Thursday, July 26, 2007

24th July 07 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Five films down, two to go in this bumper series based on the ludicrously popular books. This time Potter is Mr. Moody, has a shorter hair-cut and still fiddles with his wand (huh huh). Originally it seemed the further into the series we went, the darker it was getting, and the quality was improving to the point where I nearly understood what all the fuss was about. Alas, number five tries to keep it gloomy, but trips up some point after the opening sequence (which was good) and settles on general mediocre.

Director David Yates is a newbie to the series, having several episodes of The Bill on his CV. Of course, we all have to start somewhere, and though there are Fincher-esque camera moves through windows and walls (was half expecting a coffee-pot handle too), the use of clich├ęd lightening flashes/storms to signify something poignant/shocking gave everything a bit of a cheapo feel. The acting didn’t help. I’m sure they’re very nice people, but most of the time I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a school production. Characters stand patiently, waiting to deliver their lines on cue, and the main cast must have had the “breathing heavily” acting lesson, as it was used to convey fear, anger, pain and general dismay. Probably joy too, only no one got to use it because everyone’s so bloody miserable in this one.

I feel like I’m being super negative, so let’s put some good points out there. The visual effects are as always stunning, and thankfully less in-your-face than the previous film (which had a “Look at the effect! Look at it!” mentality). Imelda Staunton is amusing as the prissy new teacher employing rule after rule, and some neat methods of school punishment. And there is a dark thread running throughout, with Potter a bit miffed that he has no family, and struggling to cope as big bad Voldemort tries to break into his mind.

But for a film lasting over two hours, it’s surprising how very little actually happens. My Potter advisor, whom I regularly annoy by not being bothered to read the books but still questioning what happens, has told me that this is one of the weaker books, but that the film also misses great chunks of detail (one of the pitfalls of an adaptation). Still, to a non-reader the plot comes across as patchy and inconclusive, with supporting characters drifting in and out. There’s also a formulaic feel starting to creep in. Adults talk about Bad Stuff but keep it hidden from Potter (to be revealed at the end). New teacher is employed at the school who seems a bit dodgy (dodginess revealed at the end). No one believes/likes Potter (to be rectified at the end). With the film versions having to forgo the smaller details, there needs to be a bigger differentiating factor to make them worthwhile. Sadly, number five lacks it.

Since the interest of seeing Potter’s world being brought to screen has waned, a ‘so what?’ factor has started to creep into my mind. Battles always feel wrapped in cotton wool, and even when a character dies with potentially devastating effects for the Pottster, the incident is under-played. While I’ve no doubt the popularity of the books will propel the final duo of films, my attitude to the franchise is that of indifference. I was initially going to give this a CF0, but having written such an unenthusiastic review I’ve convinced myself to lower it to a CF-1. Besides, as far as book-adaptations go, my attention is firmly on a little girl called Lyra. And her big fuck-off armoured bear.

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