Film: Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Look into my eyes, boyAfter seven films and countless different haircuts for its trio of young stars, the Harry Potter phenomenon comes to an end with the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

As the credits role you can’t help but be saddened that the adventures of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have come to an end. Even more saddening though (minor, yet obvious, spoiler alert) is that the trio have to put up with a fairly cringworthy closing scene, allegedly 19 years later, which sees them all reunited as their children make their way to platform 9 and three-quaters.

Admittedly it would have been expensive and probably unnecessary to digital age the group 19 years in order, but if Harry was 17 at the films climax, that would make him 36, and Radcliffe only looks in his mid twenties, which is obviously unsurprising when he is almost 21 in the real world.

Ron fairs worse, gaining a highly unconvincing beer belly, which Hermoione is the only one of the three which gets close to convincing.

Of course, by this point these things barely matter, since the excitement of the conclusion to this epic saga is ringing in the audience’s mind.

Part 2 begins right where Part 1 left off, so make sure you’ve brushed up before you go, with the trio of friends on a reed-covered beach, which resembles the image of Greek afterlife the Elysian Fields, as Harry morns Dobby’s heroic death.

The journey to destroy the horcruxes, parts of evil-doer Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) soul, continues, leading them back to Hogwarts for a Return of the King-esque final battle.

The supporting cast are as great as ever, particularly Michael Gambon who returns as Dumbledore in flashbacks, and fan-favourite Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) steals the show as leader of Hogwarts’ defence.

The self-reference of the films reaches fever-pitch as two of our heroes are forces to re-enter the Chamber of Secrets, a film which is drawn on almost non-stop at the close of the story, making you wonder if it was Rowling’s favourite as it seemed to contribute the most to the overall story.

At the end of any hero’s story, there has to be a face off with the arch enemy. In this case Harry and Voldemort come to blows with the usual display of red and green light and what looks like paint sparking out of each of their wands. Still after all this time it would have been nice to see some proper magic going on, wasn’t Harry supposed to have taken a lot of interesting magic lessons at this school? It seems the sum total of his skill after 7 years is limited to shouting ‘Stupify’, ‘Reducto’ and simply deflecting spells directed at him with a casual flick of the wrist.

In all the magic element seems to have been under-used, with the virtually limitless possibilities of turning things into other things, transforming oneself (or transfiguring to use the Potter-ism) and conjuring things, this potential is barely even touched upon.

Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint
What a difference a decade makes...

Another let down is that the ‘quest’ element of the story draws the trio away from the more fun aspects of the films over the years such as the school lessons themselves or the airbourne rugby sport that is Quidditch, indeed Harry is only seen on a broomstick for the briefest of moments this time around.

The quieter emotional moments are more convincing now though, with Alan Rickman (as Severus Snape) in particular putting on an impressive range, a stark contrast to his usual monotone self (which is nonetheless absolutely note-perfect).

Still, the battle of Hogwarts is undoubtedly a spectacle, taking up a major portion of the second half, and sees the castle we have come to know so well torn to pieces, much to the dismay of caretaker Mr Filtch.

The difficulty with telling a story most of the audience know the ending to is keeping things interesting, exciting and unexpected. Director David Yates manages this brilliantly, keeping everyone on their toes throughout, and undoubtedly delivering a cinematic spectacle if the cheers, laughs and applause of the cinema crowd are anything to go by.

Interestingly the biggest cheer came at the demise of a particular character, but not one you might expect… The entire cast perform at their best in battle, with every character having their moment. Best of all is Jason Isaacs’ Lucius Malfoy, who has such a contrast between now and when he first appeared in the Chamber of Secrets that he is scarcely recognisable.

In the end, with the conclusion of the story comes a clear and pointed full stop at the end of a magical journey that spans a decade. As the Hogwarts’ Express pulls out of the platform you almost wish the story would begin all over again.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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Cyberculture: The pluses and minuses of Google Plus +

A brave new world?The internet speeds forever forward, with every online company trying their best to get you to spend time interacting with their website. Search giant Google recently introduced a ‘+1’ option to search results,  designed to encourage user feedback on the usefulness of sites.

The introduction isn’t the only way the big G is trying to ‘muscle in’ on Facebook’s screen time however, with the current trial of ‘Google Plus’.

The only way to become a part of it at the moment is to be invited someone already in it, much like their ill-fated Google Wave product from last year (a hybrid instant messenger, email and file sharing program designed to encourage communication).

So what’s it all about? The easiest way to think about it is one part Facebook, one part Twitter and two parts Windows Live Groups and Hotmail. The principle is that you invite people you know – this can only be done automatically from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo so far, but Facebook too with some fiddling – and put them into ‘Circles’ according to their relationship to you, much as you might organise your address book contacts on Hotmail. That way when you share content through Google (such as uploading photos) you can choose who to share those pictures with, so it’s easier to put up those pictures from Friday night without the possible embarrassment of the boss seeing them!

The point of this is to give an ‘at a glance’ view of others’ internet activity, allowing you to dip in to people’s status updates, pictures, blog posts etc, much like Facebook’s newsfeed. The interface is entirely customisable, and in this way it’s more useful than Facebook, since Facebook tends to guess who you are interested in hearing about, Google Plus lets you tailor it to your needs much more easily.

It's quiet in here, can you hear the echo?Since many people have Google as their home page, this plus service aims to provide a one-stop shop for ‘checking the internet’ bringing in as much information as possible from other people you are digitally connected to.

With internet information sharing there is always security concerns, and this is another aspect where Google gains the upper hand. The way it is set up doesn’t require you to share information about yourself in order to keep tabs on others, so if you were just curious about how a friend was getting on, you could see quickly and easily without them even knowing. It only uses information people have already made publicly available, so there’s no more risk of data theft than using the websites generally, in fact it can flag up just how much information about yourself there is out there.

The next step in using Google Plus, once you have connected some friends together in ‘Circles’ is videochatting with them in a conference known casually as a ‘Hangout’, unashamedly pinpointing the likes of Skype (now owned by Microsoft) in their sites. This allows you to jump in and out at any time, though how well Britain’s troubled connection speeds will cope with the bandwidth needed for multiple streaming is anyone’s guess.

Aspects of Google Wave have found their way into plus too, such as the concept of ‘instant’ uploading, which allows you to upload photos from your phone through thin air as soon as you take them, rather than collecting them together and uploading through your computer later.

Next up is ‘Sparks’ a feature designed to bring you things you are interested in, so if you wanted something to do with rock music but didn’t know what it would choose something hip and happening, akin to MS’ ‘Bing decision engine’. So, in this example, ‘rock music’ brings up news that Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl believes drum machines ruin rock tracks.

One feature which could prove very useful is ‘Huddle’ which allows you to group people together on your phone for a group text conversation, but presumably everyone will need to be using it for it to work, and no question on how much of your data will be used.

In all it seems very casual and Google has worked hard on making the interface very ‘funky’, perhaps a lesson learned from their extremely popular Android mobile phone operating system.

While new things are always interesting, the test of the Google Plus (or +) interface, will be how many people go for it, because if people don’t sign up then you’ll end up talking to yourself…

And therein lies the biggest issue so far, despite being very active in cyberspace, my own Plus profile doesn’t show up any of my own tweets, updates or blog posts, making my home screen currently tear-jerkingly empty. Getting friends on board is fine providing you have your Hotmail contacts list in order, but having accepted the challenge and found I have 1200 people in the address book (including interests imported from Facebook masquerading as people, such as feature films and bands), it’s going to be a mammoth task whittling the numbers down to people who I actually get in touch with on a regular basis.

This is the key difference between Google Plus and Facebook, Facebook wants as many people connected as possible, Google Plus wants them talking and sharing with each other. A noble message but how many people can one person keep in touch with at once? Not 1200 that’s for sure, particularly if many of them aren’t ‘real’ or are just ‘contact us’ email addresses.

Used right, Plus could make everything about the internet more streamlined, cutting down the time needed to get the information you actually want, and so taking the clutter out of what Facebook. But half the fun of Facebook is talking to someone you haven’t seen for years just on a whim, which is something you wouldn’t get from Plus. Perhaps a dose of HTC’s ‘Sense’ technology might smooth the transition?

Time then, will be the test, as it often is on the internet, if nothing else it’s forcing me to clean up my bloated Contacts book on Hotmail, and probably Facebook as well.

James Michael Parry

Links:
Google Plus project – http://www.google.com/+/demo/
In-depth technical explanation on CaseDetails – http://www.casedetails.com/2011/05/12/google-plus1-explained/
The fate of Google Wave on TechCrunch – http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/wave-goodbye-to-google-wave/