Monday, July 16, 2007

The Review You've All Been Waiting For

I want to write a review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that isn’t the fawning, supercilious reviews I’ve been reading lately. Most of the reviewers aren’t fans, they haven’t read the books, and they are more interested in how much money the movie has made, or how old Daniel Radcliffe looks. YES, they're getting older. Moving on. When I saw HP5 this weekend, I was excited about the film because I thought the trailers looked exciting, and I really thought this movie would capture the darkness and teen angst of the book. Because I am a Harry Potter fan. And I have the tattoo to prove it. When the fifth book came out, it had been three years since Book 4, and we were dying to find out what happened. We were shocked at how angry Harry had become, at how easily he could get upset, and how headstrong he was. It made sense, however--Harry was growing up, after all, and he would need all he could get for the fight against Voldemort. I was excited to see how the book would handle all that angst and drama, if it would live up to shock of the fifth book.

So here’s my review—beware of spoilers, if you haven’t seen the film. If you’ve read the books, nothing should really be news, if you haven’t read them, tsk tsk.

First off, I agree with what I read in the Chicago Tribune that people are starting to notice, as the actors grow older, that they can’t really act. I don’t think this is the problem so much as they are given too little to work with. The primary problem with the film is there is very little dialogue, very little background, and a lot of Harry making declarative statements ("We will fight him!") with Hermione and Ron in the background nodding solemnly in agreement. It is hard to act without lines, and the inexperience of these actors shows because they don’t have much material to work with. The story of the book—not the arc of the series but the story of the book has been positively gutted. I was mad when they left out the Quidditch World Cup in the fourth movie, but for this movie they have cut and removed so much that the story in the film flat-out doesn’t make sense at points. I had a hard time following it—and not just because I was expecting certain scenes, but because the action was jerky, and the continuity seemed to have its focus in the wrong place. The story is already pulled in several directions--Voldemort, family, Harry's hormones-but how can anyone be expected to be convincing if each of these themes isn't dealt with thoroughly?

Judi Dench won an Oscar for her role in “Shakespeare in Love” even though she was in the film for less than five minutes. By that reckoning, HP5 should be up for about six Oscars, since most of the characters make hit and run appearances that add up to perhaps three minutes of screen time. I was appalled that David Thewlis, who carefully constructed his Professor Lupin character in the third film, was only on hand to prevent Harry from running after Sirius in the climax of the movie. We do not hear about Lupin and Sirius’s close friendship with Harry’s father, therefore the bond between Sirius and Harry makes less sense—and the flashback into Snape’s memory is downright confusing. Who are these people? What are they doing in Harry’s life? Why should we care about them? It is clear that the actors have done their homework—Lupin’s ten-second reaction to Sirius’s disappearance nearly made me bawl—but at times I felt like shouting at the screenwriter “would you mind sharing with us, please?!”

Other moments from the book that were included seemed completely superfluous. The appearance of Kreacher lovingly polishing his mistress’s portrait seemed promising—until he never appeared again. (For that matter, Mrs. Black never appeared either, remaining behind her curtain muttering incoherently) Percy Weasley was there, cozying up to the Prime Minister, but you would only know that if you were looking for him, and if you knew the backstory, since he was never explained and he had no lines. Not so much as a "Weasley! Fetch me a cup of tea!" Nada. Since one of the themes of this story was “family is important” why not include a brief explanation about how the reappearance of the Dark Lord is tearing the Weasleys apart? Or how about including some of the action in St. Mungos? I for one was dying to see the reappearance of Lockhart. Sadly, Kenneth Brannagh fans, he is absent.

I could go on. My point is—I know Warner Bros. has a cash cow on their hand. As pointed out when the second movie was released, they could make these movies out of Legos and we would still flock in our millions to see them. But it now seems like they’re killing the owl that laid the golden egg—yeah, it’s fun to see Hogwarts, but after five movies, we also want to see good films. Alfonso Cuaron showed us what a good HP movie could be: he streamlined the book, sure, but also included imagery and themes, as well as juicy scenes for character development and backstory. Harry and Lupin talking on the bridge about Harry’s mom, anyone? My point is—this isn’t a good film. Full stop. It’s got a jerky storyline, characters we don’t care about putting way too much emotional investment in objects we don’t understand, and a backstory that isn’t adequately explained. If this were any other children’s movie, it would be panned by critics and be in the bargain DVD bin within a month.

Now, having said all that, I want to go see the movie again. Part of my confusion probably arises from the fact that I am so familiar with this story, and I need to watch the movie again so I can follow the movie’s story, and not the book’s story. The movie does get it right in several places—Dudley’s appearance as a sullen, chavvy teenager is absolutely spot-on, as is the final appearance of Jason Issacs as Luscious—I mean, Lucius Malfoy threatening to kill Harry is believeably thrilling. (all I’m going to say is—it was worth the $15 IMAX just to see Jason Isaacs in all his bewigged glory twenty feet tall). The Dementors were a hell of a lot scarier in this movie, prompting one terrified two year old to be taken away five minutes into the film. I’m glad to see that Neville Longbottom, while still awkward, is no longer a comic relief character—and the actress who plays Luna Lovegood has it down. Keep an eye on her.

And the final battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort was a thing to behold. As Cathy said—“Now I know how all the Star Wars geeks felt when they saw Yoda fight for the first time.” Not only that, but that scene is an example of how good actors grow and mature: a scene with no dialogue, where two people are pointing their wands at each other in front of a blue screen. And it was amazing. This is what Daniel Radcliffe should aspire to--but for now, please give him some more lines and less angsty staring off into space.

These are just moments, however, and in the end, HP5 is comprised almost totally of moments. With no arc, no forward movement, it was hard to get emotionally invested, and hard to follow. This is not a good movie. It’s not an adequate adaptation of the books, and it’s not a good piece of cinema. Enjoyable? Possibly—there are several quoteable lines (“I’m so angry!”) to make jokes about and enough moments to get upset about, but as a sustained, refreshing piece of film, it gets old in a hurry.


Sarah said...

I have been waiting for your review and you have expressed all the issues I have with the film. Mostly the absence of a St. Mungos scene. It didn't need to be long, but I would have liked to see the Longbottoms. It also would have been nice, as you have mentioned, to see Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs as they were at Hogwarts. This movie was too sparatic and confusing that it's a wonder why HPOP is the shortest of the HP series. It's not like they didn't have the money to take 10 minutes to try and clearify some of the scenes. This is me royally pissed.

Laura said...

This is frankly what I expected about from the movies based on these books. "How do you know it's a map sir?"
So much is left out they hardly tell the story anymore - starting with Prongs non-appearance at the end of the third movie - even though it's my favorite movie what was missing there makes it harder to tell the next story - not to say the story couldn't have been recovered after the third movie - but without SPEW - without Percy leaving the family - without the Scene at St. Mungos it's going to interesting to see how the film makers tie it all together in the end.

As far as movies based on books I don't even have to point out that these are no Lord of the Rings movies...

Please tell me that Neville punching Draco was still included. Now THAT's important!

Samantha said...

I remember being shocked that I my heart wasn't wrenched from my chest when Sirius was hit. You cleared up my confusion...the book really laid the groundwork between Harry and him...lacking in the movie. Nonetheless I enjoyed it. Movies will always be their own entity, separate from the books. Different media calls for different approach, but your doesn't give them the right to not tell a STORY.