So it all ends.
And I am left with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, it could’ve ended a little bit better. The fault lies, I think, with Voldemort.
As much as the focus of the series is Harry growing up to face his destiny and defeat one of the greatest wizards of his time, its dramatic power derives from the dark side. The principal theme of the series is the psychology of fear. Voldemort, a creature of fear and shadows at first — almost a MacGuffin in his own way — is the key. As the series progresses, he and his Death Eaters slowly gain more and more definition until that absolutely brilliant moment in the graveyard after the Triwizard tournament when he returns as a creature of flesh and blood. In fact, the choice to leave him almost entirely out of the picture in the fifth book and to give us tantalizing glimpses of his childhood in the sixth are what get us to primed to enjoy the rollicking adventure that the seventh one is. The series is not without its faults, but overall, it’s a masterpiece of construction and build-up. That is precisely why, when Harry calls him Riddle in that final confrontation and responds with an “Yes, I dare!” to his shocked response, we feel exhilarated.
The films, on the other hand, are completely hamstrung by Voldemort. As good an actor as Ralph Fiennes is, there’s only so much he can do when every feature in his face has been eliminated by make-up. The look of the character is so distractingly bad that it takes away from the performance and characterization.
The other major compromise comes in the way the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort is played out. In the book, it’s a long conversation culminating in a short duel, much like the finale of Kill Bill. The film chooses to make them fight, run up and down staircases, even hit each other in the odd instance. What is magical in the book is mundane in the movie. Sad, really.
Outside of that, there’s little to complain. The special effects are on par with any good production, the performances are top-notch, as usual. The highlights, for me, were:
- Helena Bonham Carter playing Emma Watson playing Carter herself, when Hermione drinks some polyjuice potion to transform into Bellatrix.
- Maggie Smith commanding the statues to come to life and guard Hogwarts, and ending with an excited little giggle and the line: “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!”
- Rupert Grint and Hermione Granger sharing an excited little smile after their first kiss.
- The epilogue, whose tone is closer to a quiet smile than a laugh, and contains essentially the only line that made the epilogue necessary — the one about Snape.
But despite the positives, I keep coming back to what bothers me about this film. Maybe he must not be named, but must he not have a face either?