How good of a movie is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II? As is frequently so for big screen adaptations of beloved books, that's really two questions rolled into one : how good of a movie is it for the fans, and how good of a movie is it for the Muggles (that means non-magical folk - for the uninitiated, that's how Potter fans refer to you uninititiated.)
The short answer to the first question is that while far from perfect, it's a pretty satisfying adaptation. And I believe that Muggles will find the movie pretty good watching as well, even if much of it is only partially understood.
The question dichotomy emerges at all in the first place because the books are so large and complex. Note that those two are both important. It's not just the size, it's the complexity.
The Lord of the Rings is also very large and expansive. But even though it is considered to be of a higher literary caliber than Harry Potter and is targeted squarely at an adult audience, not to mention of comparable word count, it is, counterintuitively, simpler.
JK Rowling constructs very rich and realistic psychologies and relationships for her characters and follows their development in high detail over seven years. Not just for the main few, but also for the supporting characters (though naturally to a lesser extent.)
J.R.R. Tolkien by contrast puts virtually no character dynamic in his work. His characters, though sharp, are pretty simple. They are mostly archetypes - wise wizard, heroic warrior, elf, and so on.
And so the movie versions of the Lord of the Rings can be identical to their source books in essence, even if large amounts of material are by necessity left out. What's left out isn't essentially different from what's left in.
Not so with Harry Potter - it's too tangled. Leave out some scenes and leave out some essence.
This is not to slight Lord of the Rings. This is pointing out that Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are apples and oranges. J.R.R. Tolkien's vision is also rich - just not in the character dynamic department. It is thunderously moving and wonderful, and achieves that in part by not getting bogged down in petty character details.
The same comparison, in fact, can be made between any work of literature and any other work which, although much more complex in many ways, is considered to be lower on the literary totem pole. Instead of Harry Potter, one could compare Lord of the Rings to Twilight, for instance. (In which case we are talking about much, much lower, and not just "considered to be", but "actually".)
Now to the final Harry Potter movie itself.
Harry is complexer than Frodo.
Part II of the Deathly Hallows basically follows the two final large episodes in the book : the break in to Gringott's Wizarding Bank and the Battle of Hogwarts. The latter occupies so much more of the movie both in terms of time and impact that the movie could well be renamed "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II : The Battle of Hogwarts".
This is no complaint. While the Gringott's heist is important, not to mention wonderfully entertaining to watch, the Battle of Hogwarts is…well, it's awesome! What an awesome battle!
It never gets boring or monotonous. The fighting itself is woven together quite well with the human drama underpinning it. This is no surprise, given that J.K. Rowling already does that in the book, and director David Yates merely had to reflect that. (And that is no slight to the movie's writing and directing - I'm just paying the appropriate credit to the source material.)
The visuals are fantastic. The computer graphics are compelling and not overdone. The magical shield descending over Hogwarts was especially enchanting, and the call up and march of the knight statues was unbelievably stirring.
What was of rather average quality was the final duel between Harry and Voldemort. It was a totally standard climactic one-on-one duel. The hero gets kicked around, almost loses, at least part of the battle happens in a hazardously high place, and so forth.
And it was very much unlike what happened in the book. Very little physically happened in the final match between Harry and Voldemort. The excitement lay in the psychology, the emotions, and how JK Rowling narrated it. Could this have been translated to the big screen? Maybe not. (And this, perhaps, is one way in which the written word will always be superior to the moving sound and image.)
My other big gripe is with how the relationship of Snape and Lily Potter (Harry's mother) is handled. The flashback into Snape's memory is far too uneven, its end melodramatic, a consequence of having to compensate for leaving out far too much.
Much of how their relationship evolved and how that was tied in with the first rise of Voldemort was left out. As a result, to get across Snape's bereavement at Lily's death, an overdone scene of his wailing over her body was invented. It was effective, and I cried, but it was like being hit over the head with a grief hammer. The book did it in a way that was not over the top, partly by spreading things out over more description and dialogue (which I also cried over.)
Most of the characters are finely acted, all by British actors. (Which begs the question of why it is that great British actors always seem so much finer and greater than their great American counterparts?)
Daniel Radcliffe brings the saga of Harry and friends to a close with a very satisfying performance as the big HP himself. And Ralph Fiennes finishes a menacing and moody depiction of Voldemort.
Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (Hermione and Ron) have matured a great deal as actors since their childhood days. They started out as bad actors, and now have grown into, if not quite good actors, then at least decent ones. Good might even be in their future.
Many people, especially of the younger persuasion, have said with great emotion that the movie brings their childhood to a close. I do not feel the same sense of closure, and not just because I was a teenager when the first book came out.
I felt that emotional tsunami, that closure, and tingled with its after-effects for days after I finished reading the last book. This is due in part to the fact that I consider the books to be the genuine article and the movies to be secondary.
But the larger part is because they leave out so much of the essence of the books. Some parts of the Deathly Hallows Part II, like the Snape and Lily flashbacks, felt like Cliff's Notes to the corresponding portions of the book's story.
This was not the case with the Lord of the Rings. I felt an emotional climax and closure at both the end of the last book and the last movie. I felt this because the entire essence of the books was also in the movies.
In any case, whatever its imperfections, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is a damn good movie. Go see it if you haven't.