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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix > film review July 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies.
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If you’re not a Potter fan, this film may well do little more than irritate

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Directed by > David Yates
Starring > Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon
US/UK 2007, 138 minutes

‘It’s not you, Harry, it’s me,’ I long to reassure the Boy Who Lived, should our paths ever cross. Not that he cares, one way or the other. 

It’s not just that Hollywood paranoia over piracy now leads to blockbusters being released simultaneously all over the world, so we watch in late July what would once have been delayed till September. It’s also that the latest blockbuster is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, released here on the same day as the latest JK Rowling novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Suddenly the world has gone Potter-potty, and what kind of Muggle would taint King Harry’s reign with a mere Review of the Year? Ignore him at your peril.

The book is setting records, 8.3 million copies in its first 24 hours, and that’s just in the US. “This weekend kids and adults alike are sitting on buses, in the park, on airplanes and in restaurants reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” declared Lisa Holton, President of the book’s US publisher, without apparently realising just how chilling that sounds. The film of Phoenix likewise looks set to join the four previous Potters on the list of Biggest Hits of All Time, all four are in the Top 20, though hardcore Potter-philes have been mixed in their comments.

Their main complaint is simple enough > the longest Potter book, a 900-page behemoth, has become the shortest Potter movie. ‘Where’s the Quidditch?’ they ask. Where’s the visit to St. Mungo’s? Why didn’t they show Hermione and Ron being promoted to prefects? That’s just a sampling, though of course all the quibbles boil down to the same thing: ‘Why isn’t, the bit I liked in the book, also in the film?’. The obvious answer, ‘Because then the film would have to be 10 hours long’, is unlikely to mollify the disgruntled Harry-head.

As for me, I have no such quibbles, for a very simple reason > Book-to-film adaptations are a tricky subject anyway, do you measure the film against its source, assuming you’ve read it, or try to experience it as if for the first time? And what happens when the film betrays the book but ends up being superb in its own right, as The Talented Mr. Ripley did some years ago? My default position is that books should generally be ignored when writing reviews, simply because there are so many books out there and so few readers, that a person watching a movie is much more likely to be ignorant of the source novel than to have read it.

Unless, of course, the book is a Harry Potter, make that Harry “8.3 million copies” Potter, in which case the non-Potterite feels like a spouse at a high-school reunion, everyone’s very pleasant, and you have a nice enough time, but you keep forgetting their names, you don’t get any of the in-jokes, and you start wanting to go home just when the party’s at its height. Admittedly Order of the Phoenix doesn’t have a roomful of drunk alumni singing the old school song at its climax, but we get a Dumbledore-Voldemort smackdown, which is close enough.

To be fair, I think this is the most complete Potter so far. Most of the previous installments have been stymied by Harry’s passivity, for a wizardry whiz, he didn’t seem to do very much, but now, with the Dark Lord out of hiding, our hero gets a lot more action, he also, incidentally, gets his first-ever snog, as well as fumbling with his own Dark Side. “I feel so angry all the time!” he exclaims, though he also feels “more alone than ever”, making a bid for the alienated-teen market. The franchise truly comes of age here, even killing off a major character amidst Harry’s nightmares, prophecies and battles with the heinous Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).

She, incidentally, a viperish Ministry of Magic apparatchik, is part of the reason why Harry P. comes into his own, turmoil at Hogwarts forces the boy hero and his mates to form their own “Army”, after Umbridge sinks her claws into their beloved school. Staunton plays the fascist harridan with the same auntie-like sweetness she brought to Vera Drake (2004), now disguising a mean streak a mile wide, and her downfall won most of the audience applause at the packed screening I attended. If Order of the Phoenix were an episode of Friends, they’d probably call it ‘The One With the Bossy Old Cow’, yet in fact Dolores Umbridge has nothing to do with the main plot, the series’ central mythos. And I think that’s the problem.

Is it just me, or is the Harry Potter mythos really dull? I mean come on > parents killed by bad guy, kid groomed to take revenge, cue seven-year wait while he comes of age. I’ve seen kung-fu movies with more sophisticated premises. Voldemort used to be creepy when he was ethereally evil and He Who Cannot Be Named, but now he’s just Ralph Fiennes with a special-effects proboscis. Maybe it is just me, because Daniel Radcliffe is getting all kinds of plaudits now, even being promoted to sex symbol, whereas I find his weedy, inexpressive Harry to be the show’s greatest liability, it’s a pain having to look at his sallow little face, or the thin mouth gasping like a fish to indicate shock or angst.

As for the rest … well, Ron and Hermione are no more than sidekicks now, and the teachers colourful support with a couple of scenes each and no real development, this is where it helps if you’ve read the books. Harry’s schoolmates aren’t much better, though full credit to a 15-year-old Irish sprite named Evanna Lynch who gets some delightfully eccentric moments as Luna Lovegood.

Can you really blame me for treasuring the incidentals over the main plot? What I’ve always liked in Harry Potter is the Victorian charm of boarding-school stories and the cute teen-comedy aspects of Harry’s byplay with Ron and Hermione, which is why I liked Goblet of Fire, seen as a disappointment by most hardcore Harry-heads, the moment we get to the Curse and the Prophecy, and this magic spell versus that magic spell, I usually tune out. That’s why I predict Order of the Phoenix will bedazzle most Potter fans, even while I personally didn’t get much pleasure out of it. The plot’s really taking off now, filling the screen with youthful adventure, and it seems more and more like … well, a kids’ movie.

Harry might be quite sweet, if only he weren’t such a global phenomenon. As it is, such obsessive attention lavished on such a prosaic franchise is a little scary. The theme in Order of the Phoenix is mind-control, which is what Dolores Umbridge does with her Educational Decrees and despotic methods, and also what Voldemort does, when he tries to read Harry’s thoughts. Can it also be what the boy wizard’s handlers practise as they rev up the hype machine, trying to get every semi-literate child and adult in the world reading Harry Potter, on buses, in parks, on airplanes, in restaurants? 8.3 million copies in a single day. I rest my case.

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