Thursday, July 24, 2008
"HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX" (2007) Review
"HARRY POTTER and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007) Review
I usually tried to avoid reading reviews of movies I am interested in seeing in the near future. Instead of relying on the opinions of others, I prefer to form my own opinions. However, my curiousity got the best of me and I could not help but read several reviews and opinions on the latest cinematic release from the HARRY POTTER franchise - namely "THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX". Mind you, the story was never my favorite HARRY POTTER novel, but after the near travesty (okay, perhaps that description is a bit exaggerated) . . . after the slight disappointment of 2005's "GOBLET OF FIRE", I could not help but wonder how this next movie would fare. After all, the novel was longer than even the fourth entry. Fortunately, my fears proved groundless and "THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX" has become my second favorite HARRY POTTER movie.
Before I begin to wax lyrical over the movie, I need to point out what I consider to be flaws in the movie. My sister had informed me that the producers of the HP movies had originally intended Mike Newell - director of "GOBLET OF FIRE" - to helm the fifth novel. Somehow those plans fell through (thank the Lord above) and they found themselves scrambling for a new director before production was scheduled to begin. They eventually settled upon UK television director, David Yates. I must say that for his first theatrical production, Yates did an excellent job. But there is one aspect in which his years in television did the movie a disservice was the pacing. Quite frankly, I found the pacing a bit rushed. The movie felt more like it had a running time of at least 100 or 110 minutes, instead of a movie over two hours long. I understand that Yates planned to helm the next HP movie, "THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE", as well. I only hope that he will learn his lesson from this movie and maintain a better pace.
I also had a few other problems with the movie. One of them happened to be Evanna Lynch, who portrayed the eccentric Hogswart student - Luna Lovegood. Before I receive accusations of sacriledge, please hear me out. Ms. Lynch physically captured the essence of Luna perfectly. And although she managed to convey Luna's offbeat persona in a competent manner, there seemed to be something missing from her portrayal in the movie. Then it occurred to me that there were times when the movie Luna seemed to be devoid of any emotion. She came off as too serene. And as I recalled, the literary Luna was capable of expressing more emotion - including anger at Hermoine's dismissive atttitude toward her. And Luna was not the only character I had problems with. Characters like Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Percy Weasley (Chris Rankin in a non-speaking role), Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) and the Blacks' house-elf Kreacher, barely seemed to exist. Lupin's biggest moment came when he tried to prevent Harry from chasing after the murderous Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham-Carter)
One last problem I had with the movie was the lack of closure on a few plot points. We never learned the consequences of Harry's discovery that Umbridge had used veritaserum on Cho Chang in order to coerce her into exposing "Dumbledore's Army" and Harry's lessons. I never understood why Kreacher even made an appearance in the movie, considering he did not seem to have an impact upon the story. The movie failed to bring some closure or allow Harry to discuss with Sirius and Remus about Snape's memories of the bullying James Potter. And what happened to Lucius Malfoy after Sirus (or Remus - I forgot whom) managed to defeat him? The movie never revealed his fate.
Despite the above flaws, I enjoyed "ORDER OF THE PHOENIX" very much. It still managed to be a more than satisfying summer movie. The original novel happened to be the largest in the entire series. Yet, screenwriter Michael Goldenberg managed to pare it down to the novel's main narrative. I suspect many HP fans would have preferred an exact adaptation of the novel. Thankfully, Goldenberg spared the moviegoing audience of what could have been a long and excrutiating period in the movie theater. To this day, I still believe that "THE SORCERER'S STONE" and "CHAMBER OF SECRETS" could have faced a little more editing. And some of the changes made to the story - Neville Longbottom's discovery of the Room of Requirement (instead of Dobby the house elf); no visit to the St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries (along with no repeat appearance of Gilderoy Lockhart and Neville's parents); Neville's own revelation of his parents' fate to Harry (instead of the discovery being made at St. Mungo); and Cho Chang's exposure of the Dumbledore Army (instead of Marietta Edgecombe committing the deed) - did not hurt the story at all. However, I am certain many fans would disagree. What made "ORDER OF THE PHOENIX" work for me was the combination of a mystery regarding Harry's connection to Voldemort and the growing fascist state at Hogswarts that also reflected within the wizarding world under Cornelius Fudge (Tom Hardy). I have to commend both Yates and Goldenberg for skillfully weaving these two elements within the movie's plot.
The movie also benefitted from excellent acting by the cast. In fact, I found this to be a great relief after suffering from the hammy acting found in the previous entry - "GOBLET OF FIRE". Both Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) were top-notched as usual. And so was Matthew Lewis as the likeable, yet clumsy Neville Longbottom. I especially must commend Radcliffe for conveying Harry's angst over Cedric Diggory's death in the last story and frustration at being ignored by Dumbledore. And I want to sink to my knees and give thanks to the spirits above and David Yates for preventing Emma Watson (Hermoine Granger), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Ralph Finnes (Voldemort), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) and also James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) from repeating their over-the-top performances in "GOBLET". Oh, such a relief! On the other hand, Helena Bonham-Carter's portrayal of the insane Bellatrix Lastrange did seem over-the-top. But considering that the literary Bellatrix was equally hammy, I had no problems with this. By the way, I must applaud Imelda Staunton for her delicious portrayal of "Miss Hitler in Pink" herself, namely the ladylike, yet poisonous Dolores Umbridge, a Ministry undersecretary who became the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. In the novel, she is described as being toadlike, yet Ms. Staunton is obviously a more attractive-looking woman. But despite this, she managed to capture Umbridge's insidious and bigoted evil beautifully.
However, the movie's piece-de-resistance - at least for me - happened to be the battle that takes place inside the the Ministry of Magic. I must confess that the literary version of the battle usually left me slightly confused. I guess I simply found it difficult to visualize what took place. But Yates' direction not only clarified the entire battle for me, it left me feeling thrilled beyond measure. In my opinion, the battle has catapulted in what I now feel is probably the best sequence ever shown in any of the films so far. It was simply superb. Yet, there are other little golden moments in the film that I managed to enjoy:
-the Dumbledore Army's Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons
-Ron stands up to Seamus for Harry
-Filch's attempts to get inside the Room of Requirement
-Ginny's jealous glances at Harry and Cho
-Dean Thomas' (Alfred Enoch, who had more lines in this movie than the last two combined) argument with Umbridge
-Hermoine's handling of Gwarp (different from the novel)
-the fact that both Ron and Ginny helped Neville and Luna escape from Draco and the Inquisitor's Squad (I could be wrong that Ginny helped; if so, please inform me)
-Harry and the Order of the Phoenix's trip to London via broomsticks
And one of my personal favorite moments in the movie turned out to be Fred and George's torment of Umbridge before making their escape from Hogswarts. Classic moment.
Although "ORDER OF THE PHOENIX" possess have some flaws that prevent it from becoming my favorite HARRY POTTER movie so far ("PRISONER OF AZKABAN" still holds this title in my heart), I must admit that it reassured me that the movie franchise had not declined following the slightly disappointing "GOBLET OF FIRE". I do look forward to seeing it again before the summer ends.