I was 8 when I was given my first Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Initially I dismissed it – reading was to me something that people did a long time ago when television wasn’t as good. I was eventually convinced to give it a try, and became engrossed after just a few pages. I whipped through the book and the previous two in the series, and then waited impatiently for each future instalment. Harry Potter had a profound impact on my childhood because it made me realise the joy of reading. They’re inspiring stories with a detailed world you want to explore and revisit, with fantastical elements as well as things you can instantly relate to as a child. It’s impossible not to be swept up excitedly along with the stories. The film adaptations have never held that same sense of adventure. Far from being memorable, they’ve seemed increasingly little more than CGI-laden processions with the story playing a definite second fiddle to the action, and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is no exception to this.
That is not to say it’s a particularly bad film, but it does feel soulless. The two and a half hour runtime zips by, but at the end of it there is nothing that stays with you once you’ve left the cinema. The story picks up immediately from the last film, with Harry on the search for the remaining shards of Voldemort’s soul known as horcruxes while trying to avoid his clutches. Despite seeming like a cynical ploy for more money initially, the decision to cut the film in two was sensible as it allows the epic battle at Hogwarts the time on screen it deserves without it completely overshadowing the story. The same cannot be said for the 3D effects, which seem to exist purely to add three pounds to ticket prices. Compared to a normal film the picture feels so flat; the 3D gives the impression of a series of 2D planes that the different actors are positioned in, akin to a pop-out book.
The special effects all look fantastic, with stone soldiers coming to life only to be shattered minutes later and spells raining down across the landscape, but this is something that is becoming standard. Franchises like Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean routinely churn out films with great looking effects and little else, and there’s a feeling that Harry Potter should really be offering something more. And here it falls down. The story is completely incomprehensible to anyone who has not read the books because it tries to skip around every written event without having the time to focus on any, as if ticking off a checklist rather than telling a story. The director David Yates seems to want to take creative control at certain points and all put excises some narrative strands only to falter at the last moment and include them seemingly as an afterthought. This happens several times but nowhere is it more apparent than at the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. After not mentioning the crucial way in which the power shifts from one to the other in the battle he instead includes it as an awkward expository dump afterwards in such a way that serves to only detract from the scene. By repeatedly doing this he not only makes the story impenetrable to anyone who isn’t aware of what is supposed to be happening, but to those who are he takes away strong elements of the story that held meaning and depth and serves up a flimsy replica that doesn’t have any of same gravitas.
With a cast of acting heavyweights including Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes you expect the performances to be first-rate, and from most of the older cast it is definitely enjoyable watching them rip up the scenery together. The standout moment though comes, in a rare poignant moment for the film, not from one of the established cast but one of the younger stars. Matthew Lewis, playing Neville Longbottom, gives a defiant speech packed with emotion that really resonates with the audience. One of the biggest ironies in the books is that either Neville or Harry could have been the main character, but Harry was selected for destruction by Voldemort and thus was marked as his equal. It’s an irony that the films mirror – if the lead actor was of the calibre of Matthew Lewis instead of Daniel Radcliffe, things could have turned out very differently.
Throughout premiere interviews many of the cast and crew made the point that a work without an audience is nothing. I disagree. A work that has no impact on its audience is nothing. I’m struggling to work out who this film would have an impact on. With an indecipherable story it is no replacement for the books. With an emphasis on explosions over plot it is no fitting nostalgic revisit to the stories for all but the least imaginative readers. I guess that in the future children as wary of books as I once was may watch these films and become intrigued enough to seek out the original stories and discover the magic for themselves. If that happens, then perhaps they do have a place.