Sunday, July 15, 2007

You thought I'd...what is the phrase? come quietly.

Order of the Phoenix Spoilers Ahead. A Tonne of Them.

I saw it. I saw it, and it was as if heaven itself opened up and gave me a glimpse, one stolen glimpse, of a Film Nirvana I had only dreamt of.

This. THIS is a movie.

The opening scene is everything it should be. The new, more ominous Dudley is perfect, though I feel a diction coach could have been usefully employed there. As in the novel, Harry is hanging around the park, which is just as dilapidated, drought-ridden, and foreboding as the book describes.

The broomstick evacuation from Privet Drive is marvellous. Tonks is only onscreen for a brief time, but those few moments make me long for Half-Blood Prince, when we should get to see more of her. (She's Ellie from About A Boy, by the way.) Marvellous, too, is Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

The one problem I have with the Headquarters scenes is that most of the Kreacher subplot is cut out. Critically, the closet-clean-out scene is missing, and consequently movie viewers who haven't read the books will have some catching up to do when they see Half-Blood Prince and start theorizing on Horcruxes. Regulus Black isn't mentioned, nor is Dumbledore's brother. Interestingly, though, they did include the Grawp subplot, which could be a clue as to the role giants will play in Deathly Hallows. (Five days, in case you've lost track.)

Now, Dolores Umbridge. There aren't many bad things to say about Imelda Staunton, who has become one of my most-admired actresses after her performance in Vera Drake. She does an excellent job as Umbridge, and gives a shudderingly good portrayal of her manic side during the interrogation scene when she threatens Harry with the Cruciatus Curse. Interestingly, though, the film never reveals that she actually ordered the Little Whingeing Dementor attack. Nor do we see the Firenze-as-Divination-Teacher sequences, or hear much from the centaurs at all. This is not critical, probably, though it's one more way in which viewers who skip the books will know a disappointingly truncated Potter-verse.

The movie's greatest strength is in its subtlety. I read a review from another blogger who said that she "didn't get the sense that we shared what Harry was going through". I couldn't disagree more. Harry's emotions and all their accompanying struggles were plainly evident in the cinematography. The weather, the music, the lighting, the camera angles - not to mention Daniel's growing acting talent - all reflected what was going on behind Harry's glasses. I was particularly impressed with a subtle serpent sound effect they kept putting behind some close-ups of Harry's profile. It was a small, quiet rattle - very brief, but it absolutely established the connection between Harry and Voldemort without anyone having to spell it out onscreen. Conspicuously - and most gratifyingly - absent is the sullenness that is all too evident in the novel. What comes across in the film is fear and helplessness - and the viewer feels it too. I spent much of the two hours, fourteen minutes either on the edge of my seat or pressed back into the padding as if trying to wriggle my way inside. It was very, very scary. Which brings me to my next note.

ATTENTION IDIOTS WHO BROUGHT THEIR TWO YEAR OLDS TO THIS MOVIE. You are very bad parents. If I had any power whatsoever to have you slapped upside your stupid heads, please believe I would be exercising it right now.

Impressively, the directors and editors spent many key moments of screen time developing the characters and setting them up for events in Half-Blood Prince. In previous films, I often felt there was more of an interest in the "Wow" effect of spells, levitating things, tiny fairies, twinkling lights, and cool tricks than in the underlying stories. In Order of the Phoenix, it looks like the filmmakers have finally acknowledged the deeper, more important storyline. There is definitely a sense of inexorable motion toward a climactic ending, in that when you finish this movie, you feel like you, too, have to get ready to face whatever's coming. You feel like you should go to the bathroom, get more Wine Gums, and settle in for a screening of Half-Blood Prince.

The friendship between Ron and Hermione deepens. This is done perfectly - absolutely perfectly, an ordinary exchange given intimacy in sound editing, a few warm camera angles, some set arrangements wherein Ron and Hermione are on one sofa, and Harry on another - all little things, and maybe easy to miss, but the discerning moviegoer will raise an eyebrow and utter a speculative "hmmm..." Similarly, Ginny is a quiet observer of the doomed Harry-Cho romance, with a few good facial expressions that are serious, perhaps a little disappointed, but never crossing the line into either moping or melodrama. I look forward to seeing her emerge in HBP as the very strong character Rowling gives her. In this film, we do get to see her blossoming talent as a witch, too - though there is no mention of her "Bat Bogey Hex", she does a fantastic reducto, as in the novel.

Speaking of the reducto charm, I must comment that I am not at all impressed with the way in which the films have handled the spells. It has always annoyed me, for example, that expelliarmus was given such force in the movies - the victim often flies fifteen feet backwards and lands with a crash and a cloud of dust (the notable exception being Snape's disarming of Lupin at the Shrieking Shack in Prisoner of Azkaban). Even in Order of the Phoenix, which is the smoothest and most emotionally deep of them all, there are entirely too many big bangs, flashing lights, grandiose flourishes, and flying bodies. To their credit, there is a scene in the Room of Requirement in which Harry is trying to teach people not to wave their wands so much while doing expelliarmus, with the result that the victim's wand simply flicks away, as it does in the novel. I rather wish they had stuck with the understated approach throughout, but at least they've come 'round to it in the end.

The subtler charms effects are most apparent in the final scene in the Department of Mysteries. I was sort of dreading this scene, and wondering how they would handle all the advanced magic contained therein, and how Michael Gambon's Dumbledore would stand up to Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort. I needn't have worried. The exchange of curses between the Death Eaters and the Order is most impressive, taking on an almost gunfire rapidity. Most of the time they use nonverbal spells, which brings a sense of desperation and haste to the battle. One notable exception is the avada kedavra curse with which Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius.

The exchange of magic between Dumbledore and Voldemort is nothing short of fantastic. You don't get the impression that poor Michael Gambon is having trouble keeping up. In fact, I would argue that Michael Gambon becomes Dumbledore in this scene, and proves his worth to all those who have dismissed him as an inadequate replacement for Richard Harris. He is understated, down-to-earth, shrewd, and more than a match for the Dark Lord. Richard Harris had more of the doddering about him - Gambon's energy is perfect for a Dumbledore-At-War. He has a compelling connection with Harry, as well. During Harry's possession by Voldemort, Dumbledore is not thrown for a second. He handles it slightly differently than in the book, but his response is succinct, pitying, loving, and implacable all at the same time.

One thing I particularly liked about the film is one key change the writers made to Sirius' death scene. Sirius and Harry are standing near the veiled archway, firing curses at the Death Eaters, when Sirius suddenly shouts, "Well done, James!" It almost stops your heart. There is just time to catch a confused impression of a startled Harry, and feel a surge of foreboding at the exultant look on Sirius' face, before he is hit with Bellatrix' curse. This is almost the only reference in the film to Sirius' emotions towards Harry, and his indulgent fantasies about Harry replacing his best friend. The beauty of it is, you don't need to see all that background - with one little sentence, all is revealed.

It has often been noted that the novels' progression reflects the growing maturity of their readers. This is equally true of the films. Philosopher's Stone was flashy, shallow, overdrawn and juvenile; Chamber of Secrets only slightly less so. Azkaban was darker, more interesting, funnier and slightly more complex. Goblet of Fire took things to a new level, but still I felt that Voldemort was given too theatrical a voice and too dramatic a manner, and that Harry was not as strong and complex a character as he deserved to be. Order of the Phoenix has suddenly upped the ante. The dark is darker, the spells more dangerous. The magical world changes in this movie, from floating candles and Golden Snitches to actual, life-or-death, bloodletting. There is more at stake, and everyone, from the director to the sound editor to bloody Emma Watson, has stepped up.

I intend to move heaven and earth to see this movie as many times as I can manage before it's out of theatres. I will do my damnedest to get to an IMAX screening. I will haunt the theatres when Half-Blood Prince is released next November.

Seriously. Run -- don't walk.


clumsy ox said...

You know, I'm not trying to be a downer or anything, but all the Harry movies have left me wondering why I paid the admission. The first two were basically trailers for the book: a few well-chosen scenes divorced entirely from plot or context. The third was marginally better.

I never bothered with the fourth, nor the fifth.

I anticipate watching them all on DVD, but I refuse to throw good money after bad.

Perhaps it's my further development as a curmudgeon, but I find myself demanding more and more of movie adaptations of books I've read. Now I find them almost all completely lacking.

Don't even get me started on Lord of the Rings.

Shan said...

In order to enjoy a book adaptation you have to consider the books and the movies as separate and distinct, unless you like disappointment.

When I went to see GOF I certainly felt let down and, like you, wondered why I paid the admission. I hated it on first viewing, but of course after I had adjusted to it Not Being The Book, I enjoyed it much better...still not great of course - but OoTP is.

Movies can't be books. There just isn't time, or narrative perspective, or what have you. That doesn't stop my enjoyment of them - and I don't 'see' the movie characters' faces when I next read the books, either.

And hey - you hated OoTP the book, so what do you have to lose?

Jo said...

I agree with most of your comments, but I had one chief complaint about the movie - I thought the editing needed work - the segues between scenes were awful. And it wasn't Cho that gave them up - and where were the medallions? Those become important in the next book as well and are left out of this movie.

5elementknitr said...

I only skimmed because I haven't seen it yet. I did see the warning to the parents of the two year old.

A coupla years ago, we went to see Predator vs. Alien (yea, we're geeks) and some guy had his little boys with him. About 5 minutes into the movie, the 4 year old looking child said,"Daddy, I'm scared". He said, "You'll be OK" pulled the kid into his lap and ignored his wimpering for the next two hours. What a tool!

uberstrickenfrau said...

Eeeeep, hate to admit this, but I think I'm the only muggle in the USA who hasn't seen any of the movies and I read only the first two books to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I found the writing to be funnie and clever, but the dark magic and witch thing I did find disturbing. I loved your reveiw, but the movie sounded way too dark for my taste. But, then again, I am intrigued to give it another go after seeing how many bloggers love this series.

Shan said...

I was a bit annoyed at that Cho-betrayal thing too, at first. But actually I thought it worked out perfectly within the time constraints of a movie...they don't have time to show everything, like Harry and Cho in the teashop, but they have to have a reason for the breakup. They also don't have time to introduce all the minor characters (such as Cho's friend). Plus, they redeemed Cho in the end with Snape's veritaserum remark to Umbridge.

I kept waiting for a scene where Hermione would explain the charm she put on the DA sign-up parchment, too...and the charmed galleons that would change to show the day and time of the DA meetings. But in the scope of the whole movie it was okay for me that they left it out. Same with the various doors, and the brains, in the Dep't of Mysteries - it was okay that they left it out.

With regard to a lead-in on HBP, I guess they'll just introduce the galleons in the next movie as if they are new...I think it'll be the same with the locket horcrux that was supposed to have been seen in 12 Grimmauld Place in OotP. They'll just give a verbal introduction, or a flashback, and then On With The Show.

Again, it depends on how you feel about book-movie adaptations as a genre.

I have to admit I didn't mind the segues - I didn't notice them particularly. But I'll keep my eye out for them on my next viewing.

I. Can't. BELIEVE it. And you can be sure that dude was exasperated and annoyed when his kid woke him up with nightmares at 2.30 every morning for the next six months.

If you thought the first two books were dark and occultish, wait til you read the others. The first three books, actually, are just a little toe-dipping into magic, with a mere hint of evil. Things get serious in book 4.

They're still good - a good read with a lot of interesting debate material - but I would never argue that they aren't dark, scary, and inappropriate for some people. And the occult element, no matter how much I personally feel it's completely fabricated and very entertaining, is going to be off-putting for a lot of people.

And that's okay, too. Me no judgey.

Kate said...

Hey Shan, don't hold back, 'kay? Tell us how you really felt about the movie. (love you)
Great review, you could have a career there. Although I'll still wait for it to come out on DVD, 'cause I'm cheap that way.

Gwen said...

Good review. I would have done my own, but yours is comprehensive enough fer the both of us.

I was pleasantly surprised by Emma Watson, she was tolerable in this film, not the snotty little prima donna she was in the previous ones.

I, too, loved the "Well done, James!" line. Perfect.

And Neville... some great moments for him here. I cried when I saw his parents in the photo, and when he says, "I'm proud to be their son."

Luna -- I think they actually found the real Luna to play this role. She IS Luna!

Gwen said...

Forgot to mention that only about four people in the theatre laughed when we caught a glimpse of Aberforth with a goat. I LOVE IT!!

Shan said...

That Aberforth thing cracked me up too. Then it cuts back to Herm.,Harry & Ron but you hear Aberforth mutter to the goat, "Where you goin'?"

I totally cried about Neville and his parents too, even on second viewing the other day.

Then I went home and reread HBP and sobbed my heart out.

lizbon said...

Oh finally I can read this post. Yay. I was avoiding spoilers till I had seen the film, and now I finally have (though the friend I was planning to see it with is pissed at me for having gone and seen it a day early - tough nuts, honey. I'll see it again tomorrow...). It's nice to read a positive review of it - I'd seen one blaring, negative headline in some newspaper and that was it. And I LIKED it. I thought it was the best to date, much better than the third (my least favorite), and better than the fourth, too.

But I view books and movie adaptations as quite separate, so I am a lot more tolerant of the detail changes and omissions than many. I freakin' adore the Lord of the Rings movies. I think they are positively wonderful, and that they have the added benefit of turning new readers on to the trilogy.

What this movie made me want to do was reread the book. And I think there's no higher compliment for a movie adaptation than that.

lizbon said...

PS. For me personally, the darker they get (HP books and movies), the better I like them. To me, the fact that Rowling doesn't pussyfoot around and make everything all safe and pretty is one of the best aspects of the series. And no, I would never bring a very young child to that movie. (Duh!)

If you ever read old fairy tales, they are very, very dark, in a quite-similar way, and I believe that kids appreciate stories like those because they feel true - as long as they're not subjected to scary bits at too-early an age. Sorry to wax soapboxish, especially on someone else's blog.

Shan said...

Yeah I like the lack of pussyfooting myself. Wait'll you read Deathly Hallows...(unless you have already, then you know what I mean).

I liked movie 3. Especially as it compares to 1 and 2. 5 rules, however.