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Order of the Phoenix

Don’t be surprised if I change my mind, but I found Order of the Phoenix—like the novel—better than middling, but not that good. The actors’ performances are the film’s strongest points—Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge being right perfect—but many of the scenes come about as gestures toward plot without in fact being plot. What BG praises as a reliance upon viewers’ prior knowledge to save time, I saw to be a weakness of imagination. Hollywood frequently sells human emotion and motivation short. In the novel, Potter doesn’t practice occlumency because he hates Professor Snape; because he’s drawn to his dreams and therefore is conflicted about shutting out Lord Voldemort’s desires because their desires are the same; and because he’s a fifteen-year-old boy whose emotions are so busy running amok that he can’t control himself very well—except in petulance. In the film none of these is given any breath at all, least of all his desire. Potter just fails, and Snape kicks him out. What is cut from the novel is therefore all but the most superficial of causes: “Umbridge isn’t letting us learn what we need; we’ll learn it ourselves”; meanwhile, other stuff happens that allows them to use what they learn. Eventually, there’s a struggle in which Potter comes to understand the difference between himself and Voldemort, and it was on the whole a well-shot sequence, montages and all.

This is very similar to my initial reaction to Goblet of Fire, a film to which I’ve since softened. I recognize that my criticism runs on the line of the problem of adaptation. I’m not like the woman in our local paper who said,

She still preferred the first offering in the movie series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which was released in 2001. She said the directors who followed Christopher Columbus, including new director David Yates on “Order of the Phoenix,” took too much artistic license with the book material.

“I think Christopher Columbus was truer to the vision of J.K. Rowling,” Penrod said. “It’s disappointing to me when they leave some parts out of it.”

Rather, I prefer that films find their own ways to get to the same points of a novel—let them latch onto visual symbols or character interactions that are suited for films, then trust that the important scenes from the novel will follow. I don’t think OotP understood that. Instead, in an effort to boil its stock down to its richest consistency, it managed to overcook it.

Other random points: Early scenes were just terribly blocked and directed (e.g., Harry Potter walks into a room. Hermione runs up to hug him, and begins to talk; then, after she’s said all she needs to say and taken three steps away from him, Ron: “Give him some air, Hermione.”); thankfully, this got much better. (Channeling the ghost of Robert Altman: Why can’t characters ever talk at the same time, or at least interrupt each other?) Really good montages. I would have loved to have seen Emma Thompson play Trelawney drunk; instead, she was just meek. Except for Grawp, fun effects. Luna Lovegood: excellent casting. I still love the flamboyant menace of Ralph Fiennes’ Lord Voldemort.

 

Comments

i’ll hafta reread that and revise if it came across as praise.

now that we are dissing… i hated the opening scene, with the exception of the dementors … but it was really bad movie until the order arrived

Agreed. The best adjective for the first ten minutes is “clunky.”

Maybe not the best. A good adjective, anyway.

From Kenneth Turan’s LAT review:

In fact, the Harry Potter movies have been with us for so long (since 2001) that it’s helpful to view them in stages similar to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ celebrated five stages of grief. But instead of denial, anger and depression, we get risk avoidance, artistic vision and consolidation of gains.

If director Chris Columbus represented risk aversion with the first two Potter films, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell in the third and fourth stood up for artistry while British TV director David Yates seems intent in this fifth chapter on not jeopardizing what has been accomplished up to now….

Thinned down from the series’ longest book, “Phoenix” can’t shake an episodic feeling that makes it difficult to develop momentum. Though many of its elements are strong, including newcomer Evanna Lynch as the spacey Luna Lovegood, it finally can’t transcend the limitations inherent in being no more than a way station in an epic journey, a journey whose cinematic conclusion is several years away.

That summarizes it quite well.

Saw it again tonight. K thinks our initial poor reactions are because we’re neither of us shabby at identifying what’s important for character.

Happily (and as predicted), it’s a much more solid movie than I first gave it credit. Some scenes are still clunky—such as the Weasley’s revolt, or Snape’s memory of James Potter—but others gained. Several compromises and revisions were made to make the film’s narrative stand on its own (the pain of adaptation) (rather than to ensure it wholly fits into the series narrative) were inventive. And Ralph Fiennes rocks.

you guys must be rich to drop 40 bucks on HP movies!

Fact: We budgeted for HP this month.

Hmm. . . perhaps I should give it a second chance. I went with some friends last night. While I understand that one can’t represent everything that happens in the book, this version felt hollow to me—and I didn’t think the dialogue improved very much.

The major comfort I took away was that at least some kids who see this will say, “You know, the book was a lot better.” Order of the Phoenix is probably my favorite of the (book) series so far, though I’m also quite fond of Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’m sympathetic to arguments that some blame lies with Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore. One imagines Dumbledore, no matter what happens, always having a twinkle in his eye—or at least allowing that the twinkle is imminent. Dumbledore’s demeanor is of a man who is sharing a private joke with you. Gambon doesn’t have that. His eyes are reserved for more graveness than gentleness or humor. (Indeed, Gary Oldman, were he not already playing Sirius Black, would be a better choice for Dumbledore for the very fact that his eyes communicate so well.)

8: I liked OotP much more upon second reading, but even then, it still is awfully subplotty.

i did think that the movie worked as an movie in the action genre… it emphasized battles, training, flying, magic.

but, motivation, characterization, it was all very weak on.

i thought that the 3 main no-longer-child actors did rather well. however, hermione was over-acted, it seeme. of the good people, gary oldman was the best.

it works independently from the book, but only if you don’t care too much about the inner life of the characters.

Emma Watson was significantly worse with the overacting in Goblet of Fire, but I guess I’m resigned to it.

@11—that probably explains my whole problem. I don’t give a crap about the action (though it would have been nice to see at least one Quidditch game), whereas I’m fascinated by character and motivation. Oldman was excellent, and many of the bit parts were good.

I’m being lazy for not looking this up: is there any Quidditch in HP5? I seem to remember that the Hogwarts High Inquisitor cancelled it. (The cancellation of Quidditch and the great disappointment the students feel could’ve been a poignant symbol of Umbridge’s injustices, BTW.)

14: I think you put your finger on one of the problems in the movie…Sure, we hate the film-Umbridge—she’s a right git, indeed—but in the book she’s horrible; the list of injustices she perpetrates is never-ending. In the movie, she wasn’t nearly as frightening…Maybe they wanted to avoid going too far over the top with her character…

I think she’s horrible enough in the film. The set of her office, with all the kittens on plates, is frighteningly excellent. Injustice as a motivator shouldn’t be underplayed.

Not that injustice was entirely underplayed; it was just slightly so. Her tyranny was largely relegated to montages, which trivializes it. (On the plus side, the montages were really excellent montages.) The Weasley twins’ decision to leave came on a busted scene where Umbridge didn’t even speak to them.

It all kind of begs the question of whether you need to show students being interrogated to appreciate the extent of the imposition upon them. The film rides that fairly well, but falters at times.

I got the book out of the library tonight, so I’ll be able to answer your question about Quidditch better in a bit—though I think you’re right about the season being canceled—and also right about what a good bit that could have made in the movie.

But I think K is right about Umbridge—sure, the plates with the cats are horrifying, but other than making them write lines (and that was well done), there’s little else about her that seems to me to to portray how horrifying she really is. The film allows her to get off, most of the time, with just looking silly.