Film Score Friday: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2’ By Alexandre Desplat

This is going to be a very difficult review. There is some splendid music on the album, and it plays well within the context of the film.

Ah, but it isn’t that easy, this isn’t just some film. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 is the final chapter in a generational defining cultural goliath, for over a decade the story of the boy who lived has captivated the world. The score as it plays in the film is enhanced by cues from the past, making the music in this movie a more complex, and ultimately satisfying, adventure.

Alexandre Desplat had a very difficult task when he came on board for the final two movies. The series started on the strength of the maestro, John Williams, who wrote amazing themes that stand up to this day.

Then came Patrick Doyle and Nicholas Hooper who both valiantly contributed to the franchise, but even then those talented composers came under fire for not having the same magical quality of Williams. Desplat brings the biggest pedigree since Williams left and brought with him huge expectations for an epic sound, does he deliver in the climax?

The difficulty of the review comes from the fact that the movie uses a lot of music from the past of the series in the actual film. Some moments are folded into Desplat’s score, such as the gringotts vault scene which uses subtle hints of Williams themes from the last time we were in the goblin bank. Other moments were cues lifted directly from past films and simply rearranged to fit a new scene. The epilogue is a perfect example of music that is perfect for the film but comes almost entirely from the first movie.

These examples of past cues coming back makes me want to review the score a little differently then usual. This is the finale, and with so many people and elements returning for the ultimate battle I think it would be interesting to spend a portion of this review going back to the series as a whole. But before I get into I do want to talk about Desplat’s score.

The music in the finale film is far different than I was expecting. There was an expectation of grandeur in the last film that doesn’t ever really come to fruition. The most shocking thing about this is that despite the different type score it truly works for the film. The subtlety of the music works in ways I was never expecting, and because the music has a softer edge to it, the more emotional scenes can be played up much more with out worrying about coming off as out of place or schmaltzy. It works as a whole on the album and is one of the better listening experiences since Doyle’s score for Goblet of Fire.

For the three favorite tracks and least favorite track portion of this review I am going to adjust things and go through my three favorite all time Potter tracks and my least favorite from the series.

Three Favorite Tracks

Hedwig’s Theme by John Williams: This is the Harry Potter theme, the basic theme for Harry’s pet owl has become synonymous with the world of witchcraft and wizardry. There are iconic themes in every decade, and this track is easily amongst the most notable of the 2000’s, and sits comfortably among other timeless Williams themes. The principle cue for all things Potter also really works as a single track off the first album, combining the whimsy of a Williams fantasy score with a world discovering innocence. Hedwig’s Theme had to be number one, if only for the fact that it is the only theme that has survived every single film, and is the audible glue that holds the entire franchise together.

Mischief Managed by John WIlliams: If Hedwig’s Theme is the franchise defining track, Mischief Managed is the series best piece of music, period. After the first two film John Williams demonstrated his immeasurable skill by changing up the style with which he wrote the music for the third film. Instead of another whimsical journey into the world of Hogwarts, Williams played with the darker themes of The Prisoner of Azkaban, while the films were maturing before our eyes, the music was following suit. Williams also brought in some extremely emotional cues at the end of the film which cemented the third film as the standard bearer for just how good a Harry Potter movie can be.

Voldemort by Patrick Doyle: This last track was the hardest to pick, there is some truly mesmerizing themes in the Potter-verse. I choose, however, to go with a more subtle choice for my last favorite track. Patrick Doyle is capable of having a very big sound, and he showed that off in spades in his music for The Goblet of Fire, making very bombastic new sounds for the pivotal fourth film, but where he made his best music was in the ominous, scary Voldemort music.

This track also has the heartbreaking music for one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, when Harry locks wands with Voldemort and the ghosts of his parents emerge, giving support to Harry in this dark moment. The way it was written the scene was powerful, add in Doyle’s beautiful music and the striking visuals and you have a tender, awe inspiring moment that propels the emotional core of these movies to the forefront.

Least Favorite Track:

Wizard Wheezes by Nicholas Hooper: Now this track stands as my least favorite not because the music is bad, quite the opposite in fact. This is my least favorite track because it is so good! This music was presumably for the scene in Half-Blood Prince when we see Fred and George’s shop for the first time. The music is pitch perfect for the twins and their crazy brand of jokes and gag gifts. Unfortunately in the final film they just reused some music from the last film. This track is easily the most disappointing thing about about the soundtracks of these movies, robbing the world of one of the better post-Williams themes for two beloved characters.

The music in the Harry Potter franchise has been amongst the best, most consistant for any film franchise, particularly impressive when you realize for how many films they have had to keep it up. The music in the final installment by Alexandre Desplat delivers a more mature and sophisticated sound that matches the film perfectly, and plays rather nice on the album too.

Total Score for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2:

4.5 out of 5

  • J.R.
    July 16, 2011 at 4:50 am

    Having seen the film, personally, I found the tone of the music within the film emotionally distant, and at times it doesn’t quite capture the right flavor. Other times, usually during the scenes with Voldemort and his followers menacing or torturing, it reaches the correct otherwordly flavor, however, action and emotion are a touchy mixture, and I like to hear a more involved, thematic musical brew when showing these scenes.  

  • J.R.
    July 16, 2011 at 4:50 am

    Having seen the film, personally, I found the tone of the music within the film emotionally distant, and at times it doesn’t quite capture the right flavor. Other times, usually during the scenes with Voldemort and his followers menacing or torturing, it reaches the correct otherwordly flavor, however, action and emotion are a touchy mixture, and I like to hear a more involved, thematic musical brew when showing these scenes.  

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