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.