Saturday, July 14, 2007

Now Playing: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I'm going to stop reading newspaper reviews. David Germain, an AP syndicated reviewer whose work runs in our local daily newspulp, gave us some of these lovely tidbits:

...Harry Potter seems to be living the same school year over and over. And it's starting to wear thin.....

...The fifth adventure for the teen wizard, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is another visual marvel, yet it suffers from a problem similar to other sequels this summer: We've seen it all before.....

...sticks safely and at times monotonously to the Potter formula...

...The movie gains in momentum but loses a lot of the fun and wonder of previous installments.....

...At times, Order of the Phoenix is as dry as studying Latin grammar by rote. A climactic tussle between Harry and Voldemort's forces is among the most impressive visual creations in the Harry Potter flicks; yet dramatically, it's mostly another tease in their endless grudge match.....

...Familiarity is not quite breeding contempt for Harry and his friends and enemies. But it's starting to breed indifference.....

Given such a ho hum reception, I anticipated that I would be as disappointed by this film as I was by the third film.

It seems that Mr Germain and I saw two different films.

The film I went to struck just the right blend of wonder and danger, turmoil and security, hatred and love, loyalty and expediency. Admittedly, this was a compact film -- condensing 800 pages into the shortest film of the series. However, the director made every scene count. Such as the entrance of the maniacal Delores Umbridge. The scene begins with 10 seconds of wizarding school fun -- children laughing as they enchant a paper airplane to become a bird and fly about the room. Even the music bed is charming. And then the airplane bursts into flame as Umbridge enters and starts laying down the law. We get the whimsey and wonder and delight of students, and the oppressive nature of Umbridge all conveyed neatly and beautifully in less than half a minute.

And I laughed in this movie. The jokes were subtle and fast coming. This was in no way an oppressive film. I'd also commend the editing (the montage of Umbridge taking over the school had me laughing harder than I've laughed in a film in quite some time), the costuming (nice flourishes and touches -- Bully Draco dressed in stylish black suit with mock turtleneck, all of Umbridge's costumes), even the scoring worked effectively to establish the balanced tone of whimsey and danger.

And there is danger. Harry does have to face suspicion, opposition from Umbridge, and indeed the minions of Voldemort. And along the way, we see him shine as he learns to trust in and depend upon his friends. He comes into his own as he instructs his friends in how to defend themselves against evil forces.

The series as a whole is about friendship, loyalty, and love. Voldemort has no close friends -- he is alone and worships only power. Harry, Dumbledore, and the rest all put great stock in their friendships and they sacrifice and are willing to suffer for their friends. In this film, this theme of friendship comes to the center with full force, as summarized in the closing line of the film -- as Harry and his friends are heading for the trains that take them home at the end of the school year, Harry comments about their struggle against Voldemort: "We've got something he doesn’t have. We've got something worth fighting for."

The power behind the words only came from the well produced film that preceded them.


Other Harry Potter Links at the Eagle and Child

Film Review: Goblet of Fire
Book Review: Half Blood Prince pt 1
Book Review: Half Blood Prince pt 2