Saturday, August 04, 2007

Another Overdue Review: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as a head of lettuce that’s been left in the fridge a week too long)

No-one can deny this summer has seen an onslaught of Potter. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, based on the fifth book in author J. K. Rowling’s series about the boy wizard of the title, was released not too long before the final novel “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” hit the shelves. Of course, being Potter fans in our household, it was a given that we’d brave the lineups to see the new movie in its first week. And it didn’t disappoint.
Overall, director David Yates has done a superb job in paring-down an immense novel to its essentials and fitting them into a two hour and 18 minute film – substantially shorter than its predecessors. As Harry and his sidekicks wrangle with new threats from the evil Lord Voldemort and his gang of Death Eaters, we see the rise of bureaucratic tyranny in the Hogwarts school, showing that there are many different kinds of evil that can eat away at a society and its individuals. The pacing is quick and the darkness of the film and its subject matter gives it much more of an adult feel than the others.
The movie wasn’t without its flaws though. One of the important aspects of the novels is Harry’s growth into adulthood beyond the ongoing conflict with the forces of darkness, and part of that growth is his awakening interest in girls. The series of movies only gives the lightest of nods to this reality up until “Order of the Phoenix”. Here we see Harry enter into a relationship with Cho Chang, a young witch he’s been blushing over for quite some time. Well, not really. We certainly see them have a good first kiss. But that’s pretty much it. The relationship is essentially dropped after that. We don’t even see their breakup. In fact, Cho’s longing and hurt look at Harry as he brushes past her later on are about the only indication we have that the encounter might have been more than just a snog-and-grope in a broom closet somewhere. If Yates was going to bother including the relationship, he should have tacked on an extra 5 minutes or so for a couple of scenes spaced throughout the movie to show its development and disintegration. That being said, one small detail that was very nicely done was Ginny Weasely’s wistful look backwards as she and the other kids leave the room to let Harry and Cho have some time alone. A nice, quick way to foreshadow their relationship to come – if, that is, the director of the next installment even allows them enough screen time for them to have a relationship!
And in talking with a few other people who’ve read the book and seen the movie, there’s a general consensus that the battle at the climax was adequate, but that it felt a lot smaller in scale than it should have been.
Hats off though to Imelda Staunton for playing the usurping bureaucrat Delores Umbridge with such cotton-candy viciousness. A perfect performance for a well-written character who we’ve probably all come across in one form or another at some point in our lives.
And, of course, Gary Oldman continues to do a great job playing Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. But then again, when does Gary Oldman ever do a bad job?
One final note on small details: Mad-Eye Moody’s broom being outfitted and sounding kinda like a Harley Davidson. A bad-ass broom for the Potter-verse’s version of Snake Plissken.
One thing to note if you’re planning on seeing this movie in Imax like we did: the 3D presentation advertised is only the 15 minutes or so of the final battle. Most of the movie is regular 2D, so don’t sit there with your 3D glasses on your nose the whole time wondering what’s wrong with the picture like some people did in the theatre we sat in. But whether you see it in 3D or 2D, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is worth conjuring up the full price of admission.
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