Saturday, July 14, 2007

Review of Order of the Phoenix

Spoiler Warning: If you have not watched the film then do not read this review as there are details from the film being discussed here.

In the middle of watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I realized that this was a very different Potter film. With a new director (David Yates), new screenwriter (Michael Goldenberg), and new composer (Nicholas Hooper); I expected this going into the movie but it just hit me forcibly in the theatre. This was such a different Potter film that after watching it, I was not sure what to make of it. My overall reaction was mixed as I enjoyed much of the film but was left with a feeling of disappointment as the movie ended.

The chillingly haunting rendition of John William's "Hedwig's Theme" by Nicholas Hooper plunged me into Order. Harry Potter is vilified in the wizarding media and what's worse he is expelled from Hogwarts because he performed underage magic even though it was done in a lifesaving situation. Harry is tried like a high priority criminal by the Wizengamot. Even though he's acquitted, it gets worse for Harry. He endures the stares and disbelief of the student body, a growing anger problem, and a sadistic professor who tortures him for telling the very truth of Voldemort's return that most of the wizarding world believes is a lie. Pushed by Ron and Hermione, Harry heads a subversive student group called Dumbledore's Army whose aim is to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts to those dissatisfied with the curriculum. The film moves with a lightning pace as Albus Dumbledore is ousted from Hogwarts and a new regime begins at the school. Add to that Harry's dreams of corridors and fears of a potential darkness within him, Harry needs to learn Occlumency by Professor Snape although he fails to master this discipline. This failure leads him to believe a dream about Voldemort torturing his godfather Sirius Black and he leads Ron, Ginny, Hermione, Luna, and Neville to the Department of Mysteries where he learns of a prophecy, watches Sirius die, and experiences Voldemort possessing him but not before expelling him and the Ministry sees that the Dark Lord truly has returned.

Clocking in at 138 minutes, Order is the shortest Potter film so far. This was my second biggest complaint of the film. I understand that film is a different genre than novels and that there is always difficulty in translating a 870 page tome to the Big Screen but the movie should have been longer. The climactic scene in the Ministry should have been longer. That's a given. It also could have used an additional ten to twenty minutes touching upon elements that simply went unexplained. For example when Dolores Umbridge dismisses Professor Trelawney from Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore reminds the High Inquisitor that while she can dismiss school professors, Umbridge cannot throw them off the grounds. We are not given the real reason for Dumbledore's insistence that Trelawney stay, namely that she is the one who uttered the prophecy we find about in the climax (not to mention the plot hole of who is going to replace her as Divination professor). Another example would be when Harry gives Professor Snape a cryptic message regarding Sirius, we are given no indication that Snape alerted the Order of the Phoenix even though he did. Ditto for any explanation for what we saw regarding Harry's father picking on Snape when they were at school. Kreacher and Percy appear in the film suddenly and with no explanation either.

My main problem of the film was the Harry's temptation to the Dark Side. Now I understand that heroes have to be tested but one good thing about Harry is that he has no desire for turning evil. Harry cannot even perform the Cruciatus Curse properly because he has "righteous anger" as Bellatrix tells him in the novel. This dialogue is absent in the film and when he has Bellatrix at his mercy, Voldemort tells Harry to kill her because she killed his godfather. Now I have no doubt that Voldemort would do this because he has no concern for anyone least of all his faithful followers. But this scene is eerily similiar to Return of the Jedi. Harry is Luke Skywalker, Bellatrix is Darth Vader, and Voldemort is the Emperor. Come on, this did not happen in the book and in a crucial scene like this, a director cannot afford to mess this up. And it gets worse. After Dumbledore is dueling Voldemort, Voldemort enters Harry's body hoping that Dumbledore would sacrifice Harry in order to kill him. I admit that the possession scene was interesting but is ruined when we given Harry's admission that Voldemort has no friends as the reason that Voldemort is expelled from Harry's body. Where is Harry's desire to die and his immense love for his departed godfather? That was the real reason why Voldemort could not possess Harry for a long period. Would you want a director to quickly gloss over or change significantly the climax of the film version of Deathly Hallows? I mean we don't know the plot for the seventh novel but we would want the ending faithfully rendered even if other plot points were changed or left out due to time constraints.

Let me briefly give some high points in the film. Evanna Lynch was brilliant as Luna Lovegood. She had the dreamy voice and that unique perspective of the world showed through her character. She was a delight to watch. Imelda Staunton was delightfully horrible and nasty as Dolores Umbridge. I literally could not stand her just like her novel counterpart. Fred and George were at their tricks again and they provided comic relief in what was otherwise a dark film. I loved the chemistry between Ron and Hermione, which should give shippers a cause for celebration. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have really come into their own and are very good at what they do. I loved the scenes in the Hog's Head, Dumbledore's Army, Dumbledore's escape, and the fight between the Aurors and the Death Eaters (although it should have been longer). I also loved the interaction and closeness of Harry and Sirius especially in the Grimmauld Place scenes and the Ministry scenes where they fight side by side against Lucius Malfoy. Sirius forgets himself and calls Harry "James", which made it even sadder when Sirius is killed soon after.

In the end, Order of the Phoenix is a very dark film with a fast pace. This fast pace weakens the film especially at the end where you are left wanting more. I am not sure where this film stands with the other Potter films but it is definately not the best one. I went in with high expectations and left disappointed. As the end credits were rolling I still could not believe that the movie was over. This was the first Potter film where I had this feeling. I would probably need to see this film again before I change my opinion but then again there is always Deathly Hallows to look forward to next week.

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