Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry the Fifth

Last night, my wife and I braved the crowds at the local AMC to catch the 12:01 am show of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." It's been awhile since we've done one of these midnight premieres, but even after the mixed reviews that the film has been getting, we were really looking forward to visiting Harry's world once again.

Note: I'm going to try and keep this relatively spoiler-free, but I assume most of you have read the fifth book by now.

What's the verdict?

I liked it. The filmmakers did a capable job of translating the book into a watchable 2 hour movie. I should point out that I wasn't real crazy about the book--it felt overlong and overwrought, and left me exhausted after I finished it. I hate to put it quite this way, as I love the world that Rowling has created, but the fifth book was something to be endured, I felt.

The film strips the events of "Order of the Phoenix" to the bare essentials, which is understandable considering the book's hefty 870 page count. In a nutshell, Voldemort's returned, the Ministry of Magic refuses to admit it, and their head-in-the-sand edicts make life very difficult for poor Harry and his friends at Hogwarts. VERY difficult.

What follows, in true Potter fashion, is the story of how the students at Hogwarts (the ones we really care about anyway) finally shed their childhood and take responsibility for their world. Abandoned by Dumbledore and the adult powers-that-be, Harry and his friends must take matters into their own hands in a world growing darker with evil and ignorance.

Indeed, this is a decidedly darker film, even more so than the much-praised "Prisoner of Azkaban." In places, it is so unremittingly grim in fact, I found myself squirming in my seat. Aside from one scene of defiant, joyous rebellion against the facist new headmaster of Hogwarts, there's little of the magical wonderment that has become such a hallmark of past Potter films. There's very little levity at all, and the film certainly could have used more of it.

For fans of the book, expect many of the complex subplots and side-matters to be mostly stripped from the film. I'm of the opinion that their absence makes this a stronger movie by keeping the focus on how Harry and his friends grow up. Michael Goldenberg's script is spare but effective, leading us through their transformation into adults.

In fact, some of the events of the film differ a little from those of the book. Again, this is mostly a good thing. I won't go into too much detail, but I will say that the final showdown in the Dept. of Mysteries is a lot clearer in the film. Indeed, the BIG SPOILER from those scenes is presented in a way that makes much more sense than merely falling through a curtain...

As always, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are charming as Harry, Hermione, and Ron. All of the regulars are in this movie, from students to teachers--even though with a shortened running time, you never get to spend as much time as you'd like with your favorites. It is amazing to consider the sheer number of top-caliber British actors who are in this film, even if they utter few to no lines!

Newcomer (to the franchise) Imelda Staunton plays a pinkly sinister Umbrage, who as a misguided authority from the Ministry of Magic makes a more effective villain in this film than He-who-must-not-be-named himself! I also must give props to Evanna Lynch, who played a sweetly loopy Luna Lovegood. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her character in the future. Helena Bonham Carter was great as mad Bellatrix LeStrange, but her part was much abbreviated in the film as compared to the book.

The visual effects of "Order" are up to par with previous films, in fact it looks like some of the same models and set extensions were used, particularly in the case of Hogwarts school. All in all, the effects were quite good. There wasn't, however, anything groundbreaking in this film like what we've seen in past outings. (The hippogriff in "Azkaban", Dobby the House Elf). The dementors have a slightly new design but I think I prefer the old one. (Perhaps I'll do a fuller write-up on the fx in a future blog.)

If you're a fan of the Harry Potter movies and books, you're going to see this one regardless. But I think in general, it's a worthy continuation of the saga, even if it isn't always the most enjoyable.

1 comment:

Morgue said...

Nice review. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, if only for the clarification the climax sorely needed.