the movies should be judged separately for what they are in their separate creative mediums.  If you want a book fan's movie critic judgment, you're going to have to go someplace else.  I don't care to read them nor have the patience to do so.  So, stop trying to talk me into them, my friends.)

Keeping a long movie series or franchise alive is extremely difficult.  Times change and audiences change.  What was "cool" upon its arrival can become stale in short time.  People change, actors age, and turn into movie stars where their asking prices go up with every movie.  Studios and movie makers get greedy to the point of trying too hard to top themselves every time or beat a dead horse because it still sells tickets for its name recognition.  Maintaining continuity and a consistent artistic product are nearly impossible from beginning to end these days.  Just ask Spider-ManX-Men, the 1990s Batman series, The MatrixTransformers, and the six men who've portrayed James Bond in fifty years.

Try adapting seven enormously long and detailed books into eight movies over ten years of filming.  Try doing that with the same core stars growing from unknown children to icon adults without the money or the stardom getting to them.  Save for the unfortunate death of Richard Harris, do the same with a huge cast of supporting players as well.  Try doing that with the same single screenwriter for all of the movies but one without a maniacal studio or director taking over the product.  You're right.  It's unheard of and nearly impossible.  Those elements are all just part of the colossal achievement that is the Harry Potter film series.

Whether you are a film fan, a devoted book fan, or both, this conclusion is a big deal.  To watch Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint deliver Steve Kloves's words based on the tremendously popular works of J.K. Rowling for the final arc of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2 is a cinematic miracle of staggering and satisfying proportions.  Where the enjoyment could be just from seeing all of this effort happen, the combined films of the final chapter in the series delivers epic entertainment worthy of its distinct place in movie history.

Those of you who read the books know where the story is coming from and where the tension and anticipation is building.  The final two films follow our heroic trio's last year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  However, the murder of headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) at the hands of fellow professor Severus Snape (the brilliant Alan Rickman), doing the dark lord Voldemort's (the perfectly creepy Ralph Fiennes) bidding that Potter rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) didn't have the stomach to do, have sent the wizard world into chaos.  With evil forces now controlling the Ministry of Magic and ready to lay siege to Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Radcliffe) is forced into exile, joined by faithful friends, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), on the run from those hunting him for his capture to Voldemort.

Before Dumbledore died, he set Harry on a quest to find and destroy seven "horcruxes," mystical and magical objects that contain elements of Voldemort's soul.  Only when they are all destroyed, is he weak enough to be defeated once and for all.  This need sends the three young wizards on increasingly dangerous journeys on their own to identify, find, disspell, and destroy the remaining horcruxes before Voldemort can get to Harry.  The tricky thing is that Harry Potter himself, the boy who survived his parents' murder and took a piece of Voldemort's soul with him, is one of the horcruxes.  Another tide-changing challenge in the battle against You-Know-Who becomes securing three powerful items known as the Deathly Hallows.  They are the powerful Elder Wand, the Cloak of Invisibility (which Harry already has), and the Resurrection Stone.  They may hold the key to overcoming the powerful dark lord.

As you can tell (if you haven't already by the great trailers), the scope, even separately, of the two films is epic.  The two movies based on the final book of the series cover a great deal and have many subplots and important minor characters that need to be involved to tell even a piece of the whole story.  The filmmakers were wise to split it into two parts, even if creating two money-making releases instead of one was also keen on their greedy minds.

No matter the reasons, the two final films deliver the promise the entire series has been building towards.  Pulsed by increasingly impressive special effects, top-notch British ensemble acting of more than two dozen character actors, and an ominous and vigorous new musical score by Alexandre Desplat, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2 raise the franchise to new heights in size, quality, precision, and impact.  The first part builds suspense well with a bigger story arc than just another year in school, while the second part is an outstanding action fantasy film on the highest level.  Heroes and villains emerge and fall and characters we've come to both love and hate die.  Once again, you book readers know how it all ends.  As a complete piece of work, the two films are outstanding entertainment and deserve to be seen and appreciated.

Beyond all that, the real progress that made the movie series tick is the dual-growth of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the three actors that played them.  The classic aspects of teenage coming-of-age storytelling have always been present in the Harry Potter series, but on two distinct fronts.  As the characters, they have grown to find their skill, importance, and desires as to what really matters in the grand scheme of all that has transpired around them.  As actors, Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have gone from unknown cute-faced children playing borderline stereotypes to mature and capable performers we genuinely care about and root for through this decade within their characters' shoes and robes.

We can envision no one else as these three great characters and don't want to (please keep the books and films as the perfect finish of story closure that it is, J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers).  Fans of the franchise or not, you have to appreciate seeing these three actors grow on these two fronts in both the roles themselves and their new-found places as movie icons off-screen.  It is a little sad to see it all end, but impressive that it even was accomplished so successfully at all.  Enjoy this final chapter of movie history and welcome to a bright Hollywood future, you three now-former wizards.

LESSON #1: WITH TRUE FRIENDS, YOU ARE NEVER ALONE WHEN HELP IS NEEDED-- All throughout the series and definitely here in the last two films, Ron and Hermione will not leave their friend's side, despite Harry's constant weight of responsibility of not wanting others harmed for what comes upon himself.  It's a platonic unconditional love that never feels cheesy, forced, or over-the-top.  They may have their brief differences and minor separations here and three, but through and through, Harry will always have powerful backup.  That support grows when you count the wizard higher-ups and fellow classmates who emerge to fight for the side of good and risk their lives for the Chosen One.

LESSON #2: THE DEAD ARE ALWAYS WITH YOU-- It doesn't matter whether you you believe in, exist with, or worship an organized or unorganized religion, the "Force" from Star Wars, a scientific belief of the paranormal, or any other random idea of the afterlife, the dead people you care about are always with you because of the memories and times you've shared that never leave your thoughts.  Call it your soul stirring, your conscience talking to you, or synaptic responses in your brain's chemistry firing, but we humans don't easily let go or forget the lessons, guidance, and love from those who have touched our lives but have departed before us.  Harry has always had his parents' love, his godfather's support, and Dumbledore's wisdom guide and strengthen him when times are difficult.  The film and world of Harry Potter has always brought this to a poignant magical visualization and portrayal. 

LESSON #3: BEING THE BETTER MAN-- This is one character trait that Harry has always had, continuing through the end here.  He feels enormous personal regret and responsibility towards those who sacrifice so much for his success.  He takes the high road when bullied and helps those who wouldn't do the same for him.  He discounts the hero worship that comes from being the Chosen One and doesn't thirst for power.  He values life, just wants to be an equal to his peers, and have the life he didn't have growing up.  Despite his vast importance, his humble and tragic origins have made him into this commendable opposite of of a man to Voldemort.

LESSON #4: GREAT HEROES AND VILLAINS ARE ALWAYS LINKED-- Speaking of opposites and going back to any layer of fiction, from Greek myths to modern fantasy, a great hero only reaches that level of greatness when matched against a great villain and vice versa.  They are both what each other are measured against to the point where nearly one cannot exist without the other.  Like Bellerophon and Chimera or Batman and Joker before them, Harry and Voldemort and their respective fates and destinies are forever linked and have been since their origins.

LESSON #5: THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF COURAGE-- Different acts of varying degrees get the label and credit of being courageous, many times for the wrong reasons or too high a level of acclaim.  Many times simple, benign life decisions that avoid an inconvenience (going green), a consequence (following the rules when others are not), overcome a fear (skydiving), or make a seemingly big change (career and relationship choices) get the courage tag.  Those examples do require some level of courage, but the highest level of courage is the willingness to give one's life for another.  There is no greater courage or sacrifice.  Several characters in these final two films, while fictitious and occupy a world of magic, personify that level of courage and are a very worthy life lesson example for us in the audience.