Friday, 22 July 2011

The Last Goodbye

Firstly, I would just like to say that this is the hardest review I have ever written and probably will ever write. It took me a good few days to organise all my thoughts into a coherent opinion, and then I started worrying about writing a review which would still please people, before just giving up and getting down what I wanted to say, possible backlash aside. And I thought I had everything I wanted to say, and then I went to see it again, and a few of my views changed, so I've had to rehash some stuff. So anyway, that is my apology as to why it took me a whole week to get this out, but of course it was going to take some time. And also, it's massively long. You may want to get some refreshments and get comfy before starting this.

Do I have to put a spoiler warning? Surely you've all seen it by now, and if you haven't then you should have read the books anyway so kind of know what's going to happen. If neither of these things applies to you, then what are you doing here?

So, the conclusion to the world's most lucrative film franchise arrives, and it has already broken records around the world. Most of you may as well skip this paragraph, but in case you didn't know (and if you don't then please get off my blog, you uneducated sods), the final film sees our illustrious heroes continuing their search for Voldemort's Horcruxes in their quest to rid the world of his insanity. Expect tears aplenty as some of Hogwarts' favourite characters don't necessarily make it though the epic final battle.

I'll go through this chronologically first. The opening of the film may very well be my favourite of all of them, showing a school nothing like the Hogwarts from previous films, being watched over by Snape, Death Eaters, Dementors and the faithful teachers staying to protect the students who are seen marching diligently and silently in disciplined order. It's very effective, done overlayed with Alexandre Desplat's terrific score, which actually makes you kind of emotional before the film has even properly started.

It then cuts to directly where the last one left off, with Harry, Ron and Hermione recovering at Shell Cottage from their escapades at Malfoy Manor, and continuing their search for the Horcruxes. They quickly plan an ambitious break-in to Gringotts, the wizarding bank, with the help of Griphook the goblin. I have to say that the first part of the film with the break-in does feel a tad slow, not in the sense that no action occurs, because there isn't really one bit in the entire film where there isn't something going on, but in that it seems a little... lackluster. It's as though they know the epic battle is coming and so don't put their full effort into it in a rush to get to the climax of the whole series. However, that scene was pretty much exactly how I pictured it in the book, so I wasn't disappointed per se, it just didn't have that little spark for me. And, it has to be said that Helena Bonham-Carter, playing Hermione playing Bellatrix (confusing much?) was fanstastic, but more on that later, because I have a whole lot to say seperately on the acting.


We then finally get back to Hogwarts after being away for a whole film-and-a-bit, and the happiness is short-lived, diving straight back into the drama. There is an amazing scene between Alan Rickman's Snape and Maggie Smith's McGonagall, where the two fight it out in an effort to control Hogwarts and defending Harry. I think the subsequent scene of the teachers and Order of the Phoenix putting the defensive spells on the school is one of my favourite, it builds such a sense of anticipation, and it's actually quite emotional knowing what's about to happen to the school, i.e. getting completely destroyed.

I have to dedicate a big chunk of this post to the acting in the film, which is genuinely the best I've ever seen it. I think it is actually the best part of the film, as terrific as all the effects are, as it really brings the human side of the story out, and after ten years (of films, even longer for books!) and eight films, we have all become to invested in the characters that I am relieved to say they have been portrayed brilliantly on screen. I said while I was actually watching the film that Alan Rickman deserves at least an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Snape, who brings audiences of all ages and genders to tears when his backstory is exposed. Rickman has a great deal to do with the fact that Snape has been voted best Potter character several times. There honestly isn't anyone better to play him, and I cried for roughly an hour after his demise. Seriously.

It also has to be said that after severely underusing them in the past few films (actually, pretty much from the second film onwards) some of the other characters get to really shine. Smith clearly has a whale of a time bringing forth the badass side of McGonagall we all knew was there, and she is honestly so cute doing it, something I never thought I'd say about a woman of her age. In this film, she is in my top five characters, she is genuinely superb. Helena Bonham Carter also has to be credited for her performance (performances? I don't know if you would classify it as two), again with her deliciously insane Bellatrix and also as Hermione as Bellatrix after some Polyjuice Potion. She really got all of Emma Watson's mannerisms down, to the point where you nearly forget that is actually isn't Emma Watson herself doing it.

And the main three... well, you can see how they have all actually developed into decent actors. It may have taken some time (Emma Watson, I'm looking at you), but they really are all brilliant here. All three of them get the chance to show true emotion at some points, and it really rubs off on the audience. As ever, Rupert Grint is not really given enough screen time in my eyes (though I may be biased); it seems like the only times he is ever central is after the whole Ron/Hermione moment, whereafter they are seemingly glued to each other's sides. Still, he of course gets all the best one-liners ("That's my girlfriend, you numpty!") and provides the very-needed comic element which does relieve some of the heightened tension. It's nice to see after all this time that all three of them can truly hold their own when it comes to acting, and there was no sign of Emma Watson's infamous eyebrow anywhere I could see. Dan Radcliffe should be especially proud of what he has achieved in this film, where he is very much the dominant role, being the absolute centre of attention as opposed to other films where he maybe wasn't emphasised as much as he should be in the titular role.

And Neville. Ahhh, Neville. He finally gets his moment to shine, and Matt Lewis gets to showcase his acting on a scale he hasn't before. I have often discussed with my friend Lucy (!/lucybarratt_) how we would love to see the whole series rewritten with Neville as the hero because we do not feel he gets the recognition he truly deserves, and his heroic status is for some reason much more epic than Harry's. He really is the hero of the hour, and also has some of the funniest moments (note: goading Death Eaters who cannot cross the bridge for fear of being dissolved, and then finding that those protective enchantments have broken. Hilarious).

I read in another review (I think it was the Total Film one: that it's a credit to the series how so many huge actors turn up for the final film when they only have a line or two, sometimes only a word, in which to portray their characters who we have so fallen in love with. And I absolutely agree. They could have quite easily not bothered and the plot would not have been drastically changed by any means, but the film wouldn't have been the same without them all there, so it really is a testament to the film franchise that they all took the time out of their schedules to come and be on screen for only a few seconds, and on behalf of Potter fans everywhere I thank them for making the film feel as authentic as possible.

It is impossible to talk about the film without talking about the effects. They are simply stunning in this film, and during the battle scenes you find that you don't even think about them, that they seem completely natural, as if it's normal to have 20-foot tall giants and animated stone guards walking around. When a film truly transports you into the world in which it is set, where you don't even think "Wow, these effects are amazing" and instead don't even think about them whilst watching because they seem so realistic, that is when it has truly succeeded. On the other hand, don't bother with watching it in 3D if you haven't already. After three minutes you forget it's even in 3D and not in a good way. After seeing it in both 3D and 2D, the former just seems to redundant. It doesn't add anything to the experience, except it makes wiping away tears a little bit harder.

Now onto the really negative bits. It actually pains me that there are enough of them that I have to mention them and I can't just skip over them. Firstly, the amount of detail they left out is actually unacceptable. Being the shortest film in the whole series (how?), I don't understand why they have left out bits which are quite important, for example Dumbledore's whole backstory with Grindelwald and the Deathly Hallows, and Lupin and Tonks' son (only very briefly mentioned which will confuse people who haven't actually read the books - not that I sympathise). I'm sure fans wouldn't have minded, since this is the very last one, if the film was longer - even another half an hour of footage wouldn't make it the longest film in the series. That irritated me. Also, not enough was made out of certain deaths. As much as it killed me just to see him lying on the floor, I wanted to see poor Fred die, which actually surely would have made me commit suicide in the cinema from sheer depression. We glimpse the number of bodies in the Great Hall in another moment of extreme emotion, but it feels like more could have been done to mark momentous deaths.

On the plus side, things which first time round severely umimpressed me actually were much better on second viewing. The epilogue, for example, made me cry with laughter the first time round, and not in a good way. I thought it was ridiculous and really wanted it to end with the scene before, which ended on a really lovely shot of the three main heroes together among the destroyed remains of Hogwarts. Watching again, however, I could fully appreciate how sweet it was, and it was nice to have a bit of closure and see them grown up, even if I still think they look disgusting (Ginny especially). Also, the much-anticipated Ron/Hermione kiss. Since the major catalyst for it happening in the books was cut from the films (S.P.E.W.) I had no idea how they could do it well. And first time round I thought they didn't. I was actually fuming that they did not do that justice, but again, after repeated viewings, it does actually seem quite sweet, even if I don't understand it (they get drenched and therefore must amorously embrace? Ok...). It wasn't as bad as I thought it was, that is the best I can say. Still slightly disappointed, but what can you do?

As ever, I am writing this review whilst listening to the soundtrack, and it is one of my favourites in the whole series. I cannot imagine the pressure Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hallows Pt 1, The King's Speech, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) must have felt when scoring such an epic film, when the music is so integral to the film, but he did it very well. I know a lot of fans wanted John Williams (Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban) back, but I don't think he was entirely necessary, and Desplat really did very well. 'Courtyard Apocalypse' is a track which plays during a scene which displays the devestation of the battle and shows the emotion of the fighting going on; it is the music of a spectacular piece of cinematography which shows the impact of the action very well. I applaud his score, I think it's very good and captures all the emotion of scenes brilliantly. If you can listen to a score  by itself and still feel the emotion of the film, it is truly a good one.

I think the true success of this film is that even through the action-packed battle scenes, the human element is still there, and the little moments are what make it truly magnificent. Sure, director David Yates and the whole production team clearly have a great time blowing everything to smithereens and causing absolute carnage in the action department, but it's the more subtle moments that come out top. The wounded being tended to by the teachers and Lavender Brown being mauled by werewolf Greyback remind us of the war aspect, that people still get injured and die but that the survivors stick together and protect the vulnerable. Harry accepting his fate and going to meet death, walking to Voldemort with his lost loved ones by his side is truly a tear-jerking moment and a reminder of the loss he has faced in his life, taking the focus momentarily off the suicide mission he is on. And Snape's whole story is, again, deserving of awards. I like that the film doesn't tone it down for the children, and you really do see the gore (e.g. Voldemort having just killed dozens of goblins and then walking through their blood); it makes it that much more convincing and emotional. A film that can make you feel that many emotions and have them so very genuine is a film which has succeeded.

Verdict: Maybe not the best critically (that accolade is still held by Prisoner of Azkaban), the film does what it needed to do and sends Harry off in style. It is a fantastic production which lets the audience bid farewell to the franchise and, in a lot of my generation's cases, their childhood. I apologise for the overuse of the words "emotion"/"emotional" and, as always, for my excessive use of (brackets), but this time I really feel it was needed.

**** (it kills me that my morals keep me from adding the one more star I want to award it.)

Trailer: ("TOGETHER!")

My favourite track from the score: (it gives you a taste of what the rest of it is like.)

Also, I couldn't post without adding this. Thanks again Lucy for introducing this to me.