Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix

I hightailed it from work yesterday and caught the Harry Potter movie. The good news is that the adult acting was great (especially Alan Richman who turns "I have no idea" into the best line of the movie) and the climactic sequence in the ministry of magic (which is actually quite a substantial part of the movie, timewise) was probably my favorite part of any of the Harry Potter movies. It visually worked (with all the lighted death eaters flying through the trenches), and had Helana Bonham Carter, after spending her earlier scenes as a Edward Gorey cartoon, suddenly start doing an Amy Winehouse impression - what else could you want?

The problem was the rest of the movie didn't bother to get you to the final scene. At all. They didn't mention the big McGuffin (the milky prophecy ball) till the last third of the movie, and there wasn't any plot momentum to speak of. They took the opposite approach of most adaptations of big books - usually it's find the spine and cut out the detail that doesn't directly contribute (part of what made Goblet of Fire simultaneously brilliant and pretty dull*). This time there was a bunch of detail from the book that was cool presented incomprehensibly with no context - an AD/HD adaptation. This may have been necessary because the book itself lacked a compelling enough unifying story too (especially for its length), but the book was more... well, it was like one of those episodes of an HBO show that isn't your favorite episode, but it does the work that makes the ones that are your favorite possible (it was the only book of the series that you could feel any strain -Rowling seemed to be stressing that she needed to get some character/theme/set-up work done, fun of not, because the last book was just 2 books away).

The unexplained and underexplained detail was rather distracting. The giant in the forest, the Centaur war, Luna Lovegood (the whole character!), the aforementioned prophecy ball, the info on Serious’ family, Snape’s past with Harry’s dad, the occlumency lessons... these were all shown but with so little development, you wonder why they bothered. And I guess they’ve decided to jettison Neville as a character to follow with any sort of arc. That’s what the books are for, I guess.

This was also the first movie where the child acting really started to stand out as bad. The Hermoine actress (Emma MacJailbait? sp?) had been acceptable as long as she seemed young enough to be so screechy, but she has now aged enough that she can't get away with it anymore and has crossed the line into terrible (case in point: any scene with the giant). And Luna, crazy out there conspiracy theorist as she was in the book, came off as being just toked up (she needed more Fox Mulder, less Brad Pitt in True Romance).

The movie was a mess, now-and-then entertaining in the details, but sort of figety and without a sense of direction, until the end comes out of nowhere and knocks one out of the park. It’s odd but this movie suffered less in comparison to other movies than the book did to the other books, but I can’t help but feel they missed an opportunity to really improve (for once) on aspects from the book. The problems of the movie were most likely caused by the length (shortest movie, longest book) and the narrative problems of the book itself, but the movie could have benefitted from a little of the Ritalin the last movie (Goblet of Fire) was obviously on.

*Please note that the one scene in GoF, a movie that I would otherwise call "servicable," that I unreservedly loved was the dance scene of which Emma Watson (I really did know her name), who I have expressed displeasure with in the current movie, does an excellent job histrionically lynch pinning a chaotic panorama of bad music, raging hormones, and 14 year olds crying on the stairs that was, all at once, every school dance I ever went to. It may be interesting about my psychology that my second favorite scene in the current movie was the one where Fred and George lead the terrorist attack on the final exams. This is one area where the lack of explaining detail actually works: the sudden unexplained "aw, eff it" it very Fred and George.