‘Harry Potter,’ as a story on film, turned 20 on November 14th, 2021. In 2011, It felt like the audience that grew up with this world was saying goodbye. 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.
The last chapter of this story had a ghostly opening. We see Voldemort at his peak, then faintly brighter, misty clouds over the opening title, and Severus Snape high among the dementors, haunted. Detail in dark spaces throughout the movie benefit the digital effects, which feel detailed and distinct (even the earlier use of digital de-aging for the late Alan Rickman). The climactic Hogwarts battle is at night so practical fire and explosions blend nearly seamlessly with giant spiders, trolls, spells, and combating witches and wizards. Film grain, whether natural or digitally added, is fairly well present, particularly in Hogwarts castle on practical sets with digital effects (scenes with “The Grey Lady,” fighting in halls, etc.). David Yates‘ “Potter” movies have usually been color graded to favor one hue, but not the finale. The image is as sharp as it’s ever been and vibrant with color. Small details stand out as they did in upgrades of the earlier installments, a flicker of light on Neville Longbottom’s jaw when he dusts off the sorting hat and sees the sword of Gryffindor, and the seamless removal of Ralph Fiennes’ nose! (Seriously even in extreme close-ups… there should be some flaw.)
There is an incredible, iconic score from Alexandre Desplat, and the only moments that contrast his adventurous, classical adventure-serial homage is when John Williams’ original score is sampled and used through the end. On a fun note, Danny Elfman’s “Batman” theme can be heard just as the heroes escape the fire in the room of requirement. It doesn’t play out entirely, but it’s clear on the soundtrack. In contrast to the score is a perfect placement of total silence when Harry faces that he needs to die.
This feels like a second part to a story but parts one and two would feel rushed as one movie. Alone, there seems to be a steady increase in pacing to the end. There are odd moments bridging the movies to make this stand on its own. Harry clarifies that a “Horcrux”, “another piece of (Voldermort’s) soul” for the audience. ADR is used for Harry to recap the planned Gringotts’ mission for Griphook as he grabs the joined hands of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. There are more odd and satisfying details throughout as this has enough time to focus on characters without the story being streamlined to favor Harry. Neville announces his love for Luna Lovegood, and Harry looks at Ginny Weasley, who says “I know” … referencing Star Wars. Aberforth Dumbledore does acknowledge the mirror belonged to Sirius Black! Harry’s knowledge and acquisition of the mirror shard is still unexplained, but the context and detail of the world is there.
There are settings and details to revisit each movie including Gringotts’ and Ollivander for “Sorcerer’s Stone,” revisiting the “Chamber of Secrets,” returning to Hogwarts through Hogsmeade for a passage on the Marauder’s map, both introduced in “Prisoner of Azkaban,” the use of Unforgivable Curses, a dragon, and Harry facing Voldemort alone to parallel “Goblet of Fire,” Harry’s mental connection to Voldemort and the Room of Requirement from “Order of the Phoenix,” the pensive, Ginny and Harry’s relationship, and the burning, hallowed Quidditch Pitch echoing “Half-Blood Prince,” and finally, after sweeping landscapes prior to Harry’s return to Hogwarts and signs of him being “Undesirable No.1,” Harry engages with each of the three “Deathly Hallows” (though they never confirm his invisibility cloak is the one from the story).
Consequences flood in, to prove the content of the story has aged with the characters, as battle continues, starting with the death Lavender Brown, escalating to that of Snape, then several familiar characters, including a loss for the Weasleys (Fred). There are high and low moments, and the scale of the story reaches farther than any other chapter. There are hits and misses, but the result is an emotionally resonant conclusion. My only gripe… and I know this would be expensive… Harry could’ve at least used the most powerful wand in the world to fix his found home before destroying it… but I get the sentiment.
But I’m not writing this just to review the movies. I’ve been writing this to engage with what makes this story feel so filled with consequence and significance. Richard Harris’ Dumbledore told a young Harry help would come to anyone at Hogwarts who asked for it. Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore told a grown Harry that, “Help will always be offered to those who deserve it.” Not those who believe they deserve it. In the real world, this feels like an early warning sign that this world would exclude some of its’ fan-base. But in context, the idea that only those who are truly deserving in character have support… that’s magic. Words are, in Dumbledore’s not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible form of magic.
I feel like what these stories communicate about courage, bravery, sacrifice, identity, fighting for truth, enduring through hardship and loss, choices about what kind of person we decide to be, and how far we must go to survive in the face of adversity are things I want in my life and the life of my child. But even then, I bought these movies second-hand.
It’s a hard truth that when you pay for media related to this franchise, there’s a chance your money could go to any beneficial cause supported by any high-earning member of the cast and crew of these movies, but it will also be a monetary vote in support of silencing and restricting some peoples’ freedom to live how they feel comfortable. It’s a complex issue, and I wish we lived in a world where all we had to do was watch what we like, but magic doesn’t exist like it does in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.
I’ve been including a link to a video by writer/YouTube personality Lindsay Ellis in each of these articles. If you haven’t watched it, to overly simplify, she discusses the difficulty with audiences reconciling the importance this franchise has for so many with the platform and actions they may inadvertently support from its’ author. I haven’t asked Lindsay’s permission to link to her video, and if she asks for this to be disassociated with her, I will gladly comply and have these articles removed. She has a brilliant, concise insight regarding the complications of engaging with “Harry Potter.” Her second point is the same issue with which I’ve been struggling, “how do we, as consumers, interact with J.K. Rowling’s intellectual property?”
If you, as a consumer, visit and spend substantial time on Pottermore, visit Universal’s Wizarding World, buy the new illustrated versions of the books, go see “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” multiple times, my opinion is that… you are a fan of “Harry Potter.” But there is so much we can do, as fans, to let this world live outside of what we pay for. I personally believe Rowling once understood the importance of this world existing with universal acceptance. One of the most hard-hitting lines for me, in both the books and in “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” written by J.K. Rowling, is, “Of course it’s all happening inside your head. Why should that mean it’s not real?”
She has a platform, still, of millions of followers, and Harry Potter is still one of the largest franchises in cinemas world-wide. But this platform is being used to alienate (and worse) people who identify as trans, people who feel and believe in their head and heart a reality not seen by the world around them. I know her writing means that fantasies can have consequence even if they’re not “real,” but we must reconcile with the potential damage supporting this platform can do.
This world can still exist, and be what it means to you, and be shared, without the gratuitous, excessive support, without the onslaught of attention on social media through polarized reactions to every piece of news and media, without buying more copies and tickets and days at a theme park. I’m not saying “Harry Potter” should disappear, but people ALWAYS have the ability to control the media they consume by what they pay for, and if you are as sincere a fan of the franchise as I hope you are, it will, “Always be here to welcome you home.”
So let it shrink. Let it struggle. Communicate to its creators what you want through language they understand. Buy copies second hand, give streams less traffic through watch parties, avoid revisiting Pottermore, skip trips to the Wizarding World, share the books, share the stories, make fake butterbeer with your friends, UNTIL… the platform is what you want it to be.
“Pity the living. And above all, those who live without love.” (-J.K. Rowling… around 2007)
(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)