7.19.2007

Welcome Back Mr. Pottaaah!
Harry Potter returns in The Order of the Phoenix

I haven’t read the Harry Potter books beyond the first, so when I finished watching the Order of the Phoenix I still had a plethora of questions: What was this new prophecy all about? Who is Luna Lovegood and why am I attracted to her? What is happening to my body? Is this normal? In a surprising display of initiative I decided to mount my own investigation and drum up some answers.

I happen to think being clueless is sexy. Being under-aged? Not so much.

First I put on some pants because apparently it’s the law. Next, I ate a sandwich. Then I spoke to a few friends who had actually read the Harry Potter books and asked them to interpret what the hell happened in The Order of the Phoenix. I listened to their answers and then, regretfully, ate another sandwich.

That was probably not the review you were anticipating so let me go into a little more detail. But first, please excuse me while I make myself more comfortable.

[Cue Mister Rogers music]

[Removes pants in manner eerily reminiscent of Mister Rogers]

It was a little known fact that underneath his Cardigan and pants,
Mr. Rogers was naked

Ah yes, much better. Now we can begin.

The Order of the Phoenix (to hereafter be referred to as TOP) marks director David Yates’ first showing in the Potter series and he has his work cut out for him. Legions of rabid Rowling-ites want to see their beloved Harry and friends re-enact their favorite scenes from the book while legions of rabid movie goers who have not read the books (or possibly even seen the previous movies) will expect to be entertained with magic, mayhem, and a plotline strong enough to stand on its own. Yates clearly chose to side with the legion of Rowling-ites and left the muggles who neglected the books to make-do. This isn’t to say that TOP is a bad movie, merely a disjointed and incomplete one for anybody who hasn’t read the books.

In the first scene, Harry sits alone on a swing as the sky slowly darkens into night. Several large young men approach him and begin verbally tormenting him, even going so far as to ridicule Harry’s dead mother. The bullies are vulgar and hateful and their words are almost shocking in their unexpectedness. Both the bullies’ appearances and actions are not the lighthearted gags of previous Potter movies and instead set the stage for a darker, moodier film than its predecessors.

Harry quickly loses his temper and prepares to fight back against the bullies. Before he can strike, however, the sky turns completely back and an unnatural storm descends upon them. Harry and the lead bully, who is actually his cousin (I think), are separated from the others and take shelter under a bridge. The air freezes around them and Dementors (death-like wraiths) appear. Harry manages to fend them off, but not before his cousin is injured. It’s an exciting scene that promises a film brimming with energy and violence. Unfortunately, the rest of the opening act - and the majority of film - slow down considerably.

Immediately after this energetic opening sequence, Harry is introduced to several of his old friends. While they’re being reacquainted, explanations begin to fly and quickly threaten to overwhelm the unprepared viewer.

And this is the crux of the problem. TOP wants to be a dark, moody film. It wants to have valiant struggles between wizards and warlocks. It also wants to follow the powerful forces warring in Harry Potter’s troubled conscience. But the over reliance on retelling its source material frequently breaks up the flow of the movie and leaves the audience struggling to find a rhythm.

From what I’m told, TOP the book focuses most of its attention on Harry Potter’s inner thoughts as he comes to terms with his impending standoff against arch-nemesis Lord Voldemort (played by a creepy and nose-less Ralph Fiennes). After all, he is dealing with an enemy who killed his parents and, furthermore, has never truly been defeated. And while Harry seeks an end to Voldemort’s machinations, he struggles with the knowledge that more of his friends may suffer or die as a result of their involvement in his crusade against the evil wizard.

Harry’s fears also play a key role throughout the film. Even as political intrigues rage on Hogwarts campus, Harry is continuously locked in battle within his own mind. All of this means you’d better get used to the sight of Harry waking up in a cold sweat because you see it a lot in TOP. A lot. Director David Yates frequently seemed at a loss as to how to express Harry’s growing fears. As a result, we are hit over the head time after time with the sight of Harry sweating profusely, shrugging off his friends and generally feeling sorry for himself.

If it sounds like I’m complaining too much about seeing Harry’s inner demons, it’s because I am. The problem is that there really isn’t much else going on in TOP. Yes there’s an entire plotline about Professor Dumblddore losing control of Hogwarts and some more development of other students but none of it is all that compelling. And besides, it's not really the director's fault.

Even for people like myself who haven’t read the books, we know there is no conclusive battle in TOP. How can there be when the entire series hasn’t even been published yet? Obviously there are a couple more books to go and neither Harry nor Voldemort will die. It is unfortunate, but TOP feels less like a continuation of an adventure and more like a placeholder. It is anti-climactic from beginning to end and the only compelling reason to keep watching it is to catch a glimpse of the occasional display of magic.

Watching TOP can make you pale and confused

My friends did their best to explain to me what actually happened in TOP the movie. Maybe it’s just my thick skull but I still don’t believe much happened at all. If you want to know what really transpired during The Order of the Phoenix, then I suggest you read the book because this Harry Potter movie doesn’t have many answers.

5 comments:

Mike Spoodles said...

Wow, Mr. Rogers is a pervert under all those clothes.

ian said...

This particular HP movie was serviceable, but I thought it felt extremely rushed. Remember, this was a translation of a 900-page book into just over two hours. I think the movie could have benefited from an additional 30-45 minutes. Audiences will sit through a three-hour movie nowadays. Peter Jackson proved that. But there really needed to be more development of the main plot. It felt like all the characters except Harry ran onscreen, mumbled their lines, and were swept off by the director before they had more than a few seconds.

Ian

Sadie said...

I have not read the books either, but I have seen the first four movies like a zillion times. I counted.

Anyway, I definitely agree it was a placeholder. All build up and no release, as it were. But I still enjoyed it more than the early movies. And I'm planning to read all the books soon so that I can go ahead and read #7 before the whole world knows how it ends.

And Luna is adorable! I like her. But not in the creepy perv way you do. I just want to be her big sister. Yes, I'm totally old enough to be her mother, I guess (a VERY young mom) but I'm not ready to say that yet.

Matt said...

mike - And that's why we loved him.

ian - I agree completely. I felt that some more time could've been spent with everyone not named Harry. I think cutting back on the whole Harry is soooo alone concept would have saved some additional time as well.

sadie - my favorite movie in the series is the one where everyone repeats their actions a few times (the third?). It felt the most complete on its own.

I think this movie will be more enjoyable when you're watching the entire series together. But on it's own, the plodding pace and stitched together plots weaken it a good deal.

By the way, my affection for Luna is pure and noble. We could make it work.

And did you know the final book is coming out in two days? You'd better get cracking if you want to finish the books before the world knows what happens and then tells you to mess with your head.

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