Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Newcomers Evanna Lynch and Imelda Staunton.
Cons: A changed plot point negatively impacts a character.
The Bottom Line:
There's one bad plot point
But other changes minor
And great new casting

Harry Potter and What Order of the Phoenix?

We're now up to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, fifth Harry Potter film, based on the fifth Harry Potter book. This film faces two hurdles. If you haven't been keeping up with the movies or books, you won't understand much of what is happening. But that's the way it is with the book, too. And, frankly, I would expect that in any franchise. The second is the bigger hurdle. The book was over 850 pages. How do you trim that down into a decent length film? And can they do it without alienating the franchise's fans?

It's impossible to talk about the movie without assuming some familiarity with the franchise. And you can't talk about it without spoiling previous films. So if you haven't seen the others and don't want to know what happens in them, stop reading now.

Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is back. Or at least that's what Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) claim. But the Ministry of Magic is denying these claims and the "Daily Prophet" is backing them up.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Ministry has appointed the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is going to teach the subject by textbook only. There will be no practical part of the course.

Harry and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are kept out of much of what is happening in the fight against Voldemort. They know that Dumbledore has resurrected the Order of the Phoenix to fight the dark lord again, but they aren't allowed to join. Yet Voldemort seems to be trying to communicate something to Harry. What does he want? Is Harry in danger?

This film marks the first time I have watched the movie version after having read the book. I tried as hard as I could to ignore that fact while watching this one to judge it based on its own merits. If I hadn't read the books, I think I would have loved it. I went with a friend who hasn't read the books and he did indeed enjoy it. And, despite the heavy cuts, he followed everything just fine.

When I read this book, I found it rather long and tedious. There was too much repetition. Fortunately, that gets handled rather nicely here with some montages. Several sub-plots get cut due to time, only one of which I consider important. Still, I didn't even miss it until well after I left the theater. A couple of my favorite humorous scenes were trimmed. While that disappoints me, I can certainly understand it.

There were some changes I didn't like, however. Since the Order of the Phoenix is in the title, you'd expect to see more of them. Most of their scenes are cut, making them more of a cameo then an important part of the story. What is there is great, and fans of the character Tonks especially won't be disappointed with what they see during her too short screen time.

There was one major plot point near the middle that was changed. I understand the need to consolidate characters, but what they did completely changes a character. This was the only change that truly bothered me.

Finally, once again the ending was rushed. All the important information is there, but it doesn't have the emotional impact it does in the book. I don't know how they could have done it any differently, so this is worth noting only in passing.

But enough of my picking apart the plot. What about the rest of the film? As we've come to expect, the visuals are stunning. There's one scene flying through London that is amazing and fun. The new creatures are amazing. Even Kreacher, a new house elf introduced here, looks better then Dobby ever did in the second film.

And there's the acting. Once again, the three leads have gotten better as actors, bringing the more complicated story to life convincingly. I'm back to liking Michael Gambon's Dumbledore. Unlike the last film, I once again found him believable and likable in the role.

But the real praise goes to two newcomers. Evanna Lynch is perfect as Luna Lovegood, a student we meet for the first time here. She captures the character well and makes what could have been an annoying character very likable. Equally good is Imelda Staunton as Umbridge. That is exactly how I pictured that character while reading the book, from looks to voice to mannerisms. That is truly an amazing piece of casting and acting.

As with the last film, this one is rather dark and scary, especially at the end. Be sure to consider when deciding about taking the kids.

Fans of the books (and I'm speaking to myself here, too), need to keep their expectations to a reasonable level. Until someone is willing to create a 15 hours miniseries, this is the best film version we are going to get. And it's not like we are settling for second best. This is a highly entertaining film that captures the essence of the book. Non-book fans will be entertained and have a good grasp of how the story progresses. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not perfect, but it does accomplish its mission.

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