The marketing guys at Warner Bros are either very cleaver or very misguided to think of releasing the movie version of Harry Potter 5 a week before Harry Potter 7 hits the bookshelves. On the one hand it’s a smart way to keep fans tided over for a week before learning the final outcome of their hero, on the other I wonder if there’ll be a huge drop-off this weekend as Potter-heads stay home and crack the new book. (By the way, I’m banking on Harry to live.)
Going into the movie adaptation of The Order of the Phoenix you’re faced with a number of things to reconcile between book and film. First and foremost is the fact that it is the largest Potter book, clocking in at between 700 and 800 pages depending on the edition you have. So it follows that there’s a lot going on in those pages; a lot of details, some of which, I imagine, are pertinent to the series’ finale. But in a bizarre sort of way, I think that the impossible to adapt length of Order freed up freshman screenwriter Michael Goldberg to remove the script from underneath the weight of the book and allow it to breath as its own entity.
In Order, Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) world is changing; blood-curdling Dementors attack him while staying with his Muggle Uncle and Aunt, almost getting him expelled from Hogwarts. He’s taken to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, the secret society of wizards united against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and even though he’s reunited with his godfather Sirius (Gary Oldman), Harry feels like he’s being cut out of the attack plans despite his centricity to the crisis. Then, upon return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry and friends find that the Ministry of Magic has made its presence known through the draconian measures of the school’s new High Inquisitor Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). As Minister of Magic Fudge (Robert Hardy) denies the return of You-Know-Who while vilifying Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon).
David Yates may be well known from British television, but with his feature debut he shows the expert hand of a seasoned pro, taking the film and making it his own. With Goblet of Fire, Mike Newell did a very workman like job of putting that film together, but it was lacking the stylistic edge of Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban. Yates doesn’t bring it to that level, but there’s definitely a little more flare in the presentation, the film pushes on the edges to open up the world of Hogwarts and the greater wizarding world in a different, more visual, way than the book does.
Sure a lot of stuff gets dumped and left on the cutting room floor, but as a fan of the books first, that wasn’t so much a problem for me this time out. Sure Harry’s romantic drama was widdled down, the Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) as prefects storyline was cut, Grawp was only touched on, there was no centaur showdown, and Kreacher was practically non-existent (although Rowling’s instance at his inclusion has me intrigued), but I didn’t feel cheated of anything. Thankfully, Fred and George Weasley`s (James and Oliver Phelps) fireworks laden escape from Umbridge-controlled Hogwarts was left intact.
The books centrepieces were translated very well to the big screen, particularly the fight between the Order and the Death Eaters and particularly the throwdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore. The Hall of Prophecies was also tremendously realized, one of those scenes where the CGI and the factually present mix together to create something beautiful and unique. I can only imagine what a treat it is to see these sequences in IMAX 3-D, so if you have the option, I suggest you avail yourself of it. Easily, this is the most exciting conclusion to a Harry Potter film yet, and for the first time since the Chamber of Secrets movie really, we get to see Harry proactive and heroic, especially when leading his fellow students in an illegal (according to new school rules) Dark Arts Defense group called ‘Dumbledore’s Army’.
The one thing the Potter movies continually excel at is its excellent, spot-on casting and Order of the Phoenix is no exception. Staunton is perfectly vile as Umbridge, mixing the outer sickeningly sweet visage of the character with her pink clothes and kitten plate fetish with her deep-seeded cruelty and malice, not to mention overt racism. The only regret of the affair is that Umbridge doesn’t really get her comeuppance like she does in the book, carted away into the depths of the Forbidden Forest by her hated ‘half-breed’ centaurs. The other perfectly fit addition is Evanna Lynch, in her first big screen role, as Luna ‘Looney’ Lovegood. From reading the Quibbler (the wizarding world’s equivalent of the Inquirer) upside down to the radish earrings that are her trademark fashion statement, Lynch was totally daffy but completely adorable as Luna.
Still though, only the books can offer the best and most thorough Potter experience. I found Dumbledore and Harry’s traditional end of year talk to be woefully undercut, especially considering the revelations offered in the book and the fact that it is their last with Dumbledore’s fate in Half-Blood Prince. I have found that it’s the little things, the small details, I like best about the Harry Potter novels and of course in the film adaptations it is these little things that get lost in translation. Harry’s private lessons with Snape (Alan Rickman) to block his mind from intrusion by Voldemort are full of subtext and bits of dialogue with hidden meanings that fill pages. In the movie though, this scene takes only a few minutes and I wonder if the movie fans, who haven’t read the books, have time to get it.
But overall, the film was great; exciting, entertaining and funny. It’s everything a Harry Potter movie should be, but I wonder if Yates’ will be able to `keep up the momentum as he begins production on the film version of Half-Blood Prince, which he is also directing – a first for the series since Chris Columbus completed parts one and two. But the real question is who cares, it’s just a few more days until we find out how it all ends anyway.