11 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Didn't expect to be able to see the new movie already, but so it happened this afternoon. To say that I was eager for this opportunity would be an understatement. I suppose that explains in part my disappointment. I also agree with my son, that watching a movie after reading the book can be a recipe for disaster. Well, it wasn't a disaster, but I did find myself making mental notes the whole time, ticking off what got left out or changed for the movie.

The first two movies were so slavishly close to the books, I appreciated their faithfulness to the story, but didn't enjoy them as much as I would have hoped. The third and fourth movies were great, in my opinion; they were faithful to the books, but translated the story into the theatrical medium in a way that was fresh and engaging. I was especially impressed with the way Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was handled in the course of a relatively normal length movie.

The fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, is notoriously long. Admittedly, it could have done with a little more and tighter editing. In retrospect, however, I've really considered that book to be a masterpiece within the series. So much of the big picture is unfolded, and so much transpires in the course of that story, it really is amazing. One of the great things about the Harry Potter books is the way that J.K. Rowling has masterfully developed the characters, in such a way that you experience things with them, especially Harry (of course), and grow along with them. She has not been given the credit she deserves for her skills as an author, but this gradual growth of the characters through the ongoing events of the story is one of the ways and places where she is at the top of her game. Adults I know who have finally given in and read the books have been, I think, most amazed at this character development, which is particularly striking when you read through the books in steady succession. Order of the Phoenix feels a bit on the long side, and can be aggravating in this and other respects, because, well, being a fifteen year old is like that. The teenage angst of those adolescent years, the surliness and short-temperment, the flaring hormones, the inner conflict, the yearning to grow up too fast, it isn't much fun to live through it all, and it can't be stereotyped so easily as many teenage movies end up making it out to be. Rowling hits her stride in the fifth book, but it just doesn't happen or work in the new movie.

The movie clips along, and it gets the story told. For those who have read the books, the gaps are already filled in. I saw it today with a couple of young people who haven't read the books, and haven't even seen all of the movies, and they tell me that it worked just fine for them. This substantiates my son's point about seeing movies after enjoying the books they're based upon. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I'm not disappointed that I saw the Order of the Phoenix, but so much of what I like best and appreciate most about the book was missing in action. In particular, the huge issue of how to face death and deal with it was simply not there, not really. Also, Harry's terrible struggle in coming to grips with his father's and his godfather's past, their strengths and weaknesses, their humanness, all of that is gone from the picture. There's only a glimpse of Harry's falling in love with Cho Chang, but without the intensity and progression of emotion that go along with that. Given the overall importance of love in the series, and the fact that strong feelings of infatuation are no small part of being a teenager, to drop the ball on that count was a shame. There is one scene that captures it, I will say, and it is one of the best scenes in the whole movie; I'm glad that it didn't hit the cutting room floor.

So much hinges on Harry's friendship with Ron and Hermione, in the books that is. I'm convinced that, in the end, his love for them will be a tremendous key to the final resoluation of the entire series. Here in the movie it came across as superficial and almost incidental, despite the fact that the climax would have the viewer understand that friendship to be decisive. I'm glad the point was made, but it's one thing to be told, another thing to learn it along with the characters by growing and suffering with them through the story. The same thing is true of another point important to Rowling, namely, the way that choices shape a person's character and identity, rather than fate.

I'm sorry, but I still don't care for the new actor playing Dumbledore. Just doesn't work for me. Can't blame the actor, though, for the fact that his dialogue with Voldemort and then with Harry at the end of the book are missing from the movie. That was another serious disappointment. I know and understand that such dialogue can be difficult to handle well in a movie, but there ought to have been some way to convey the gist of those essential conversations.

Probably my favorite thing about this movie was the choice of actresses for Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge. I didn't catch their names, but they were both spot-on. Maybe because they were new to this movie, they really stood out and shone as characters, notwithstanding the fact that Umbridge is so despicable. I really like Luna in the books, and she was great here, too. I'm sorry to say that none of the other characters, other than Harry, is really given much of a chance to stand out this time around. That is a shame.

I suppose the fifth book was simply the hardest of the lot (so far) to make into a movie. Not only because it is the longest, but because it deals with frustrating and flat-out difficult internal struggles. The odd-numbered books in the series do tend to be more internal and reflective, but none of the others to the same degree as Order of the Phoenix. Without the narrator bringing you along with Harry's thoughts and feelings, the basic action of the story sags a bit. Oh, well. I'll be seeing the movie again, with my younger Potter fans, and perhaps it will hit me more happily the second time. I won't be taking so many mental notes, which will help.


Anita said...

La la la la la la la la la, I'm not listening just incase tere are any spoilers;) Smiley and I called have hired a sitter and we'll be going out tonight to see it. But from what I did read of your post I'm glad I haven't read the book yet. In fact, I'm wondering if it might be a better practice to start watching the movie first then read the book, lol!

Wolf Pack said...

I found that when I saw #3 for the first time I was sorely disappointed (in comparison to the book). But each time I watched it I learned to appreciate it for what it was. Totally agree with you on the "new" Dumbledore. I still miss the old one. There are effective ways to show a character's thoughts in a movie, I think the director just doesn't want to deal with it - or forgets what it was like to be 15 and misses the point. I think that was something I appreciated the most about book 5 was the excellence with which she showed that age!
Blessings in Christ
Jenn - not likely to see it for a few weeks - no time!

Nat said...

I liked this movie somewhat more than GoF, myself. I felt that in OotP they took some liberties, simplifying or changing some of the plot points in a reasonably intelligent manner, while in GoF they just sort of sprinted through the whole thing, with most of the non-main characters turning into little sound-bytes (except for the exorbitantly long First Task). Although I agree with you completely on the way the moral aspects of the story - Sirius's death, death in general, etc., - were basically pushed aside.

What mainly displeased me about this movie is the same gripe I have to some extent with all of the other movies, and which is unavoidable for in many cases, but still very regrettable, which is that, as well and as logically and consistently as the events of the book are put forth, and as credibly, an enormous amount of that is lost on the screen. Many liberties are taken with the use of magic, the functionality of the school, etc., which make the whole concept seem ridiculous at times (because as silly as the books can be, especially the early ones, the internal logic is pretty consistent). A prime example would be how, at the end of the fourth movie, when Voldemort touches the Dark Mark on Wormtail's arm, within seconds about thirty Death Eaters - in full outfit - descend from the sky in plumes of smoke.

It wouldn't be so bad if it were merely the case that this doesn't make much sense, but the fact is that in the book it happens very logically. Death Eaters come gradually, over the next few minutes, out of the edges of the clearing. The movie implies that all of those Death Eaters happened, at that exact moment, to be wearing their outfits and be on the guard for the mark to burn, despite the fact that Volemort's been gone for fifteen years.

The whole plume of smoke thing is also the only thing that irritated me about the battle at the Ministry at the end of the fifth movie. I don't mind at all that the characters were all using nonverbal generic bursts of energy against each other, but when the Order started arriving as sentient clouds of luminescent smoke that was just a bit much for me.

I could go on, obviously, but most of the rest is nit-picking.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I tried not to include too many spoilers, Anita, but it's just as well to see things unspoiled altogether.

There are pros and cons either way, whether one reads the book first, or sees the movie first. Seeing the movie gives away the ending and robs the reading of the book of its gripping suspense. I hope that you and Smiley enjoyed seeing the movie, in any case.

With both the third and fourth movies, my first impressions were not so great, but they each improved with repeated viewings. In retrospect, I enjoy them very much and like the way they were handled. My initial reactions to the movie version of The Goblet of Fire were much as Nathaniel has described. But I think it really does work. The even-numbered books tend to be extroverted and more action-oriented, which is easier to deal with theatrically.

Maybe this new movie will grow on me with time. I don't mean to be nit-picky, either. It is for entertainment, after all. It's just that so much of what I love best about the books in general, and about the fifth book in particular, isn't there on the big screen. What can you do?

Nat said...

I'm wondering if anyone else noticed the decline in the music. John Williams (

This is as far as Nat got with his comment before he left. I'd kinda like to check my e-mail, so he can finish this later. I could make it up from here, but it doesn't seem very nice.

-dat one splatted mag