Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

"It's so unfair!"
"Yeah, well, there's a lot o' that goin' around"

It's the fifth year at Hogwarts Academy, or what seems like, more and more, the fifth chapter in the Trials of Harry Potter, and by now, the series is on cruise control. The last breath of fresh air came in Alfonso Cuaron's breezy take on the third book ("Prisoner of Azkaban"), but when Mike Newell's fourth movie seemed to have absolutely no sense of personal style, I guess they decided to go to the second string and hired television director David Yates for this one (and the next). One can see why. At this point the series is just marking time, and though all together they've made a magillion dollars, they also feature half the alumni of RADA, so hiring a less-than-name director can save some expenses somewhere.

I mean, look at this cast--Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Julie Walters, Robert Hardy, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Michael Gambon, Richard Thewliss, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, then they throw in Helena Bonham Carter as fourth billing in a role that's strictly a cameo (she has less screen time than Darth Maul did!) and Imelda Staunton, who steals every scene she's in, as a sweetly smiling Wizard's fascist. Carter's chaotic Bellatrix is frightening, and reminded me of her truly-unhinged Ophelia in the Franco Zeffirelli "Hamlet." And the kids (Radcliffe and Watson and Grint "oh, my!") are now old pros, all the kinks and amateurishness disappeared from their performances, and replaced with subtleties that bring smiles of admiration. Radcliffe, in particular, has never been better and shoulders a lot of dramatic weight.

And Yates does a pretty good job of maneuvering through the diversions and red herrings that slow up the pace getting to the final confrontations. One particularly spectacular wizarding demonstration and fatal outcome are sloppily shot and edited, and the emotional impact lessened because of it. Maybe instead of messing around with a fairly useless trial scene, they could have spent a bit more care at the climax.

Rowling has seven lessons for Harry to learn before everything is "spelled" out, and the nice thing about her convoluted little stories is that while you're concentrating on the new advancements of plot, those little helpful life lessons are buried to subliminally help kids through their journey out of childhood. Nice trick, that.

One may wonder at why I give the movie such a low rating and its because (at least, in the "Junior Achievement" theater I watched it at), the picture was dark and muddy, and the sound mix was poor enough to make a quarter of the dialog unintelligible. Probably better to see it at home.

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is a rental.

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