‘Harry Potter,’ as a story on film, turned 20 on November 14th, 2021. In 2010, This world felt like it was as bigger than ever, and yet this chapter felt like a slow, even breath. Now, on 4K Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range, I‘m continuing to revisit this fantasy to see whether it lives beyond the real-world problems surrounding it and explore how we might, as consumers, change the way we think about sharing stories that matter to us.
Immediately many things are re-established, and a platform is set for a finale. The movie opens through a rusting, deteriorating Warner Brothers logo and then we see Harry, Ron, and Hermione preparing to leave their lives behind. This, and the rolling music almost trademark to David Yates vision for this world, echoes the end of, “Half-Blood Prince.” Then immediately Voldemort re-explains his link with Harry, Severus Snape’s roll is revisited, and in a tight ten minutes everything needed to tell this final story is laid out.
This chapter is evenly divided between nostalgic farewells (Harry revisiting the cupboard, Hagrid’s bike, Dobby), things nostalgic to the characters as well as the viewer, and a new, unique mystery/adventure with new characters (Mundungus Fletcher, various ministry workers and Death Eaters, Xenophilius Lovegood, and Bathilda Bagshot). Danger and loss are felt almost immediately as Hedwig falls from the sky in a scene that parallels Harry’s liberation from his Aunt and Uncle’s house in “Order of the Phoenix.” Investigating the mysterious symbol of the Deathly Hallows is interrupted by Harry’s closest physical moment of intimacy with his parents. In general, it’s a fantasy story punctuated with things that are truthfully saddening and painful in a real-world setting.
The image reflects the oranges and browns of the rust as well as the greys of stone and clouds in the opening logo. I remember this being graded with less color and that must be the HDR, camera work is used more often to emulate wizardry, depicting “splinching,” spinning to mask Polyjuice transformations, hovering behind magical barriers where sound design tells the viewer Hermione is building a campsite or Dementor’s are held at bay. Hand-held camera-work is used more frequently for reinforcement of tone but also, seemingly, to underscore the impact of spells and action.
Every note of the musical score feels distinct early in the film, to the point that the audio seems remixed, though I don’t think this was done for this release, and later this fades to a familiar experience to blu-ray, though it should be said this reviewer doesn’t have the equipment necessary to truly test the value of the audio. It seemed consistently impactful and familiar.
It’s a testament to how the lead performers have grown that Emma Watson can point a stick at two characters we’ve barely seen and it seems like I feel her loss. This is their story, the lead three characters, at heart, and this is the chance for the actors to show how they’ve grown and have lived in these characters. The only oddity in this is Rupert Grint in the first half of the movie. There are moments of levity in his attitude, but for the most part, even before his character is shown to be affected by the cursed locket, he has an action-oriented attitude, even saying “the world’s mental” with full sincerity and contemplating murder after they are attacked in a café.
Many were upset that Mad-Eye Moody dies off screen, but I feel that speaks more to the lack of time spent with the character on screen (depending on your level of belief in the accuracy of his imposter in, “Goblet of Fire.”) Every adult actor having to play one of the three leads in disguise feels wholeheartedly believable (though I guess it’s too early to talk about the leap made by Helena Bonham Carter in Part 2). All characters are played with severity and played straight, form the new minister (Bill Nighy) through each Death Eater.
The only nitpick I have is in the writing, where Harry has a shard of glass kept in his sock. This is the only detail never explained to the audience, and barely serves a plot function. In the book, this was the remnant of a gift from Sirius Black that allowed them to stay in contact. This sort of thing is a brief distraction, forgotten almost as quickly as it is presented. Also, Dumbledore’s corpse looks pretty great for over half a year of decomposition.
It’s the time and details that make this movie work, whether it’s Emma Watson fading from childhood pictures, Harry watching Snape pace Dumbledore’s office, the ear-straining sound of grit creeping from the locket, Harry watching the sunset/rise at one of several separate practical locations that contrast the set’s built for so many years, or the embellished style of the “Tale of the Three Brothers,” which probably deserves it’s own section and is served well by the 4K upscale. This is a quiet, intimate story that uses the action and adventure audiences expect to explore what it’s built before it’s gone, from the history of the Deathly Hallows, through Harry’s place of birth, to Dumbledore’s grave.
My frustration builds at the immense satisfaction of revisiting this movie. It reminds me of the strengths of J.K. Rowling as a fantasy storyteller, relishing in the style and mythology of the established world. Many people were critical of perceived inconsistencies in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” but here, writing this tonight, I’m invested in Gellert Grindelwald, and the secrets of Albus Dumbledore, and I’m reminded how purposeful perceived flaws can be when building a story.
This movie, as its own story, features heroes literally hiding their identity, at every turn, to escape people who will use government systems and physical and magical torture to dispose of those perceived to not be biologically worthy of their power and world. I’m bewildered at the blindness Rowling seems to have for the subtext sent to the audience who grew up with her stories…
Happy Holidays, everyone.
If readers of this article can explore lending copies, buying second-hand (assuming not from an illegal vendor), and sharing with those who may be interested (streaming parties, etc.), this movie is an intimate exploration of the lead characters that earns the series’ conclusion. I would recommend seeing this on 4K Ultra HD.
(This series is intended to review the Harry Potter movies as pieces resulting from collaborations between artists and commercial stakeholders. If you’re still grappling with your relationship to this fandom, I welcome you to explore many supportive sources of information online (Particularly Lindsay Ellis’ commentary on “death of the author” and Ms. Rowling’s platform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NViZYL-U8s0)
You can also read more about the study that claimed reading ‘Harry Potter’ reduces prejudice here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201505/does-reading-harry-potter-books-reduce-prejudice)