Potter’s End

This week Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, will be released to a breathless public.  It will be the last installment of the Harry Potter series of movies — movies that, since the first film was released 10 years ago, have generated huge sums for Warner Brothers and theatre owners everywhere.

The Harry Potter movies probably have been the most financially successful series of films ever made.  There have been seven installments, and all have ended up in the top 70 box office hits of all time.  The lowest-grossing film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, grossed just below $250 million and comes in at number 64 on the list; the highest-grossing film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, generated $317 million and is number 26.  The producers have managed to keep the cast of actors playing the principal characters together for the entire ten-year run — excluding Richard Harris, who died after playing Professor Dumbledore for the first two films and was replaced by Michael Gambon — and the youthful actors playing Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) can still plausibly play teenagers.

Critics argue that the Harry Potter movies are not excellent films.  They obviously don’t stack up with Citizen Kane or Gone With The Wind or other classic cinematic landmarks, but that really is not their goal.  Instead, the movies seek to faithfully bring to life a beloved set of books so that the stories can be enjoyed, again, by Harry’s millions of fans.  By this measure, I think the movies have been a huge success.  Parts of the written story have been cut, which is not surprising given the length of some of the books, but the core elements and places are there.  And the actors who have created the principal adult roles — like Alan Rickman with his terrific Severus Snape, Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort, and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange — have put memorable flesh and blood on characters that could have been mere caricatures.

I’ll go to see the last installment in the series and will watch it with pleasure.  I’m particularly interested in seeing how Rickman fills in the final elements of the Severus Snape story, how the filmmakers deal with the curious meeting between Harry and Dumbledore just before the climactic battle at Hogwarts — and whether the somewhat controversial coda to the final book is included.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows

In a little over a week, the first part of the final installment of the Harry Potter series will hit the theaters.  Called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, it will debut on November 19.  The second part will be released in July 2011.

I’m eager to see how succesfully the last Harry Potter book is brought to the big screen.  The books have been a world-wide phenomenon, of course, but the movie adaptations have been interesting in their own right.  How do you take an enormously successful series of books and bring those characters to the big screen? What parts of the plots will hit the cutting room floor?  Can the silver screen version capture the mood of the book?

In the case of the Harry Potter books, the last question is crucial, because the mood of the books grew increasingly dark as the series progressed.  In the earlier books we learn, usually in light-hearted, humorous fashion, about things like Quidditch, and newspapers where the photographs move, and how the world of wizards manages to co-exist with the world of humans.  In the later books we learn of how Voldemort unforgivably separated himself from the rest of the sorcerer’s world in his quest to become the most powerful wizard in the world, we discover that Dumbledore was possessed of his own foibles, we see Harry fighting with his dearest friends, and we witness death and destruction on a grand scale.

Only after Harry and his friends are plunged into despair can they experience the ultimate triumph over Voldemort and his minions.  Will the film, in deference to its youthful audience, shy away from realistically capturing the grimness that gives the ultimate resolution meaning?  (And how will it visualize the classic train station scene between Dumbledore and Harry and the wretched, sniveling creature there with them?)  These are the kinds of questions that make a movie told from a familiar story worth seeing.