Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Keeps the Fire Burning--Barely

The J.K Rowling machine continues to fill the earth. The seventh (and last) book in the crazy-popular Harry Potter series is now out, as is the film version of the fifth novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Again using a different director (David Yates) but the same cast, we are invited along to follow wizard-in-training Harry and his likable band. Like all of the films, Order of the Phoenix is a decent entry, and while I did like it, it falls a bit short of Goblet of Fire, and stalls in comparison to my favorite in the series, Prisoner of Azkaban.

After surviving an attack from the life-sucking Dementors outside of school, Harry Potter’s life just keeps getting tougher. No one believes that the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned, calling Harry a liar in the process. Even headmaster and friend Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seems distant. Perhaps it’s the Ministry of Magic’s new watchdog Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) that is causing all the unease. Voldemort is still alive, however, and is filling Harry’s mind with all sorts of disturbing visions. Could there be a link between the two?

What always amazes me about these movies is the details incorporated into this universe. There are always amazing creatures (the emaciated Pegasus-type things), cool mystical gadgets (a real ear on a string for eavesdropping), and magical architecture (buildings that expand, rooms with shelves up to the infinite) to inspire wonder and awe. This is all peripheral to the story, but it is so creative, you can’t help but be impressed.

The actors all do a good job, but it’s Daniel Radcliffe as Harry who has to deliver or the movie is sunk. He is suitably intense, and I’m impressed at his increasing range as he grows up with this character. Hermione (Emily Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) again support Harry, and are so settled into these roles that we see the characters every time. All the regular British character actors are back (including Alan Rickman as Snape, who has the best scene with Harry and a magical mind probe), and Staunton as Umbridge is the perfect June Cleaver from hell. I also liked newcomer Evanna Lynnch as the delightfully weird student Luna Lovegood.

The story is solid, but seems to take too long getting to the inevitable conclusion: a showdown with Lord Voldemort. He is such a great villain, that I wanted to see more of him in the movie (especially after the end of the last film). The pattern of these stories has always been that everyone talks about how terrible Mr. V is, but he never really shows up until the very end. Fiennes plays him so well, that you love to hate him and watch him.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is good feature, but I wanted it to be better. It was engaging, but felt long. If the superb villain was given more to do, I think I’d like these movies more. As it stands--not bad.

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