Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Review

As a die-hard Harry Potter fan, yet also a fan of films in general, I'm put in an awkward position. On the one hand, David Yates could have delivered a film that was true to the book in every way, but was a shocking film; or could have used creative license to deviate from the plot in order to make a decent motion picture.

This film strikes a happy medium between these two extremes; David Yates deserves a lot of praise for shrinking a 900 page behemoth of a novel into a fast-paced, intelligent, and adult film.

There are naturally some aspects of the novel which have been left out, and others which have been embellished in order to carry the story; a fact which aggravates some fans. But for me, as I knew all of the magical terms and all the characters, I was able to simply enjoy the film as a piece of entertainment based on the weakest book of the series.

There is sadly no help for anybody with little knowledge of the books, in this film; references are made to previous films during flashbacks, and cryptic words such as "Padfoot" may mean more to me than they would to the unitiated. This limits the enjoyment for any newbies; however I am not one of them. That said however, the girl next to me was completely lost:
"Who's Padfoot?" She said.
"Shut up." I said.

I was pleased to see that David Yates, (despite lacking in such vivid visual style as Cuaron's "Azkaban") had made the film, visually, his. Choppy edits through Daily Prophet headlines carried the exposition, and the 1930's feel of the ministry was welcome for me, as I've always wanted a break from the Edwardian-style that the films have always adhered so closely to.

The trio's acting ability has improved significantly since previous installments; instead of muttering mutinously to myself whenever Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson were on screen, I occasionally found myself believing that they were their characters, and despite Watson's tendency to act with her eyebrows, I found the pair less odious than usual.

The score, for me, was one of the best aspects of the film. Particularly during the early scenes, while Harry is in Little Whinging, the rising music is stunning, and better than in the previous films, which relied too heavily on Hedwig's Theme, (as good as it is...)

Subtle cultural references made the film enjoyable, and "Phoenix" is also a film to be enjoyed on a more deep level. Yates loves subtle nuances that only certain members of the audience (losers) will see; in "Girl with a Pearl Earring", an exchange about the deaths of one child every 3 seconds in Africa, takes place between the leading characters, and in the background, a waitress goes round each table, switching a light off.....every three seconds. Simple but beautiful. And in "Phoenix", he does a similar thing, most humourously, with Ron stuffing his face with sausage whilst reading a revision guide entitled "Cram it in".

Umbridge stole the show. Every review agrees that Imelda Staunton's performance is legendary, and her Margaret Thatcher / Mary Whitehouse appearance is brilliant. But not to be missed is Luna Lovegood, played simply and beautifully by Evanna Lynch. For her first acting part, she plays it exactly as it is in the books, and I thought she was the most perfect casting decision of the entire film.

But he didn't say it. And I left the film on a high; the ending confirming the understated yet powerful direction of the film.

It wasn't faultless however; one thing I found particularly annoying was the costume design of the extras at Hogwarts. Every student seems to walk around with their trousers pulled up to their waists, and their shirts tucked in at every given moment. I know Umbridge wanted to address falling standards, but students at a boarding school NEVER dress themselves as tidily of their own accord....

Anyhoo, this has gone on long enough, and it's time for some serious evalutation. Despite a distinct lack of guidance for new-comers, the film delivers to Potter fans. Frankly, anybody who hasn't read the books yet deserves little help, and Warner Bros seem to agree, and I was glad that there was little pandering to the people who sat there going: "Expecto pa-what?"

It is easily the best film of the series so far; and, in my opinion, makes an easily forgotten book more memorable. Strong performances made for a hugely entertaining film.

8.5/10

P.S. The casual innuendo strewn throughout the dialogue was marvellous, and perfectly welcome. Here's some examples.
"But Professor, we've been at it all night!"
"They get their wands out at every opportunity"
"I'm going to penetrate...your mind."
"How was it?"...."Wet."

Childish (and often seemingly inadvertent) yet wonderful.

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