Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the movie)

It's no secret to anyone who's heard me talk about the Harry Potter series that Order of the Phoenix is my favorite of the books. It's gigantic, sure, but it's so wonderfully dark and moody, and brings a depth and enrichment to the universe of the series in a way that hadn't really been done before. It's also the point when the series -- in my opinion, at least -- stopped being a series of children's books. The scenes of emotional turmoil and violence are so intense that I couldn't imagine a parent letting a child read through it, let alone 800+ pages of it.

With all that said, it is with some disappointment, my friends, that I report to you that Phoenix is not the best of the film series -- that honor still lies with Prisoner of Azkaban. But it's a worthy adaptation, and it's actually the first of the films to act like a typical film adaptation: instead of just transposing the book page-for-page (as is especially apparent in the turgid first two films), they took the building blocks of the story and wrote an actual movie with them.

Of course, that comes with the pitfall of all movie adaptations, the one that leads to readers saying "The book was better": things have to change. For whatever reason, things have to change between book and screen, and there are more changes evident in Phoenix than in any in this series before. And not just minor, inconsequential, "The rival schools for the Triwizard tournament show up at the beginning of school instead of the end of October, like they're supposed to" changes. Actual relevant changes. Though, again, I suppose they're not that relevant. The story still gets where it needs to.

But great big chunks of subplot are left out of this script -- including anything to do with Quidditch, leaving Ron nothing to do whatsoever but stand there and look goofy. (A voice rises from the back: "That's all he ever does anyway." Thank you, FRINAN. Thank you.) Several characters don't make it from book to screen, and the entire structure of the big Order vs. Death Eaters battle at the end is reconfigured. (Unfortunately, the Big Tragedy remains just as Tragic -- though even that isn't unaltered. You'll know it when you see it, of course, but suffice it to say a different spell is used to enact the Tragedy. Frankly, the movie version is a lot more palatable. It's certainly less stupid.)

But they cut an 870-page book into a 2:18 movie, so lots and lots had to go. I don't blame them, even if there's a lot of material being left behind in the first five movies -- we've had no mention of who drew the Marauder's Map in the first place (though this movie hints it with one of its slight changes, if you're paying close enough attention), no mention of S.P.E.W., and this film forgets to wrap up one of its plot threads. (Why, dear reader, did the Dementors attack Harry at the beginning? Hmm? The movie won't tell you...but the book might. If you're nice.)

Aside from the alterations (both minor and otherwise), it's a good movie, one that expertly captures the bleak tone of the book. And much praise for Imelda Staunton, who is absoutely terrifying as Dolores Umbridge. Never has niceness been so scary.

And now: we await The Deathly Hallows. Only a few more days.

A few more days.

*looks at watch*

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