Fifth ‘Potter’ Fails at Charms

by Ian T. McFarland on July 10, 2007

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • IMDB: link

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was all wrong, it felt more like a James Bond movie than one about a teenager trying to surpass some nasty obsticales just to grow up.  So it’s with a melancholy tone that I tell you that this next Potter film is better than the last, but still falls far short of these stories’ potential.

When Warners Execs signed Alfonso Cuarón to direct the third Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, they managed to commit the single best and worst action in the history of Harry Potter films.  The single best action, because Cuarón has a thorough and energetic love and understanding of the quirky world of Harry Potter, and it showed in the film.  It was the single worst action because two films afterwards, it’s now seeming that Cuarón may be the only man for the job, casting a shadow darker than a Dementor’s over the rest of the franchise.  This fifth installment is a large step above that last chapter, but still shows a deficiency at performing charms.

After seeing He-Who-Must-Not-Be- Named rise back to life in the last installment of this Harry Potter franchise, the namesake finds himself becoming the butt of every joke.  Being one of the few that believe that this Dark Lord isn’t dead, no one else believes Harry or his friends when they warn that the world must prepare themselves for another war against Dark Wizards, not even the press or the government – both of which publicly degrade Harry and crew for their stances.  The book is an interesting one, one about being up against the rest of the world that fits oh-so-well with Harry’s teenage years.  Its presentation of a government working against its own people’s safety is also an easily accessed idea with our current era with our Decider-in-Chief in power.

I’m a big Potter fan – books or otherwise – so I take the subject fairly seriously.  Being hooked since fifth grade, I’ve come to develop a certain sense of the world that the stories inhibit that I can’t shake, and when the films don’t get theis feel correct, I tend to trash it.  So, despite the fact that this new Potter film is often-times entertaining, I just can’t get over director David Yates inability to fully understand the Harry Potter universe.

I can understand that Yates had a lot of ground to cover in only so much time, but the end result gives us a film that moves too fast for its own good, never taking a second to enjoy the magic and the charm that the books host, and never being able to take a few moments to build up the tension and fright that should be present in a film about a magical Hitler coming back from the grave.  There were plenty of times I was more than content sitting in my seat.  I was laughing during the Weasley twins exit from Hogwarts, and was often thrilled during the final scenes of the film that shocked me to the bone when I read the chapters, and that’s the problem.  I was a lot more content sitting on my love-seat reading the book than I was sitting in a theater.  I also have to wonder if the reason I enjoyed so much of the film was because I was remembering the book, not nessicarily because the film was well-made.

There’s still a good helping of talent in the film – just about all of the older cast is fantastic. Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman and David Thewlis are all as good as they’ve ever been in the previous films – too bad their collective screen time adds up to be as much time as it takes to make it through an unpleasant check-out line in a grocery store.  This is somewhat helped by the addition of Imelda Staunton as the ever-so-prissy Dolorus Umbridge.  A Conservative cat-lover who aims to alter Hogwarts students into an army of well-behaved students, she’s a sycophant whose target is the higher-ups within the government.  Staunton gives about as perfect a recreation of the literary character as can be expected, and ends up stealing any scene she’s in.  We also get Helena Bonham Carter as a whacked-out prison escapee bent on serving Voldemort.  There’s always been a slightly off quality in Bonham Carter’s previous roles; but dude, she’s fucking creepy in this one and fucking just right in this part.

I took my brother, a virgin to the books, to the movie with me, and he really enjoyed it.  It’s totally possible that I’m just holding the films to impossibly high standards – it’s always hard to adapt a book into a film, especially when that book is 870 pages – but what I saw on the screen just couldn’t hold up to the source material.  Maybe it works for others, and it often works for me; but when I revisit The Order of the Phoenix in the future, I’ll be reading it – not watching it.

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