Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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"You may not like him, Minister, but you can't deny... Dumbledore's got style."

Running 138 minutes, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the shortest film in the ongoing series yet. The irony that it was adapted from the longest book - running nearly 800 pages - is no doubt going to be the central complaint of the HP fandom community. I guess this is only natural, but as I suspected, but screenwriter Michael Goldenberg slimmed down Order of the Phoenix just fine for a feature length. Yes, this is the longest book, but much of what makes it so long is that this is the most internal of all the books, not that it had the most amount of storylines. If anything, like Prisoner of Azkaban, the book is primarily about the heroes going to school and growing up. And like Prisoner of Azkaban, the film can therefore condense a lot of material in a blithe, entertaining manner. As I've often said, I don't mind them cutting or altering the stories in order to make them work better on the screen, and the streamlining that occurs here manages to capture the essence of the book.

I am not implying that Order of the Phoenix anywhere near the masterpiece that Alfonso Cuarón's film was, but director David Yates utilizes a similarly efficient means of encompassing the material in the book. Order of the Phoenix is more story-oriented, with Harry's own maturation tied into the changing atmosphere at Hogwarts. The film focuses on the most essential aspects of the book and more often than not does it quite well. Yates plows full-bore into the story, which unfolds in an elliptical manner not too dissimilar from Goblet of Fire, but through the use of a series of montages (some of which are quite ingenious), it tends to avoid the rushed quality that film often had.

"Surely you can't be Sirius?"
"I am Sirius. And don't call me Shirley."

I do have a few caveats, but they are all relatively minor. The first is not the fault of the filmmakers, but that any movie hinging on dreams the hero is having reaches that stumbling block of how to present the dreams themselves. These scenes are, unfortunately, a bit too familiar. While Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) relationship with Sirius (Gary Oldman) and frustration with Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon) unavailability are solidly constructed, Harry's own arc is a bit off-kilter here, leading to a strangely clumsy moment during the finale with Voldemort and parting words. Much of the reason why Harry is pissed off in the book is simply because he's fifteen (hey, I was pretty angry at fifteen without a third of the reasons Harry does), which is touched upon in the film but not explored as much as it might have been. While Radcliffe is starting to look a bit old for the role at times, he pitches his performance right between childhood and adulthood, which, when set against the story's inherent paranoia, keeps him sympathetic (perhaps more so than he was in the book).

This is very much a franchise film and makes no effort to re-familiarize the audience with the characters or situations, so neither Ron (Rupert Grint) nor Hermione (Emma Watson) are quite the central figures they have been in the previous cinematic installments, but as with much of the cast comprising the staff of Hogwarts, it isn't so much what they do, it's that they are there; and few actors can do as much with as little screen time as Alan Rickman though I do wish that David Thewlis' Remus Lupin, pitch-perfect in Prisoner of Azkaban could have gotten more screen time. Helena Bonham Carter was a shoo-in for Bellatrix Lestrange, but I have to admit that as batshit as the character is supposed to be, Carter was maybe a bit more over-the-top than she needed to be. But any reservations about Imelda Staunton's performance as Dolores Umbridge based upon her extremely Muggle-like costume design will be extinguished as soon as she shows up. Her sickly-sweet exterior and forced smile never extends to her eyes; she perfectly encapsulates Rowling's awful creation.

Pink is the new black?

As I've mentioned, a lot of information is conveyed through the use of montages, some of which are quite clever. Slawomir Idziak's cinematography doesn't have the frame brimming with eye-popping detail that Michael Seresin's had (but then again, neither did Goblet of Fire), but it is very concise - comparing the frenzied but lucid battle in the Department of Mysteries (designed by series stalwart Stuart Craig) to the frenzied but incoherent battles at the conclusion of The Transformers only makes that latter film so much more annoying. Some of the effects are a bit too noticeable, but the dueling sequences at the conclusion looked rather impressive (while Dumbledore and Voldemort [Ralph Fiennes] do, indeed, spent some time shooting colored streams of light at each other, they also perform other spells upon each other).

Nicholas Hooper's score is more textural than thematic, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't in context of the film. The score gets loud sometimes, and it gets soft, but it doesn't really develop much, and while I have nothing against minimalism, here it seems more because of a dearth of ideas. I did like Hooper's unraveling of John Williams' "Hedwig's Theme," but there is no overall shape to the score (which is actually illustrated by the album, which shuffles the cues every which way). There are a few moments here and there that sound nice (and I will be drawing on for when I make my eventual sequel to Lumos Musica!, the John Williams scores), and the cloying music for Umbridge is effective, but the score as a whole is nowhere near what it should have been.

The film is a bit uneven, but it does what it sets out to do and in a mostly entertaining manner. There are quite a few little bits here and there that allude to elements of the book that didn't make it into the film, and a few that are abbreviated out of making as much of an impression as they ought, but overall, it was well-crafted and conveyed many of the core elements of the book in a way that fits in with the overall character of the film series. Oh, I have no idea where Rowling is going (if anywhere) with Aberforth, but he's played in the film by a certain Jim McManus, who does indeed bear a resemblance to Michael Gambon. With his goat.

No, it isn't as good as Prisoner of Azkaban. But, hey, few films are. Incidentally, I make no apologies for using Cuarón's film as the yardstick for this series. In addition to being deliriously entertaining and deliciously tactile, Prisoner of Azkaban has left what is clearly an indelible mark on the series. Both Mike Newell and Yates have taken their visual cues from Cuarón; in some ways he rebooted the series, albeit with the same cast. I hope that they try to bring him back for Deathly Hallows and not Columbus, as has been rumored.
Tags: cinema, film music, harry potter, john williams, reviews
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