Saturday, July 11, 2009

Neither Can Live While the Other Survives

(This is the fifth and final segment of a series of retrospectives looking back at the first five films in the Harry Potter franchise.)

My parents had bought me the book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the day upon its release. I was ecstatic, of course I didn't get much of a chance to immediately crack open the spine. That night my older brother Jonathan called, he had busted open his chin while playing ice hockey. It was a pretty terrible night for all involved, and it's one I'll never forget.

The following day I began reading the book, and I kept on trucking along simply for my love for Harry Potter, but the jovial tone of the previous novels was missing for the most part from this particular adventure. While the book ultimately lived up to expectations, upon finishing it, I couldn't help but feel that it was the weakest entry in the series. Nearly four years later the movie of the film was released.

I was 17 years old when Order of the Phoenix hit theaters. I was just about to go into my senior year of high school, and my world was infinitely far more complicated than it was back when I first discovered the boy wizard. I was highly anticipating the film, even though it was based off my least favorite novel in the series (it doesn't hurt that the film came out only mere weeks before the release of the final book in the series, thus making my anticipation two-fold). I saw the film at midnight, and what followed was utter disappointment.

While Order of the Phoenix was and is my least favorite Harry Potter book, it still had a few genuine moments of levity and an overall richness to the story, but none of that really found its way to the screen. Over the past two years I have given Order of the Phoenix many chances, but ultimately my thoughts have remained the same, that this film is in fact the weakest of the series thus far, just like its book counterpart.

Order of the Phoenix is the sparsest of all the films released thus far. It is the first time with a Harry Potter film that I feel they may have cut too much material. The filmmakers pretty much obliterated all of the subplots and left in only the major plot points, and in so doing they turned in the shortest Harry Potter film to date based off of the longest book in the series. So much was cut it left the film feeling a tad incomplete, as if the total experience didn't get a chance to come around full circle. As well, by their eliminating many of the subplots the film loses not only some of the richness of the book, but it also looses any traces of energy and fun that the book had. Quidditch is noticeably absent, and that is very disappointing, especially since it could've added some much needed comedy and energy to the proceedings.

When it was all said and done, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the most somber Potter adventure to date. The film was such a downer that there was this odd sense of disconnect with the audience. Of course my biggest gripe with the film was simply that many of the major moments in the story were vastly underplayed.

There are many thrilling sequences in the book, but majority of them failed to live up in the film. While certain scenes like the Dumbledore-Voldemort battle live up to the hype, others like the Dementor attack and the centaur sequences fall flat and feel far less threatening than they could. By underplaying so many key scenes, the film lost this sense of wonder that the Harry Potter books and films have come to be known for. Even still, there were a few scenes that did manage to surprise. The sequences at the Ministry in both the beginning and the end of the film are wonderful, and the brief flying sequence with the Order was handled expertly, if only the rest of the film had the same care. Now while I had some problems with the narrative of the story and how it all cinematically played out, I felt that the film did correct some of my problems from the previous installment.

Director David Yates reinvigorated the characters, making them closer to their book counterparts than the fourth film really ever did, thus giving the film back a humanity that comes through in the wonderfully staged possession scene. As well the cinematography, while not on the same level as the first three, managed to bring back a slightly more fantastical look and feel to the proceedings that the fourth film lacked. And the score by Nicholas Hooper was far more whimsical this time about, which was very welcome. Of course what makes the film one worth seeing and not a pass is the acting, all of the actors turning in fine performances this time around, including the newcomer Imelda Staunton, who delivered a fine performance as the warped Dolores Umbridge, and who can forget Gary Oldman's heartfilled performance as Sirius Black.

Overall Order of the Phoenix is a film that is actually quite good and better than most films released by Hollywood these days, it just seemed to lack the same punch that the first four Potter films had. I felt disconnected from the world and its characters this time about, and with so much depressive angst it's just hard to watch this film again and again like the others. While it is still extremely well made, with a lot of attention being put into the special effects and production design once more, it almost felt as if this film was a filler. Only the last twenty minutes really gives you any new information that you need to move on to the next part of the franchise, and the journey to get there is just so depressing. But if you can make it through all of the depressing moments, there are some genuine jewels hidden within, like the big duel at the end and Harry's trial at the Ministry.

Every long running film franchise has that one that is the weakest of the lot, and I guess that was inevitably going to happen to Harry Potter eventually, which it did with this particular film. It saddens me, but you just gotta keep moving forward and looking towards the future of this franchise, which still has three more films to go. Here's hoping Yates and his company pull it off. They had moments that showed some promise, with a little more honing of their skills they can return the Harry Potter series to where it once was.

(This concludes the series of Harry Potter retrospectives, check back in the following days where I will post my pre-movie thoughts on the latest Harry Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.)


  1. That's interesting that for you the 5th was the biggest let down. For me, it was the Goblet of Fire. There's certainly a ton of stuff that was left out of the Fifth, but it seems to me most of that stuff was suspense. They built Umbridge and Smudge up so much in the books that there would literally be not enough time in the world to convey it on a movie screen.

    What disappointed me about the 4th film was what they did to the characters, which we seem to agree on. Mainly, it was in how they dealt with the Harmoine story line--which was they pretty much cut it to death. It also annoyed the hell out of me when they messed up the linear chronology to speed things up more. I don't think it warranted that. At any rate, I guess I just particularly enjoyed the fourth book. It seems that Harry really discovers a lot about himself and in the movie, he's just kinda stupid.

    i like these retrospectives but in the end, the movies can never really match the books except in how they envision some of the special effects and design of certain things. That scene in the ministry for the fifth film is utterly awesome. I'm glad that they're splitting the 7th book into 2 films. I imagine this new one is going to be pretty dark but if i've learned one thing it's not to have very high expectations. Especially when Hollywood is involved.

  2. Most definitely agreed. I'm feeling pretty good about this newest one, but we'll see on Wednesday. I just really hope that these last three films really rekindle the magic for me of when I first discovered Harry Potter, the same magical feeling that I get whenever I watch the first three films or read any of the books.