Monday, July 16, 2007

Movie Review: 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

‘Harry Potter’ presents itself first as a publishing phenomenon and secondly as a successful film franchise. Each film has been compared to the source material and criticized for remaining too faithful at the expense of cinematic effect and equally for straying from the story of the novels. From the off the makers were confronted with the prospect of adapting the longest book in the series as well as perhaps the most poorly appreciated. The book did excel in invoking many ideas ranging from freedom of the press to scare-mongering, to how we deal with grief and the true power of choice. So too the film as well as condensing the story does touch on many of these ideas, however it does not have the opportunity of lines of text to expound on them before racing to the next plot point. There is a sense of hurried unease throughout, with characters we know so much of with roles beyond merely supporting characters in the overall legacy, making mere cameos, serving as vehicles for exposition. This is felt most significantly in watering down the impact of an already struggling climax but also on reading the names of the stellar cast as the credits role you feel cheated of the justice they have done in fleshing out each character.

A specific example is Severus Snape, played to perfection by Alan Rickman even within the slivers of time he has on screen. The private classes with Harry are amongst the most intense sequences in all of the books, yet here they are given brief attention and the feeling is that ultimately they were covered out of necessity than choice, never really being tied into the broader issue of Harry’s doubts as to his worth. As for Radcliffe, he does fine – Harry Potter, for me at least, represents a strange central hero as throughout the series he has spent his time responding to the actions of others and events outside his control, succeeding only with the help of others and good fortune. Potter admits as much during the film and it is where he strives to take charge and lead Radcliffe is at his most refreshing, not labouring us with the same monotone angst. The film though belongs to Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge, her initially strange casting making perfect sense now. Staunton oozes true menace through the bureaucratic pink haze surrounding her. She is the perfect representation of the darker themes at play and sense of foreboding. The film is most enjoyable at this point, the struggle of the magic boot camp against the new regime compensating for the neglect of the back story of the Order of the Phoenix who earn a mention in the title but little else.

So at who’s door can I lay the blame for this? Simply – no one. While specific faults and improvements could be suggested by every Potter fan there is the over riding point that in constructing the story sensibly, directing how it is portrayed, delivering spectacle where possible and delivering a fresh perspective on a setting we have visited 5 times now, director David Yates and his crew have succeeded. The true litmus test for this installment should be whether it is enjoyable and entertaining and if we are to extend the limits of judgement considering the event movie it is then I feel we can also confidently state it acts as an effective adaptation of the novel, though not always fulfilling.

2 comments:

Simon said...

The thing ~I find with the movies is that they are trying to be a companion of the books rather then a piece of art in their own right. Kind of read the book and see the line. "to see what it looks like to ride a broom down the thames please see scene 3 in the movie.

As a reader I have no problem with this. But if you didn't read the books you could well be lost

Paul Kennedy said...

Hey CK, I see the flight home gave you time to clear your head and arrange your thoughts!
As a fan of the movies who hasn't read the books I think I might in a sense be at an advantage as I can't miss what I don't know is missing.
Entertaining but very much a middle movie. It's value could increase with tie in to the next movie.