Jul 13, 2011

Harry Plotter: Movie 5

Molly Weasley fighting a Boggart: Cut Scene, but not forgotten
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first movie in the series directed by David Yates, and the man wastes no time in making his mark. With Chris Columbus’ childish films HP1 and HP2 fading into unhappy memory, Alfonso Cuarón’s powerhouse directorial work in HP3 unfortunately forgotten, and Mike Newell’s direction of HP4 acting as a filmic palate cleanser, Yates was able to enter the arena on relatively solid ground. Unlike so many franchises that buckled under the pressure of repetition, the Harry Potter films still feel fresh, uninhibited by ridiculous side plots and accepted (and often beloved) by fans.  Still, the final three films represent a dramatic change in the series, shifting from the fun and not too
dangerous tones of the first films to the melancholic dread of the final 4 films, represented of course by the growing threat of Voldemort and his band of dark-clothed ne’er-do-wells and rogues. Yates takes this tone in stride, not shying away from the drama like Newell but instead increasing it through a compacted narrative of scenes that literally topple over into one another. It is basically film dominoes, with each piece falling a little bit faster than the one before. And, largely, it’s a success.

Since it's largely absent in the film, here's the prophecy
Of course, one of the main reasons for this is the always stellar cast. In terms of returning players, Alan Rickman is better than ever as Severus Snape, giving the few scenes he’s in a quiet, drawn-out intensity. When the film allows itself to slow down, it’s mostly to focus on Rickman’s lip curl or his flared nostrils, each as glorious as you might imagine. Also, Michael Gambon is a lot better in this film. His erratic tendencies and his decision not to wear half-moon spectacles aside, he gives more of a commanding performance than he normally does in these films. He’s almost believable. Ralph Fiennes is better here as well. Perhaps it was the directorial touches of Newell that had me doubting Voldemort in HP4, because he’s actually pretty terrifying here.

This is also the first film where I’m actually impressed with the acting prowess of the leads. Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe actually give very strong performances, especially since they’re acting against the greatest actors England has to offer. Emma Watson (as Hermione Granger, loosening up a bit) is edited a bit strangely here, but she does the best with what she’s given.  Speaking of Hermione, this is the only film in the series not written by Steve Kloves, who has gone on record numerous times stating that Hermione is his favorite character. Perhaps his absence is the reason that Hermione’s dialogue is a little clunkier in this film. It's as if she is not written by as loving a hand. 

Umbridge: So Pink, So Evil
However, the real winners are the new cast members. Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Evanna Lynch as Professor Dolores Umbridge, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Luna Lovegood are all fantastic. Imelda Staunton is the embodiment of Umbridge, bringing her treacly wickedness to the surface in the most amazing way. Carter portrays Bellatrix a bit more off-kilter and crazier than she is in the books, but it works well for the character. After being locked up for 14 years in a prison where the guards slowly suck all the happiness out of your life, who wouldn’t be a little unhinged? Unfortunately, she only gets the tiniest bit of screen time – she needs so much more time!  Lynch plays Lovegood brilliantly, putting her character’s loopy qualities into hyper-drive and delivering every line as if she’d been sucking helium all day. It’s great.

Ginny and Cho: Love interests mostly forgotten
Much like the third film, Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix takes a lot of liberties with the plotting and overall structure of the book.  Plots are discarded and moved around and Harry’s connection with Voldemort is moved to the sidelines for the most part. Also, scenes change quickly through well-done montages and really cool scene wipes involving flying newspapers (that doesn’t really do it justice). The movie probably would have benefited from ten minutes of extra content, especially to ramp up the tension between Umbridge and Harry, but it’s a small complaint. While it may not pack as much of a punch, it’s actually the first movie that works as a movie in and of itself – it doesn’t rely on people reading or even being fans of the books.

Am I supposed to feel anything?
Some things are lost in translation from page to screen, and one note that will always ring false is the way Sirius Black’s character arc plays out. Due to his near-absence in HP4, he never really makes much of an impact in this movie, which in many ways is a movie ABOUT HIM. When he (spoiler alert) dies at the end of the movie, it’s not as emotionally impacting as it should be, because as an audience we haven’t even spent that much time with the character. In the book it’s sudden, intense, and heartbreaking. In the movie it’s simply the first two.

Still, overall the movie is a giant success. It’s actually the first movie that is better than the book off which it is based. It’s probably the least faithful adaptation to date, but it’s still an engaging and brilliantly plotted film. Well done, all.

Also, the color palate is amazing. The blues and browns especially.

Film Grade: A-

Book Grade: B- (Check out the book review HERE)
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