Smells Like Teen Spirit ~ Movie Review of 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

I confess that out of the series of J. K. Rowling’s Potter books, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ proved to be my least favorite, so I am surprised that I think it makes the best Potter movie to date.  Whereas my memory of the book had Potter plodding along plagued with teen angst, this movie presents Potter’s self-doubt without dwelling on it.


A tip of my witch hat goes to the director, David Yates, who is currently busy with the pre-production of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.’  Although Yates, after checking, does not seem to have directed many memorable titles for those of us stateside, I felt his reign over Rowling’s material was such that it told the story without trying to overwhelm the production with his style (whatever that might be).  In the past, I felt these movies have swung from either too sweet (Chris Columbus) or unnecessarily too dark (Alfonso Cuaron).


A tip of my wand also goes to Michael Goldenberg who wrote the screenplay.


With that said, the movie has its flaws.  An example would be the introduction of certain characters without much introduction.  Since I have read the book, my mind was jarred back to who these people were and what they were doing, but I wonder about the audience that did not.  For instance, I remember that Nymphadora Tonks’s hair was constantly changing color, so when the movie (which really does feature her that much) showed her hair change hues I could recall there was a reason for it, but I didn’t remember what that was.  Since the movie only briefly shows this feat, it doesn’t offer an explanation which made me feel as if the director would have been better off just dropping the bit.  I’m sure it was a nod to die hard ‘read each of the books twenty times’ fans, but more than those fans watch the films.  Things like rapidly changing hair color for no reason should be saved for the DVD version.


Oh, and least I forget, a character played by Helena Bonham Carter is introduced two-thirds into the film.  Although I know she is pivotal to the story, it would have been nice to introduce her in the beginning before we see her escape from Azkaban.  She is mentioned in passing, but it isn’t until the final action sequence, when I put all the pieces together.  Once again, for people who did not read the book, I doubt if they even got the references.


The Potter trio of young stars have grown into their roles, yet beyond that, I think each demonstrates the acting chops which will not limit them to being Harry, Ron, and Hermione for the rest of their lifes.  Of course, the whole franchise floats on the shoulders of Daniel Radcliffe and he plays Potter admirable, not too heroic nor not too self-pitting.  Obviously, he is an actor who is willing to take risks – he starred in the London production of ‘Equus’, which required him to shed his clothing on stage.  I think it speaks volumes for his talent that he can play both Harry Potter, boy wizard extraordinaire, and Alan Strang, lad who ‘loved’ horses a wee bit too much.  Beyond that, the fact that his role in ‘Equus’ did not destroy his career as Harry is a sign that for him it is all about the acting and that the producers back him up on it.  In other words, a male version of Lindsay Lohan he is not.


‘Order’ had the audience from the start with an opening sequence that looked as if Lord Voldemort is responsible for global warming – hot day (we are talking England) the feeling of ennui, and then suddenly something like a Kansas twister comes Harry Potter’s way.  From there, it leads to conspiracy theories and a Ministry of Magic so badly run it looks as if it a better version of the Bush Administration.  (Yes, I kid, but then there is that scene where torture is debated in reference to using it on teens as in the end justifies the means.)  By the time Ministry of Magic mouthpiece Delores Umbridge and her cat porcelain collection comes to Hogwarts (where she precedes to usurps Dumbledore) it is just a matter of time before an underground Dark Arts training posse is started.


BTW, the character of Umbridge is a delight to all of us who have experienced being an underling to someone who can organize the details, but has no idea about the larger picture.  At one point I was hoping that Cornelius Fudge would come out and say, “You’re doing a heck of a job, Bridgey.”


Overall, the film worked.  I liked how articles in ‘The Daily Prophet’ the newspaper favored by British witches and wizards community, helped move ‘Order’ along.  Whereas the book introduced many of these new characters, for me in written word they registered flat and forgettable, in the movie I found myself enchanted with them, even hoping that Luna Lovegood would win Harry’s heart (his love is wasted on that Cho Chang – Ho Hang who breaks under interrogation is more like it).


This isn’t a film for small children, but if fits into the pre-teen and older crowd very well.  Within the two hour and fifteen minute movie, Harry gets his first kiss, his first command, and loses someone dear to him.  Besides all of that, he experiences the more subtle, but even more important realization that a parent whom he idolizes, may not have been as perfect as he had once believed.  That perhaps, Professor Snape’s disposition towards him may not be about him and they have more in common than Potter first thought.  This film, along with the book it was based on, bridges (get how the character name Unbridge fits in?) Harry from orphan child wizard to the leadership role he was destined to undertake.  For all that was demanded of this movie it does a good job and will leave summer audiences happy and ready for the next installment – first the seventh book, to be released in a few days, and then the 2008 movie.         


© 2007 Westerfield

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