Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: very spoilery movie review

WARNING: Buckets O' Spoilers

My wife and I saw the movie on opening day, which was itself fun — though not as fun as seeing Goblet of Fire on opening day in Scotland.

The upshot: I liked it a good deal, my wife liked it less. Here are the specifics.

The Good

  1. I was impressed at how much made it from the book to the movie virtually unscathed and unaltered. If you were to list them out, so many details made it: the Dementor attack, the trial, Malfoy at the ministry, the Prophet smear-pieces, Luna's upside-down paper, the twins' mischievous magical candy, Grimmauld Place, Kreacher,"Wet," Umbridge's inspections, "the emotional range of a teaspoon," Snape's memory of James Potter, and on and on.
  2. All the major actors turn in fine performances. In particular:
  3. Radcliffe captures Harry's maturing, and his inner conflicts, well.
  4. The portrayal of Luna Lovegood was note-perfect. (Actress Evanna Lynch is reportedly a huge Harry Potter fan and aficionado.)
  5. The portrayal of Dolores Umbridge was also note-perfect, repugnant and scary and all pink, saccharine evil.
  6. The actor who plays Dumbledore ratcheted himself down to a closer approximation of Rowling's character (i.e. more a serene and powerful presence, less a manic, out-of-control child-batterer).
  7. The battle at the end of the movie is appropriately breath-taking, dangerous, pedal-to-the-metal. I want to see it in IMAX.
  8. The musical score by Nicholas Hooper was original and fitting—and I say that as a big John Williams fan.
  9. The movie did everything it had to in order to set up for Half-Blood Prince, with no head-slapping changes. Specifically...
  10. ...Snape began his transformation from the crusty-but-benevolent character of the first four movies to the malicious, bitter, angry, cuttingly-cruel Snape of the books, who is absolutely essential to the events of book six.
  11. Overall, while I will (in a moment) fault the movie's "rushed" feel, I'd say it was feels more apocopated or compressed than actually warped. To use one of my all-time favorite series, it's the difference between taking the hobbits virtually straight from the Shire to Bree (apocopation), and making Faramir an ambitious, weak fool (warping).
  12. Sirius' death was very movingly handled.
  13. I enjoyed the glances back at previous films.

The Bad and Ugly
  1. I do not for the life of me understand the opening Dementor scene. Why change it at all from the book? But even worse, what does a Dementor care if Harry pokes it with a wand? But even worse, the books make a huge deal over Harry's ability to produce a fully-realized, corporeal Patronus. Heck, the movie makes a huge deal over it. Harry did it in the movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban (—huge white stag, remember?). All his students in Dumbledore's army are able to do it. So why do they have Harry produce this shapeless white blob? What in the heck were they thinking? Did they think we wouldn't notice? That's just insulting. [UPDATE: others who saw the movie insisted that the full Patronus was there. We just saw the movie again, and both of us watched very closely. Harry does not produce the full, coporeal stag he did in Prisoner; the shape may be slightly and briefly suggested, but it's just a shapeless white blur. Really bizarre.]
  2. Why do the Dementors look different?
  3. Why did they change how Sirius appears in the fireplace? Did they think we'd forget? Is it because they didn't pay to use Gary Oldman's face in Goblet? Again, insulting.
  4. The centaurs who, in Rowling, are arrogant and dangerous but very intelligent, are simply made into scary manimals, more or less. Do they even speak, in the movie? I don't think so, or not much.
  5. Like most reviewers, I actually think the movie should have been a 20-30 minutes longer. I can't imagine how it is for one who didn't read the book; but to my wife and me, it felt rushed, almost like reading off a series of chapter-titles instead of taking the time to tell the stories in the chapters. I understand that they writers had far too much material to deal with, and I don't particularly miss all that about Quidditch and Grawp and the Hagrid/giant side-story — but we hardly spend any time at Grimmauld Place, hardly get any feel for the Order of the Phoenix, get virtually nothing about how frustrated Sirius is, don't see Snape's goading of him, get virtually nothing about Kreacher, don't really see a lot of Harry's building anger. It's as if you're being taken on a tour, and the guide says, "Here's the Rosetta Stone, one of the most important finds in archeology, which was used to unlock Egyptian hieroglyphics. Fine, let's move on to this Dead Sea Scroll for a moment, shall we?"
  6. Tonks is such a great character, and she's barely flashed at us here, as if to tease.
  7. Ditto Bellatrix Lestrange.
  8. I really regret seeing so little of Maggie Smith's wonderful McGonagall, and had wanted to see her confronting Umbridge as in the book. But instead, after a very brief flurry, she actually (and literally) humbly steps down in front of Umbridge. McGonagall? Never! Disappointing.
  9. Cho Chang had no relationship with Cedric in the fourth movie, and now she's tearfully mourning him. A bit abrupt. Where her relationship with Harry goes in the movie is strange; non-readers will wonder whether she and Harry get back together or not.
  10. Odd the movie made much of the fact that nobody but Luna and Harry could see the thestrals, but gave no indication that any of his friends had any issues riding something that was invisible to them.
  11. I don't recall: does book-Harry actually tell his extracurricular Defense against the Dark Arts students that they must "believe" in themselves? Or is that just boilerplate Hollywood treacle?
  12. It was nice and appropriately "dark," but felt as if the director doesn't know how to handle comedy. There were few or no laugh-out-loud moments for relief, as there were in all the previous movies. Even "Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?" is mumbled, tossed off, trampled, like a muffed punch-line.
  13. I'm disappointed that the elder Weasleys were so marginalized, relative to the role they play in the book. I'd looked forward to seeing more of both. They're favorite characters of mine, brushed over in the movies.
  14. Ditto the twins Fred and George, though less so. Their presence is mostly very subdued, which makes an odd contrast not only to the books but to how much fun they were in the last movie.
  15. Harry's allowed little reaction to the revelation that his father was capable of being a cruel prankster, and that he in fact abused Snape.
  16. The final scene with Dumbledore is anticlimactic, far-removed from the book.
  17. I don't remember the book, which we're re-reading. Does Dumbledore flatly tell Harry "Yes," that either he will kill Voldemort, or vice-versa?
  18. As to Dumbledore's battle with Voldemort: it's visually very cool and dramatic, and not as bad as can be... but isn't the point of the book that D just basically kicks V's hinder, and doesn't even raise a sweat in the process? That V's Mr. Big Bad Guy, terror to all — until D shows up, and then he's just a sweaty little kid trying to smart off to his (infinitely wiser) teacher? That doesn't really come across. They look more equal, which they aren't in the book. [UPDATE: on second watch, this is the most disappointing aspect of the movie. Dumbledore actually gets knocked down. They really missed the character of Dumbledore almost entirely, since Richard Harris died. The books emphasize throughout that he is this almost annoyingly unflappable, calm, serene character -- but the most formidable wizard in the world, and the only one who Voldemort fears. Here they are depicted as equals. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and a very poor setup to the events of the next book/movie.]
  19. The prophecy is so important and climactic—why is it so apocopated?
Assorted additional thoughts

Now from that, it may appear I really didn't like the movie, when I really did, and will gladly see it again.

I wonder how conscious any of the participants were of a parallel between OotP and the War on Terror, or whether Rowling intended such? Here's a bitter and ruthless enemy, who foments mayhem and destruction — and the dominant media devotes itself to downplaying the threat, and trashing anyone who tries to tell the truth. Hard not to see parallels there.

I suppose it is better to complain that a movie was too short, rather than too long. I know I'd rather folks walk away from my sermons wishing I'd preached another ten minutes, instead of wishing I'd stopped ten minutes sooner. But still, it is such a successful franchise, you'd think they'd have cut a little looser.

I really hope they don't shortcut Half-Blood Prince. Now, there is one gem of a story.

Why is it PG-13? Not because of profanity, or anything remotely sexual. Probably because of the tense atmosphere, and some violence. The Dementors are fairly scary in the beginning scene, the attack on Arthur Weasley a bit bloody, and the fight at the end is intense.

PS — I really don't want to spend too much time on the "how-can-a-Christian-read/watch-Harry-Potter?" thing. If you want to read more along those lines, you might try here.

UPDATE: Janet Batchler sums it up nicely in viewing the movie as a trailer for the book. I can't think of a better brief description.


David A. Carlson said...

My 14 year old daughter gives it a big thumbs up. She thinks it is one of the best movies (but agrees it should of been longer)

I enjoy the books so much, the movies seem a bit "small" compared to them. Not that the movies are bad, just that they should be better because the books are so great.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

"There were few or no laugh-out-loud moments for relief, as there were in all the previous movies. Even "Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?" is mumbled, tossed off, trampled, like a muffed punch-line."

While I didn't exactly dislike it, I thought it felt as though they must've had a Dementor on set while they were filming it because there was absolutely no fun. Or what fun was attempted had no soul. Or something.

Something was missing for me. I think it was sympathy for the characters.

DJP said...

In contrast to the previous ones. I see your point, and that's well-put. Well, it's a Big Thing to say something's "dark" these days... but dark is best appreciated in contrast with light, isn't it?

But we'll be in for heavy sledding in 6, which is a pretty dark book to begin with.

Dan B. said...

well said, Dan. My wife and I went to see it last night, and my wife had very similar criticisms of the movie that you mentioned (lack of Tonks, movie too short, etc).

We've read all the books, and the way they handled the Harry-Cho relationship certainly was weird. In the book, they somewhat fall apart gradually, but Cho is made out to be the tattle-tale (for the DA meetings) in the movie when it was Cho's friend in the book (my wife, muttering in the background, says, "there was no SNEAK across her forehead!"). And you're right, there wasn't any real reference to the relationship between Cedric and Cho in the 4th movie, so the emotions shown in this one made it interesting.

Ah, the book to movie conflation of characters and plot lines.

DJP said...

Interestingly, Kim, famed film-critic Roger Ebert begins with a very similar criticism to the one you and I make. However, like his review of Fellowship of the Ring, he really, really doesn't seem to "get" the books.

DJP said...

Wow. Quiet thread. I'm really surprised.

philness said...

I'm just shocked and speechless. I suppose we all have our vices. So... does Cent and Phil indulge in these as well? Say it ain't so.

DJP said...

Oh, I'm sure not. Now that I've met them in person, I can tell you — those guys are clean!

philness said...

Pheeew...good. Glad to hear that. I once paid a person $25.00 if he would give me his Ouija board for me to burn. He did and only the Lord knows how many people that protected. So before I offer you the same, I must count the cost. How many HP books and movies do you have?

DJP said...

All forty-seven. It would cost you... let's see, carry the zero... about twenty nine kazillion dollars. Or whatever it'd take to move my family to Scotland and get a doctorate.

philness said...

47 books/movies x $25 is $1,175.00. That amount of money would only scratch the surface to move your family to Scotland and get a doctorate. But I'm only interested in the burning of those items, with a few concessions agreed upon.

philness said...

So Dan, are you willing to consider taking my money and burn those HP books/movies?

DJP said...

Philness, I've done you the courtesy of assuming that you were joking.

If you aren't, then No.