Boy wizard in a showdown: Final Potter flick sizzles, the saga’s legacy secure

SOME 15 YEARS ago, parents around the world began to suffer from a condition known as Potter mouth.

It's a chronic dryness brought about by reading "The Sorcerer's Stone" at bedtime. Many chapters at stretch. With re-reads.

Today these same parents live in homes with shelves that creak under the weight of expensive J.K. Rowling hardbacks, with closets stuffed with wands and hats and Halloween costumes, with wallets emptied of money that paid for all of those things.

This week you'll see these folks chaperoning midnight screenings, and you'll see smiles on their faces, but also telltale signs of relief.

For certain Potter enablers and co-dependents, the journey has been arduous.

But completely, fantastically worthwhile.

Has there been a more laudable pop-culture phenomenon the past 15 years?

I'd say no, and I'd say even though the Potter movies are rarely more than competent (the finale is a happy exception), even though none has won a best picture Oscar, they've accomplished something more important: They haven't ruined what Rowling achieved.

They did nothing to interfere as she introduced a generation of children to literature, and better still to the primacy of literature.

As she saved them from the muggledom of uninterrupted gaming, Facebook, Twitter, from the amputated language of thumb-driven communication, from the blared music of the blogosphere.

Somehow, Rowling was able to entice children to sit happily in front of 900-page books when all manner of digital-age contraptions tempted them to do something else.

And she was able to ensure that this generation of Potter-reared children will pass these books and their LOVE of these books onto their own children (along with the savings of not actually having paid for them).

On a selfish note, I'd say Rowling has also imbued this pivotal, digital generation with the idea that literature costs money. Information might want to be free, but writers want to be paid.

And in our image-drenched age, you have to love the way Rowling has walked the movies on a short, tight leash. When's the last time you saw a movie studio cower so before an author? It's like she's Voldemort.

Of course, that obedience does not always make for imaginative cinema. The movies have often been cautious, timid, obviously aware of where the franchise bread is buttered.

"Deathly Hallows Part One" was one of the series' least energetic, and the "one-two" strategy had the feel of a studio decision made for financial reasons.

As it turns out, the split works out brilliantly for "Part Two." The inertia of exile is gone, and "Two's" condensed and lively plot allows it to function as a slam-bang action serial. Harry, Ron, Hermione make a high-risk infiltration of Hogwarts, rallying allies to their defense as Voldemort movies to storm the castle.

And the cast members, now grown into young adults and good actors, look like they enjoy running from trolls as much as they enjoy the line readings.

On this score, the movies do offer something that the books do not - the chance to see characters physically grow in front of us. Wee Ron grows into hearty Ron, Hermione into a lovely young woman. They get a Gable/Leigh screen kiss, with romantic music. And Harry, with the first inkling of a beard, looks like he's legitimately ready to face Voldemort.

The showdown is full of drama, horror and even humor, with supernatural detours given a winking Kubrick-style spin by director David Yates.

And it's on to the economical climax, during which we learn that Harry's dad looks like the bass player for The Turtles, and Rowling, through the ghost of Dumbledore, reveals her secret.

That words are the most inexhaustible source of magic.

As if you didn't know.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

Directed by David Yates. With Jamie Campbell Bower, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Jason Isaacs. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images).