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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

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

When Christopher Columbus directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, he said this:

[Screenwriter] Steve Kloves, David Heyman ... and myself are really [such] truly obsessive fans about the book that we wanted to protect it for the fans. We wanted all the people who love the books to feel like they were experiencing [the book] ... as much as you can give [that to] them in a film. Obviously ... I would have preferred to do all seven hours, but I know that that's [not possible].

My, how far we've come.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is an excellent movie. It is fast-paced, action-packed, and holds your attention from the very first frame until the end (which occurs more than two hours later). The acting is by far the best of the series and the special effects are fantastic. All of that said, though, the film's defining characteristic is going to be the extent to which it defies everybody's expectations. To wit:

Despite it's PG-13 rating, a lot of people will expect this to be a kid's movie. It is most definitely not. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was PG-13 also, but this movie is vastly different. The fighting scenes are truly violent now (although with one exception, there is still no visible bloodshed). And the scenes were the characters get angry are often downright vicious. The interactions among Harry, Ron and Hermione, especially in the beginning of the film, were truly uncomfortable to watch. This stands as a compliment to the rapidly developing acting chops of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, but the fact remains that kids seeing the film expect these three to be best friends, and the film takes them through a range of emotions that includes true frustration and sometimes even hatred. Having read the book twice now, I did not come away from it with this feeling at all. In the book, arguments between friends come off much more like bickering. This is much more serious.

And speaking of the book, those who have read it are in for several surprises regarding the plot. Unlike Columbus' obsessive need to be true to the text, this film strays quite far from what J.K. Rowling wrote. I'd go as far as to call it the first Harry Potter movie that's based on the book, rather than being a film adaptation of the book.

(NOTE: I will now attempt to give examples without providing spoilers. You have been warned).

All of the major plot points in the movie occurred in the book as well (i.e., it starts and ends the same way). However, many major subplots in the book are either missing from the film entirely or have been significantly rewritten. There is, for example, no Quidditch in the film at all. The Department of Mysteries has only one door, so all of the action that took place in the book behind the other doors is simply missing from the film. The High Inquisitor's classroom inspections are done as a montage, and contain zero dialog between her and the teachers. The Divination teacher goes through her trials and travails as she did in the book, but a second Divination teacher does not appear or even get mentioned. None of the hospital scenes are included, so the rather major plot point about Neville Longbottom's parents needs to be significantly rewritten in order to explain Neville's actions later in the story.

The Order of the Phoenix itself, in fact, is merely mentioned and then wholly ignored throughout the film. There are no meetings at headquarters, no house cleaning, and no scenes with Kreacher the house elf (he makes a couple of cameos, but is completely unrelated to the plot, despite the rather major role he plays in the book).

All of this made it feel to me like the film makers were rushing through the plot in order to fit it all into two hours and eighteen minutes. I, for one, would have gladly sat through another forty-five minutes in order to get more of the exposition and dialogue that J.K. Rowling wrote for her wonderful array of characters.

And I guess that's the bottom line: this is a long film, but I walked away wanting more. The source material for these stories is so rich and so strong, that one cannot help but be entertained by it.

I'm told David Yates will direct the next film as well, and I'm very much looking forward to it. The sixth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, strikes a better balance between dark times and teenage fun and frivolity. This will give Yates a wider range of emotions to play with, and will likely result in a film that is even more entertaining than this one.

posted by Brian at 10:17 PM


  • Wow. I think you really hit it on the nose. I am an avid Harry Potter fan and just saw the movie last night. I agree that this movie is the furthest away from the book more than any other. About halfway thought the film, I had to check my watch to see how much more time was left because the really did rush through the entire thing. And some of the stuff they changed could prove to be a challenge when it's supposed to tie in later. And what's with Harry being possessed at the end in the Ministry of Magic? That never happened! I left the theater a little frustrated. I had reread the book in preperation for the movie and got something completely different. My boyfriend who has not read the books loved the movie. I guess I have to watch it again with less expectation to the book. Still glad I saw it though. Too bad they didn;t put in the mistress Black's portrait...really wanted to see that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:36 PM, July 12, 2007  

  • Most of the points you make Brian are good, but I disagree with your opinion that in the books the kids are just bickering but in the movies it's "much more serious." I think they actually under-emphasized the anger of harry; maybe not under-emphasized, but at least, I believe, it occurred less often than in the book.

    To the anonymous person who posted the first comment, Harry actually was possessed at the end of the Ministry scene. In fact I think that was the best scene of the movie. Considering in the book that scene is just Harry's interior monologue, I thought they did a good job of expressing the pain of the possession.

    By Anonymous klitzman, at 1:18 AM, July 14, 2007  

  • Well, we clearly walked away with different impressions, I guess. The more I think about it, the more I realize what I was reacting to was the lack of any purely good times between Harry, Ron & Hermione. The book had a few of those, but the movie really didn't.

    Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun Times, agrees with me:

    "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" still has much of the enchantment of the earlier films, but Harry no longer has as much joy. His face is lacking the gosh-wow-this-is-really-neat grin. He has internalized the secrets and delights of the world of wizards, and is now instinctively using them to save his life.

    [Harry, Ron & Hermione's] plots, alas, seem more serious than the mischief Harry and friends would have thought up in earlier days. Yes, I know time passes, and the actors are eight years older than when they started filming. But if a kid starts watching "Potter" movies with this film, would he guess they used to be a little more whimsical?

    And klitzman is correct about Harry's possession at the end of the book, although the book made Harry's success (let's assume that's not a spoiler, since we all know there's a Book 6 and a Book 7) about his triumph over Snape's Occumency lessons, where he finally learns to focus his mind despite his inability to do so in training. In the movie, they loop back into the "Love conquers all" theme from the first four books, with Harry expressing pity for Voldemort because he will never know true love.

    That was one of the more subtle differences between book and movie, but if this were a high school english class, I'm sure it would blow a big hole in whatever symbolism message the teacher was going for...

    By Blogger Brian, at 2:38 PM, July 14, 2007  

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