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Friday, July 27, 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix

Initial Thoughts:
I was enthralled and disappointed in the film. On the one hand I think they did a good job bringing together many of the important aspects of the book. They managed to capture Umbridge very well. Staunton is absolutely perfect as Umbridge. In fact, I can't imagine anyone else playing her. She made me hate her as much as I hated the character in the book (that's a good thing mind you). She captured the twisted evil that is the Ministry of Magic. As a movie I can see this as being a fantastic film. The pace is very tuned and once again there is a fantastic cast. While the direction is surely not perfect, as a film it is rather good. As an adaptation, however, it is terrible. That's to be expected though, and if you are fooling yourself into thinking that Hollywood might one day do a really great book-to-film adaptation you should probably seek help. Hollywood has yet to accurately portray a book on the big screen, so it's no surprise at all that this would turn out to leave behind extremely important aspects from the book.

Now for what I usually do in regards to films--grading. This is done as follows. There is potential for 5 points in each category: direction, cast, score, adaptation, writing, and visuals (CG, etc.). Here goes.

Direction 3/5
As I mentioned, the direction is not perfect. This is very evident in various scenes where a good use of direction could have made things more convincing. One scene is where Fudge proclaims "he's back". To the audience that's like a big "well duh..." moment. This is partly a writing flaw, for writing that line in the first place, and a directional flaw. The director should have seriously looked at that scene. Fudge should just have looked surprised, maybe collapsed. There is plenty of liberty that could have been taken with that scene.
Generally speaking things seem fairly smooth in direction. It's not nearly as good as Columbus--back in the good times for the series--but it will suffice for the next film. Hopefully for book seven they bring back Columbus and Williams though. While good, it's far from what it could be. Being smooth isn't enough--the wow factor gets that 4th star, and the super wow factor gets the 5 (thanks Peter Jackson for making me realize this).

Cast 5/5
There is no doubt in my mind that the producers of this series were right in their choices for the different cast members. We all know full well the ability of the actors that were picked to play the main characters, and they are well noted for their rolls. Stuanton, who plays Umbridge, is the perfect person for the position, as I mentioned. While I am upset by the change in Dumbledore's due to Harris' death, I can say that at least this new Dumbledore stays consistent. Actors for Lupin, Mad-eye, Tonks, and many many more continue to prove that they are perfect for the roll. This is solid, folks, perfectly solid. There is little room for failure in the casting. They did a great job and it continues to show.

This is where I think the film takes a huge fall into no-man's land. Yes, there was yet another change in film composers, and this time it is so glaringly noticeable in the score that I almost wanted to scream out loud. John Williams, the guy we've all heard of, started this all off by creating truly original and memorable music for the first three films, and he left behind that legacy for Patrick Doyle in the fourth film. Now, with this new composer (Nicholas Hooper) who has taken the foundations left to him and completely destroyed them. We get minor glimpses of Williams' foundations, but I am mostly disturbed by the almost complete absence of the main theme! How can you possibly leave behind the power and useability of that memorable theme? And how does giving us a little moment of it in the beginning of the film enough of a tribute? It's not. The score is dismal, not because it isn't original and interesting, but because it has almost nothing to do with the feel of Harry Potter. It sounds, ironically enough seeing how Hooper is British, like a score written for a Nicholas Cage action movie--like National Treasure. It's so American sounding that it made me cringe in the theaters (both times mind you). Electric guitar does not belong in Harry Potter, not by any stretch.
To add to that, there is this complete lack of understanding of space and silence. Several moments in the score when things seem dire or quiet, or for some reason some sort of low emotion needs to be presented, there is almost nothing interesting going on in the music, just low, inaudible tones without substance. This is unacceptable.
I hope they bring back Williams soon. The soundtracks are degrading at an alarming rate now.

Now, I mentioned it already that one should not expect greatness from a Hollywood adaptation. This is still the case here. While the story is still strong, it's not the full story. So much is left behind so there can be this bare bones plot to cling to. A simple half hour of additional footage could have added depth to the world--further depth really. I'm not going to go into this part much more simply because those that are loyal to the books know exactly what has been left out here. It's usual to leave stuff out and all of us should understand this, but when half of the story is gone that's a whole different issue.

Now, generally speaking the writing wasn't all that bad. The lines were good enough, but every so often there would be moments where you really just thought it was corny or annoying. One of the scenes I thought hurt the story was the one where Dumbledore explains himself to Harry. That could have been written so much better in such a way to make Dumbledore look wise, but in such a way that he can still be wrong. Instead, it was written to portray him as somewhat of a fool.
Otherwise, the script is good enough. It gets the job done.

As usual, the visuals were stunning. Great landscapes, amazing sets, and of course wicked CG wizard battles! How freaking awesome it is to see Death Eaters shooting through the air like fluid blobs of black smoke, and the good guys doing the same as white almost Patronus Charm style smoke. Light and magical explosions are completely fantastic here. In fact, I think this is one of the coolest magic battles of all time--the one between Voldemort and Dumbledore. Likely this will be outshined by book seven. But the blazing sparks and fire and all of it are just so amazingly cool to me. Top marks for this because they managed to do something quite powerful here. And the Kestrals were amazing too!

Overall 3.2/5
It's a good film, but it has its flaws. Hopefully these will be rectified in the upcoming sixth film and hopefully all the kinks will have been worked out by the seventh. Obviously there will be kinks in the adaptation, but we can live with that can't we? Definitely worth seeing in theaters since the visuals will surely make everyone leap with joy and the story itself is fantastic. That and we all seem to have a fascination with how these kids are growing up in such a bizarre and amazing world.
Kudos to Harry Potter.

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