Monday, July 30, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rubert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman
Director: David Yates

Producer: David Heyman, David Barron
Release Date: July 11, 2007

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 138 mins
Distributors: Warner Bros.

"You're a fool, Harry Potter, and you will lose everything."

The Skinny:
The fifth film installment of the insanely successful Harry Potter film franchise based on the equally insanely successful books.

The Review:
I do not fancy myself a Harry Potter fanatic. I haven't read any of the books. In fact, a week before I saw this film I had only seen the first one, opening night, midnight showing, and fell asleep through it. Not that I didn't like it, but it was a midnight show. I owned the previous four movies on DVD and had always intended to watch them all, but just hadn't ever done so. I was asked to go see this one by a friend of mine (who is admittedly a Harry Potter fanatic). At first, I thought I was in a unique position to do so, so I had planned to see this movie without having watched any others to see if the movie stood alone on its own merit. A noble prospect I suppose, but I was strongly advised otherwise by my subject matter expert stating "You will be lost if you don't at least see the last two." I reluctantly put myself on a crash-course to watch them all two days before we had planned to see OOTP. I will say that I am disappointed in myself for not having spent the time to see them before now. I really enjoyed them and once again found myself in a unique position. To sit down, with no prior knowledge of the material, and immerse myself in five movies worth of a story is both efficient and, I'm afraid, draining.

It reminded me of a similar situation I found myself in involving the TV show Lost. I never watched the TV show when it first came out but I received Season One on DVD for Christmas one year and, like Harry Potter, had always wanted to watch them 'someday'. One weekend, out of boredom, in the summer following season two airing on TV, I popped it in and was instantly hooked. I couldn't believe I had waited this long to get involved with the show. I watched all the episodes back-to-back-to-back. Then rushed out and bought and watched season two the same way. Then season three started airing on TV and it was infuriating watching the episodes on a weekly basis because I had grown so accustomed to not having to wait. It didn't detract me from my appreciation of the show (it is the only TV I have to watch on a regular basis) but it is an interesting comparison on how differently you digest the show and information presented within when you watch it all at once versus as it comes out. Anyway, I am getting off track. The point I'm making is that when you watch the available material all at once, you kind of see them as chapters in an overall story versus individual pieces of achievement (as in the Harry Potter movies). It is in this position I found myself in while watching this film.

The movie opens with Harry being bullied by his cousin Dudley and his band of idiots. Shortly after Harry threatens his wand, a storm brews, the gang split and Dudley and Harry are being chased by two Dementors. Harry performs the Petronus Charm to ward off the attack. I really liked the opening sequence. Very dark and moody and I imagine, foreshadowing of things to come. The rest of the story picks up as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger are entering their fifth year at Hogwarts. As Harry and Dumbledore warn that Lord Voldemort has regained a body and returned to full power, the wizarding community has shunned them, opting instead to heed the musings of The Daily Prophet. In response, the head of the Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, appoints a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Delores Umbridge. As she begins to effectively take over the school by virtue of the ministry, Harry forms "Dumbledore's Army". It is within this underground and secret organization that Harry begins teaching a group of his fellow students to arm them for battle with Voldemort if the situation necessitates itself. And it does. The climax of the film takes place at the Department of Mysteries where Harry and his friends encounter Lucius Melfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. Sirius Black is there. And Dumbledore. And Voldemort. And anyone else they think they can throw at it. It is without a doubt technically spectacular to watch, but a bit muddled with everything going on and kind of, anti-climactic I thought.

That kind of sums up the whole experience for me. It felt like one long buildup with not a whole lot of payoff. Umbridge struck a cord with me as she perfectly embodied the worst teacher imaginable, then she was let her off the hook when she was 'taken away'. "Dumbledore's Army" spent most of the movie being taught by Harry, then didn't amount to much when the time came to use their newfound teachings. And so on. Like I said, it's possible that I didn't do the movie justice by watching them all at once, but then again, it felt like it should have been able to rise above if it was, in fact, that much better than the rest of the series. All that being said, I can't think of another movie franchise where the 5th one is as good as this one ended up being after it was all said and done. But that isn't saying much.

Note: I was wise to 'catch up' before watching this film. I would have had little to no idea what was going on.

The Rub:
A decent, dark addition to the series and a fine setup to the last two chapters in the saga. The whole thing felt like it was a long winded wind up with a fizzled payoff. The battle climax was visually very, very good, but on the whole, felt a bit bloated. Maybe it there was a disconnect between the book and the film or maybe I was a bit Harry Potter-ed out by the time I saw this. It wasn't the worst of the series (Goblet of Fire was a kind of a bore) and it surely wasn't the best (Prisoner of Azkaban, please). But worth a look either way.

And there's the rub.

*** of *****

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