Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Movie and Book – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

I am re-reading and re-watching all of the Harry Potter books and movies.  You can find info about this and links to all related posts here.

Plot (no spoilers):  Dementors attack Harry and his cousin Dudley.  Harry manages to drive them off.  Since he used magic in front of a “muggle” he ends up being tried by the Ministry of Magic to see if he should be expelled from Hogwarts.  Dumbledore defends him, so Harry wins, but Dumbledore is distant.  At school yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is introduced: Dolores Umbridge.  She is an appointment from the Ministry because Dumbledore and the Minister are at odds about whether Voldemort is back or not.  Umbridge manages to take over the school, causing all kinds of trouble.  Harry starts to teach a group of students the real way to defend themselves in a dual.  He also gets his first kiss and finds out girls are a lot harder to understand than any class he is taking.  He is frustrated by the fact that none of the adults will tell him what is going on, and he keeps having dreams that seem to be connected to Voldemort.  All of this leads to a big confrontation at the Ministry of Magic and the death of a major character.

Thoughts about the book:  This book could have been more accurately titled “Harry Potter and the Sulky Pissed Off Teenagers”.  Rowling seemed to go out of her way to make Harry mad at everyone and to sulk a lot when adults wouldn’t tell him what was going on.  Ron and Hermione end up fighting a lot, too.  Frankly, Harry isn’t very likable in this book, although he sometimes has good reasons to be mad.  Just like the parents who “protect” their children by not allowing them any information about sex, and who then end up with a teen pregnancy, so too do the adults in this book keep key information from Harry to “protect” him, which leads to Harry screwing up in a major way.

The first time I read this book I ended up being a little disappointed.  Part of it was that the relatively long wait for this one to come out built expectations too high, and part of it was that Rowling did not follow-up on some of the promising storylines that came out of the prior book.  After the sixth and seventh books came out, people realized how much this book set things up, so I was looking forward to seeing what I missed the first time.  In a weird way, this may have set my expectations too high again.  I was a little underwhelmed by what I was reading, and now knowing about all the hateful things the Umbridge character was going to do, it took me three sittings across three days to finish the book.

Out of all the characters across all of the books, Dolores Umbridge is the one that I absolutely hated the most.  She is exactly the kind of person who lives for the pain she can cause others.  In a way, Rowling did too good a job detailing just how evil she is because it made me not want to read the book when it was talking about her.

Other key characters introduced in this book are: Bellatrix Lestrange, who is Sirius Black’s cousin, a Death Eater, and who is the one that tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents; Luna “Loony” Lovegood, a student one year behind Harry at Hogwarts; Kreacher, the house elf at the Black family home; Nymphadora Tonks, an Auror helping to protect Harry; and there is mention of a bartender in Hogsmeade who “looks familiar” to Harry, even though we don’t learn why until a later book.

Several times while reading this book I got the feeling that Rowling was answering some critics’ questions on why things are the way they are.  She did this sometimes by retconning (i.e. both Harry’s Aunt Petunia and a neighbor now know a lot more about magic).  Sometimes she had someone in the book explain (i.e. why there are so few ghosts, why Harry has to keep going back to live with his aunt, and why Voldemort attacked Harry).  Sometimes she ends up making things a little worse (i.e. boys magically prevented from going into the girls' rooms, even though girls have gone into the boys' rooms several times – apparently girls never, ever initiate anything intimate in Rowling’s world.)

When the book was coming out, Rowling was dropping dark hints that a “major character” was going to die.  When I read the book I didn’t even understand that the character had died; the character just fell through a curtain and disappeared.  In addition, I didn’t really feel much for the character one way or the other, so the death didn’t affect me at all.  When I compared notes with some friends who read the book, the death didn’t really bother any of them, either.  Rowling must have gotten this general feedback because in the next book she really does kill off someone readers will miss.

I mentioned in the prior post that I was confused by Neville’s parents being alive, since I thought I remembered it being an important point that both he and Harry’s parents were killed.  This book explains that it is the fact both boys were born in late July to parents who “defied Voldemort three times” that is important.  As I figured, I had not remembered it correctly.

Thoughts about the movie:  After having three different directors for the first four films, David Yates helms this film, plus the other three that followed.  Strangely, this is the only film not to be adapted by Steve Kloves.  Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg and David Yates took what is by far the longest book (more than 100 pages longer than any other) and turned it into the shortest full movie.  It highlights that the real reason the studio made two movies from the final book was not because it was too long to adapt, but because it would make them another billion dollars.

Imelda Staunton was perfectly cast as Dolores Umbridge.  The first “hem hem” from her was note perfect, as well as the smile she had, and the way she spoke.  It was just like how it was described in the book.  Evanna Lynch was also well cast as Luna Lovegood.  She beat out thousands of other girls for the part.

Dumbledore finally gets to be badass on the screen.  Seeing him in battle was as fun as seeing Yoda cut lose in the Star Wars prequels.  It was also great to finally see some real wizard battles, after hearing about them for so long and seeing the kids practice individual spells here and there.

Even though the movie didn’t have time to expand on them, they did throw in references to the book.  Among these are Tonks changing her appearance, the kitten plates in Umbridge’s office, Sirius subconsciously calling Harry by his father’s name, and Sirius going to the train station as a dog.  This movie changed the kind of dog he is, as well as the special effect when he is talking via the fireplace.

Big Names and Familiar Faces:  This movie continues the series trend of having well known U.K. actors/actresses playing roles both across many movies, and in smaller cameos within only one or two movies.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix returns Dame Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva McGonagall), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Mark Williams (Mr. Weasley), Robert Hardy (Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Michael Gambon (Headmaster Albus Dumbledore), Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew – in a photo only), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia Dursley), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon Dursley), Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory – photos only), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Brendan Gleeson (Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley), and Emma Thompson (Professor Sybil Trelawney).  Joining them this time are Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), Imelda Staunton (Professor Dolores Umbridge), and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange),   

In addition, most of the familiar faces among the student characters continue to appear, even if they don’t get lines.  Actor Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan) finally gets to play a couple of scenes about whether his character believes Harry or not.  Even Alfie Enoch (who plays Dean Thomas, the fifth Gryffindor boy in the same year as Harry, Ron, Neville, and Seamus) gets a line – perhaps his first in the series.  Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) and Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) continue to see their roles grow.  Lewis especially gets a great line when confronting the Death Eater who tortured his parents.  James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) get to go out with a bang.  Even Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley), who we saw as a student in earlier films, gets to come back as a Ministry employee in this one.  Katie Leung (Cho Chang) gets to give Daniel Radcliffe his first screen kiss.  Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Jamie Waylett (Crabbe), and Josh Herdman (Goyle) don’t get to do much more than toss a couple of insults Harry’s way.

The three leads definitely look more grown up in this movie, especially Daniel Radcliffe.

Thoughts on the book vs. the movie:  The movie dropped the Dobby and Hermione knitting elf hats storyline, most of the scenes at the Black house, the hospital scene, most of the class scenes where Umbridge was inspecting the performance of the professors; most of the references to OWLs for fifth years, the estrangement of Percy Weasley, Ron and Hermione being Prefects, and any scenes of the Weasleys going out for Quidditch.  It kept the key scenes with Umbridge, Luna Lovegood, and Harry teaching the students.  It included some of the Harry and Cho storyline, although it changed key things towards the end of the movie.  It included a several seconds long kiss, even though in the book it happened “off screen.”  The movie drops most of the scenes from the book where Harry is sulking or pissed at someone and this is a good thing.  It got to the point in the book where it felt like overkill, so I was happy to see the movie eliminate much of it.

Umbridge still comes off as evil, but losing some of her scenes does lessen just how evil she truly is.  The Weasley twins get their big send off, which is fun to see in the movie, although they disrupt OWL exams, which in the book they specifically avoided.  I guess it gave the filmmakers the ability to combine two things from the book into one scene.  The number of Umbridge’s decrees are greatly increased in order to create some visual jokes with Filch hanging all of them outside the Great Hall.

The movie lost some references to things that are important, such as why Harry has to live with his Aunt; the fact that she knows more about magic than she has been letting on, and any mention of Sirius’ brother Regulus Black.  For some strange reason, Rowling insisted that the Black house elf Kreacher be shown in this movie, even though the two short scenes with him add absolutely nothing to the film.  They were inserted at the last minute.

In the battle at the Ministry of Magic, the movie toned down the violence and injuries to the kids by a large margin.  It also corrected something from the book that was unrealistic.  In the book the kids go toe to toe with Death Eaters and come out close to a draw, whereas in the movie it’s shown that the Death Eaters are toying with them more than anything else and that if they wanted to, the kids would have quickly been dead.

Speaking of which, the movie also made the death of the major character more apparent by having one of the Death Eaters use the “killing curse”.  Weirdly, they still have the character fall through the magic portal and disappear like in the book.

Old rating vs. new rating:  I originally rated this movie 3 stars and I am keeping it there.  Like I mentioned with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, if I gave half star ratings then this would be 3 ½ stars.  It is the second best of the first five films. 

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I absolutely agree with you about Umbridge, she's not just evil but dangerous cos of her unassuming stature. I think Imelda was a great piece of casting but they definitely softened her, whether it was to create tension or for adaptation purposes.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the review. My favourite is Goblet.

  2. @John Baxter - thanks for the compliment. You are right about her being dangerous. There's a scene in the book (I think the movie, too) where she's working her way up to justifying using the Unforgivable pain curse on Harry to get him to talk. You DO NOT defy her authority.