(big honking spoilers to follow, if you haven’t read/seen it. Be warned.)
I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night, but then again, I would. No, I didn’t dress up, because I wound up going alone and if I’m going to have the snot kicked out of me, I like to have witnesses. Besides, I’m slightly too old to be a convincing Hogwarts student, and I didn’t feel like distressing and ripping my suit coat to go as Prof. Lupin. As awesome as Prof. Lupin is. Dude’s a werewolf, you see. A nice werewolf. Anyway, he’s not really in the movie that much.
I wound up seeing the film alone because of a really strange series of events involving the Boston Harbor Islands Ferry, a faulty LED movie times sign, and Stephen Sondheim, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, I had my ticket, and I was going. It said the movie started at 10:15, and I got there early. Good plan, as the theater was packed. There was a kid selling popcorn and coke inside the theater, which is something I’d never seen before and thought only existed in other people’s memories. He occasionally hollered “popcorn heaaaaaaaa…” and stuff, which was nice. He also informed us that we were “here until 12:40am, which means the T will be closed.” I did some quick math in my head. 10:15 start time. Movie just over two hours long. Thirty minutes of commercials and trailers. T closes just before movie lets out. If not for Loew’s cinemas half-hearted attempts to get me to join the National Guard and buy a mattress, I’d be able to catch the T home. If not for Boston’s lame public transit system, I wouldn’t have to worry about commercials forcing me to take a cab home. Interestingly enough, there are no rules against shouting “Anarchy!” in a crowded theater, but there probably should be.
So, the movie itself. You don’t go to a Harry Potter movie expecting cinematic genius, you go to see what they did with it so you can complain about it on the Mugglenet forums. You can’t really even review it as a piece of cinema, because (especially in this case) it almost requires you to have either read the book or have a passing knowledge of the canon before viewing. Case in point: Harry refers to Sirius Black (his godfather) as Padfoot at one point, which is fine, because that’s his nickname (he can transform into a dog, you see.) Except that, if you’ve only been watching the films, you don’t know that Sirius’s nickname is Padfoot, as that plot thread was left out of the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. (Go back and watch it – the Marauder’s Map was created by Padfoot, Moony, Wormtail, and Prongs, but no one explicitly says “oh, that’s Sirius, Lupin, Harry’s Dad, and Pettigrew’s nicknames!”) I’m not really splitting hairs here – the movie’s full of little stuff like that. When you’ve got a book as huge and intricately plotted as Order of the Phoenix was, some important stuff is going to have to be glossed over.
And, all in all, Michael Goldberg does a pretty good job of paring down the story to something that will a) not take 18 hours to tell and b) work in a visual medium. I was particularly impressed by the way he summed up the last 50 or so pages of the book (Dumbledore’s “Sit down, Harry. I am now going to explain everything,” scene) in about eight minutes of screen time. The point of that scene is that Harry has to be the one to defeat Voldemort (or vice versa) because Voldemort “marked him,” and that Harry can beat him because he has something the Dark Lord doesn’t, which is the ability to love. In the book, it’s essentially a very well written, absolutely fascinating, info-dump. In the film, we’re treated to a cool, quick edit montage-y thing while Dan Radcliffe emotes angstilly on the floor, followed by a brief scene in Dumbledore’s office that basically goes “So, I have to kill him?” “Yep.” Trust me, this actually works.
I also liked how they summed up a lot of the plot twists and goings on in the book through the old “spinning newspaper” trick, except with a Harry Potter twist: the photos in the paper, of course, move, in sepia-toned glory, as the exposition hits us at a million miles an hour. Trust me, this actually works.
I’m not sure about Harry and Cho’s romance, however. It’s sweet and awkward to begin with, like in the book, and God bless ’em, they kept the scene where Hermione explains what Cho’s probably feeling and Ron says, like a typical boy, “One person can feel all that?” Unfortunately, the film glosses over the point of all the awkwardness: of course a relationship between Harry and Cho Chang wouldn’t work, as Harry was the last person to see her last boyfriend alive. It almost works. Their first kiss is sufficiently cute.
I loved the darker design of the movie, as well, and I’m starting to think that the differences in design between the first two films and the latter three were purely intentional. Chris Columbus directed the first two Potter films, and did all right, especially with the young actors, but his Hogwarts looked like a cross between Harvard and the Magic Kingdom. When Alfonso Cuaron directed the third movie, we started to see a shift in tone – things were darker and had a more magic-realism feel. Now, we’ve got Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of the titular Order of the Phoenix, which looks like, well, a Grim Old Place. The Ministry of Magic is a creepy, dark behemoth of a building, with a big old Big Brother-esque poster of the Minister of Magic.
And then there’s Imelda Staunton as Proffessor Dolores Umbridge. Ohhh God, she’s good. My friend Andy Mannonne said she reminded him of Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and that’s a pretty good description. She’s one of those rare villainous characters who’s evil precisely because she thinks she’s good and everyone else is naughty, icky, law breakers. She’s the patron saint of officiousness and cringeworthy chipper-ness. She’s everyone’s least favorite person, scary precisely because she’s so viciously and vacuously normal. Her ghastly, kitten-filled office is a design triumph, and in a perfect world, Staunton would be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The scene where she makes Harry “do lines” (and you know what I mean if you’ve read the book) gave me the same sort of chills as the scene in the book. You absolutely hate her, and when she meets her centaury fate, you cheer. Which is as it should be.
My only problems with the movie are structural ones. They cram so much in (which they have to) that you actually have to have read the original book to understand what’s going on – otherwise, it’s like watching a rapid series of events that must be hard to piece together upon first viewing. There’s probably not a lot they could have done to remedy this (a lot happens in the book) but it still keeps this from quite working as a movie, at least in the way that the previous four did. If you know the material, however, you’ll really, really like it.
Oh, and the punk chick from About A Boy plays Tonks. ::sigh::