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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
There's no question about it - This is the swan song that the Harry Potter saga deserved. There's no more questions as to where certain allegiances lie, no more strength gathering games for 'you know who', no more intricate puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, no more tiptoeing around the inevitable confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. The Deathly Hallows - Part 1 had the monumental task of providing us with most of the plot and character development this tale in its entirety had to offer; charged with being the long ascent to the top of a rollercoaster before taking the plunge... and boy did it succeed. In many ways, I consider The Deathly Hallows - Part 1 to be the best Harry Potter film of all - The Half-Blood Prince raised some eyebrows by drastically departing from the storytelling methods of the films that preceded it, but its finely articulated dark tone and focus on the characters was exactly what made it stand out above the rest - The Deathly Hallows - Part 1 not only continued on this path, but fearlessly embraced it with a level of mastery the series had never seen. Throughout the entirety of Part 1 I could feel the constant swell of depression, anxiety, hatred, fear, despair, devastation and hopelessness... and then I was left hanging with its brilliantly anticlimactic ending.
Of course, being that the series slowly transformed from magically wondrous to dark and foreboding over the last decade, coupled with the fact that Part 1 had been so brilliantly executed as the ascent before the plunge, Part 2 was left with a nearly impossible order to fill. However, although all signs pointed to this film failing to live up to its own inherent hype, it bows its head to no one and majestically steps forward to fulfill its obligation. With the search for the remaining horcruxes being the only obstacle left in Harry, Ron and Hermione's way, this film unapologetically leaves plot and character development behind so it can uncover the hidden truths we've waited so patiently to see revealed, but more than that, it makes good on the promise that we would get to see the ultimate battle between good and evil take place... and this film wastes no time in bringing that moment front and center. After an exhilarating attempt to break into a Gringotts vault, the film immediately whisks us to Hogwarts where Dementors are keeping vigilant watch over whoever comes and goes, Snape has assumed the position as an oppressive headmaster, and Voldemort's army has gathered outside to tear down the only safe haven Potter has left brick by brick. All the things one would expect from a proper 'third act' are here - masses of wizards and Death Eaters collide, memorable locations from previous installments are unexpectedly revisited, familiar faces die, and Harry finally confronts Voldemort one on one, wand to wand.
Whereas Part 1 was the perfect anticlimax, Part 2 is completely the opposite and provides an intense non-stop ride with nothing but climaxes, and to not give Director David Yates his due here would be a great injustice. This is his fourth Harry Potter flick, and being that he was responsible for the latter and more important half of the series, he was able to ensure the progression between Order of the Phoenix and the grand finale was natural and satisfying. His time spent behind the camera in the Potter universe let him hone his skills as a director, both in story presentation and cinematography, and each film was a success at being subsequently darker, more emotionally palpable, and more refined overall than the last. His evolution as a director can easily be seen through the progression of the latter half of the Potter franchise, and this final installment is just as much a swan song for his ability behind-the-scenes as the film itself is to the series as a whole. Christopher Columbus did a fantastic job at bringing this magically whimsical, yet dangerous world to life, but (in my humble opinion) it was Yates that eventually made it truly feel fully realized on the big screen. Not only that, but bringing a franchise that's as highly regarded as this to an end must have been infinitely more intimidating and difficult to make as a result, and I have a great amount of respect for him not shying away from such a role. Thanks to Yates, as well as the also ever improving screenwriter Steve Kloves, I'm not only thrilled with how this film turned out, but I'm anxious to see the projects they'll attach themselves to next.
It would also be criminal not to commend Daniel Radcliffe's final take on Potter, as well as Ralph Fienes' portrayal of Voldemort. For starters, Radcliffe's performance as the boy wizard this time around was, I assume, no easy task. Harry finds himself in the center of a world that's crumbling around him, and for a film that's seemingly focused on providing so much action and epic confrontation, Radcliffe was pretty much left to his own devices to really make us feel Harry's inner-struggle amongst startling revelations and self-realizations. And I do mean he was more or less on his own, because although Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) serve their characters well here, they're not given the same amount of attention as they were in Part 1, which was in my opinion, the film that will most likely always be the best showcase for their acting chops. However, I think it's Fienes' portrayal of Voldemort that stole the show for me. Up until now we've really only seen a single side of 'he who shall not be named' - Overconfident, intimidating, fearless and in total control. This time however, the destruction of the horcruxes make him truly vulnerable for the first time since his return to physical form, and now we get to see the villain nervous and fearful. Given the fact that Fienes wasn't really given an opportunity to present this side of Voldemort before, I was half-expecting it would come off feeling forced, but this new side of the weakened foe is presented effortlessly.
The only problem I really have with this film as a whole is that most of the other major (or even minor-major) characters we've been introduced to over the years aren't really given the due they deserve. Malfoy, the Weasley family (especially the twin brothers), Luna Lovegood, some of the more infamous Death Eaters and even Hagrid make brief and even awkward appearances. It's a shame, too, because for a film franchise to have 8 films to really make us grow fond of all of the characters in its universe both good and bad, it's disappointing that so many of them didn't have much stake in the final battle at Hogwarts. One could argue that the sole purpose of many of these characters was simply to help guide Harry down the path he was destined to travel and that they fulfilled that obligation in previous installments. As true as that may be, it does give this film that slight feeling of something you can't quite put your finger on, left unresolved. In addition, although the final scene does a good enough job at bringing everything full circle, I couldn't help but feel that the epilogue wasn't as fleshed out as it could have been. It's rather brief and again, after investing so much time in the main characters I was hoping for a bit more. I mean, I wasn't exactly looking for it to mirror The Return of the King's nearly half-hour goodbye sequence, but this felt closer to being tacked on than being a true send-off.
In the grand scheme of the film or even the series as a whole, these complaints are about as minor as they come. They were noteworthy, yes, but none of my complaints made me feel as if some sort of injustice had been done. I really couldn't have asked for a better film and it's definitely up there as one of the best franchise finales I've ever seen. I know, I know - You might be a little hesitant to take my word for it since my review is so glowing it practically screams 'fan boy', but I assure you that's as far from the truth as it gets. I long considered Harry Potter to be the Backstreet Boys of the book world (a mainstream success without truly deserving its acclaim), and my wife had to almost literally drag me to the first film adaptation. No, Harry Potter had earned my appreciation with its superb cast and magical filmmaking, and that appreciation aged like a fine wine as each subsequent film improved upon the last. If you've been sitting on the sidelines this entire time thinking the franchise is merely child's play or that it would one day fail to deliver the satisfying end its slow burn storyline inherently promised, do yourself a favor and take a chance. If you don't, you're missing out on a series written with masterful progression and thanks to The Deathly Hallows - Part 2, you'd also be missing one of the most satisfying grand finale spectacles ever committed to film. The showdown between Harry and Voldemort is quite possibly the finest confrontation of good and evil since Luke squared off against Darth Vader, and that's saying a lot. The only thing I regret after seeing this film is being forced to acknowledge this magical story has finally come to an end... but I can now look forward to revisiting the series in its entirety on Blu-ray.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1's video presentation was met with some criticism when it was released on Blu-ray. It was a very dark film and some people complained that it was so dark, they could hardly make out what was going on at times. It was incredibly dark for sure, but I'm inclined to blame improper calibration or television sets that can't produce black levels as accurately as many other sets might be able to. There was nothing wrong with the encode, as the enveloping darkness was purely an artistic choice, and an appropriate one at that. Part 2 is really no different in this respect, but Warner once again delivers a pristine 1080p AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) that accurately represents what was seen in theaters.
Despite how some people may interpret the director's intent, the black levels on this release are immaculate and never crush details unless they're meant to... to be fair though, when comparing this with the styling of the previous film, the contrast is much more pleasing to the eye this time around. If you're still not convinced due to user or hardware error, or even just personal taste, you'll instantly know your television isn't trying to mess with your mind when you see a magically protected shield surround Hogwarts, fire erupting from a dragon's mouth, explosions keeping Death Eaters at bay, or a grand hall of dueling wizards letting colorful (and deadly) streams of magic scream from their wands. When the film has color to display, there's no mistaking that this encode is more than capable of displaying all of the beautiful and haunting imagery as it was meant to be seen.
Detail is often immaculate on this release - There's no edge enhancement (EE) to speak of, and characters never come off looking like wax figures due to digital noise reduction (DNR). That being said, there is some very mild use of DNR at play here, but much like the artistic intent in regards to the film's black levels and often bleak color palette, this was also by design and not a fault of the encode. Certain shots in the theatrical presentation appeared as if they had minimal smoothing done, and being that this release is completely faithful to what was seen in theaters, you'll see that effect here if you have a sensitive eye for it. I feel obligated to repeat however that the usage of DNR is minimal, and not blanketed across the entire film. Certain shots or scenes were apparently hand-picked to have DNR applied, but the film as a whole retains a very fine structure of film grain, and again, more often than not the detail that can be seen is vivid and lifelike and has a realistic amount of depth.
I've seen some questionable scores on the internet in regards to this specific release, and I'm left scratching my head. This really is the finest presentation of Harry Potter on any home video format to date, and fans of the series, or home video enthusiasts in general should walk away more than just 'satisfied'. I have no qualms in giving this release 5 stars in the video department because although there's some minor use of DNR, it's how the film was presented theatrically... and for me, that's what Blu-ray is all about - Giving us the most accurate representation of how a film looked during its theatrical run, and The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 does that flawlessly.
It should come as no surprise, especially considering the outstanding video presentation, that The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a sonic powerhouse thanks to the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track it's been treated to, which perfectly suits the aggressive filmmaking approach utilized in bringing the Harry Potter franchise to an epic end. This is a fully enveloping experience from start to finish - Scenes that don't have a lot going on still make impressive use of the rear channels, as they provide us with hauntingly accurate environmental ambience. Furthermore, I would dare anyone not to feel bowled over by what the explosive action sequences have to offer - The LFE is loud and proud, and is able to stand head and shoulders amongst the best sounding Blu-ray titles available on the market. Although the LFE is going to make the pictures on your wall shake (hope you've got that nail in a stud!), the bass never sounds muddied and never overpowers the other vital soundtrack elements. The rears get particularly aggressive in the heat of battle, and if you want total immersion... just, wow. You're probably going to feel like you need to duck your head when bricks are blown from their columns and fly past your head, and you'll probably feel more than just a little worried when you hear fire being blown all around you by a dragon. Really, this is a reference quality experience that I'm sure more than some of you are going to use to show off your home theater, and major kudos should go to those responsible for the sound design and this flawless encode.
-Maximum Movie Mode - This is worth the price of admission alone. If you've never experienced Warner's Maximum Movie Mode on any of the previous Blu-ray titles that utilized it, you MUST take the time to see what the fuss is all about. This supplement is essentially a picture-in-picture track that's actually hosted (and yes, I do mean hosted as in, 'standing off to the side and talking to you about the feature') by various members of the cast and crew, and sprinkled throughout the experience you'll see behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes re-incorporated into the film where they were meant to be seen, and the host(s) will even pause the film to break down major special effects sequences. This does increase the runtime of the film considerably, from 130 minutes to a whopping 167... but you'll be so sucked into this 'still feels like next-gen' feature than you won't even care.
-Focus Points - Aberforth Dumbledore / Deathly Hallows Costume Changes / Harry Return to Hogwarts / The Hogwarts Shield / The Room of Requirement Set / The Fiery Escape / Neville's Stand / Molly and Bellatrix - Totalling nearly a half an hour in culmination, Focus Points is a series of very informative production featurettes that should please any Potter film fan.
-Final Farewells - Major members of cast and crew share some of the life lessons they've learned along the way, and give their bittersweet farewells to the camera, and to each other. A short, but emotional piece.
-Deleted Scenes - As is the case with most deleted scenes on any home video release, I can understand why these scenes were left behind. They're not 'bad' mind you, but they would have interfered with the film's immaculate pacing. Worth watching through once, but don't expect anything extraordinary to be revealed.
-A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe - At nearly an hour in length, this is an extremely candid conversation between Rowling and the theatrical face of Harry, Daniel Radcliffe. Although this isn't as technically impressive as the Maximum Movie Mode feature, this, at least for me, stands as the most impressive special feature included on this release, and possibly of any Potter release to date.
-The Women of Harry Potter - There are plenty of heroines in the magical world of Harry Potter, and this feature is a look and tribute to them.
-The Goblins of Gringotts - Although they're not exactly given a lot of attention throughout the rest of the series, they're amongst the most effective looking 'creatures' in the series, what with their fantastic facial texturing and bottomless pits of black eyes. It's kind of cool to see a featurette devoted to the, although I can't help but wonder if this is a stretch. I guess with all the other supplemental features released on Blu-ray to date however, that there's really not much additional content left to cover.
-Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - A brief look at the attraction located in the UK.
-Pottermore - A brief introduction to the new online website.
The special features are spread across two discs (the movie disc as well as a second disc devoted solely to special features), and much to the dismay of those who have expressed outrage over this 'format' before, a UV Digital Copy is included. Digital copies were a great way to let people download a copy of the film to their digital devices so they could watch them on the go, but with more and more technology utilizing 'on the go streaming', UV is basically a way to let you stream your content, as opposed to actually owning a digital copy. To be blunt, this is a practice that needs to stop, as now saying a 'digital copy is included' is FALSE ADVERTISING, as your digital copy is actually just a stream.
It's not often that such a massively recognized Hollywood entity can wrap things up without drawing the ire of fans and critics alike, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 has satisfied them all, and rightfully so. Take it from someone who hasn't merely been a blind fan boy that jumped on the bandwagon 'just because' - This is honestly one of the most memorable battles between good and evil ever to grace the big screen, an accomplishment that's made even more impressive by the fact filmgoers have waited for no less than a decade to see such an epic conclusion. At the risk of going a little overboard here, this film, and really the series in its entirety, stands as a beacon of light that Hollywood can churn out mainstream-worthy titles without sacrificing quality and integrity. Another thing that I'm impressed by is the quality of the supplements on this release - Although the current Blu-ray is sure to be overshadowed by another a 4 disc 'super duper' package in the not too distant future (and I'm sure an ultimate all encompassing 'complete series' boxed set after that), I'm shocked that Warner Bros. didn't just throw us a bare bones disc to ensure more people will double and triple dip down the line. No, not only are the supplements worthy of our time, but to go all out with the coveted Maximum Movie Mode really makes this a release worth owning right out of the gate (or is it castle?). Couple the amazing supplements with a reference A/V presentation, and this release easily comes highly recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!