Order of the Phoenix Film
I saw The OotP film last night, and I’ve read the reviews by anyaxstrindberg, r_beccaand gioiamia. Below are my own thoughts.
First of all, I continue to be blown away by the sheer magnitude of acting talent they’ve assembled for these films; the cast lists read like a Who’s Who of prominent English actors, and I’d probably want to watch these films even if I’d never read the books, just to see them go through their paces.
In that light, the single clearest thing I have to say about this film is that Imelda Staunton is a genius. I’ve seen her in a number of other films (Sense and Sensibility, Much Ado About Nothing, Persuasion, Peter’s Friends, etc.) and I’ve always been impressed by her range and subtlety. But Umbridge is a hard role; the way she’s described in the novel is practically inhuman, a repulsive-looking, Machiavellian sadist with the demeanor of a fairy princess. Staunton made some superb choices in the role, toning down the baby-girlness and adding a heavy dose of insincere empathy that sent chills up my spine. I think I’d want to watch the film again just to watch her.
I shouldn’t have been surprised at the superb performances of Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman either; two stunning actors who haven’t (in my opinion) been given enough to do in the previous films. I just wish they’d had a scene together. Oldman got to do the brave, empathic godfather bit, and we got to see a little bit of the recklessness and the frustration at his inactivity too, without being beaten over the head with it. Personally I could have wished for one more scene in which those aspects of his personality were highlighted, but it was “cleaner” to do them this way – the sequence in the train station and the sequence with the family tree serving that purpose and many other purposes too.
Rickman finally, finally was given an opportunity to show Snape’s malice and his bitterness at James, as well as his earnestness and his impatience with stupidity. Snape is the most complicated character in the whole series, and we’ve been seeing Rickman, even as far back as SS, imbuing him with nuance that the screenplay alone didn’t give him.
Helena Bonam Carter did an operatic version of Bellatrix which I think is perfectly in keeping with canon – I found myself wishing that I saw more of her. Jason Isaacs impresses me more every time I watch him. The scene where he was trying to woo Harry into giving him the prophesy was wonderful – I was half-persuaded myself!
Daniel Radcliff is growing in power and depth as an actor, and was a pleasure to follow through the entire film. I didn’t feel that way about Rupert Grint or Emma Watson, though. Their work was competent but unremarkable, and I felt that Watson was playing the same “beat” over and over again.
Apart from the delicious Umbridge scenes, I had many moments I loved watching. I think I could watch the DA sequences alone all by themselves; I had a feeling of an ensemble working together as performers in a way that dovetailed nicely with what the characters were “teaming up” to do. I loved the moment in the Death Chamber where the Order appeared like the Cavalry Coming Over the Hill – arriving in bursts of white light that contrast with the black clouds of the Death Eaters; Sirius giving Lucius a punch in the jaw; the light of battle in Tonks’s eyes when she arrives; Moody striking the floor with his staff and blasting his opponent away by what seems like the sheer magnitude of his anger, for all the world like Wotan in Wagner’s Ring.
All three of the flying sequences were exciting (I’m including the Weasley Escape as one of them).
Now, it is common for fans of the books to bemoan what’s left out of the movies. I’ve done it myself, but as John Irving once remarked, a movie that didn’t cut out most of a novel would be about ten hours long. For the most part, I think the directors of the HP films (except, possibly, for the first one) have been focused on telling the story of that one film as an independent piece of art, not trying to tell the story of films-yet-unmade and not including details from the novel that aren’t what this particular film was trying to do. The Marauders backstory in PoA is probably my favorite moment in that book, and it was entirely left out of the film – but the film is an integrated whole without it, so I gritted my teeth and enjoyed it.
In that light, I was amazed at how much the director of this film was apparently concerned about HBP. I counted no fewer than four separate moments where the camera shows Ginny’s face troubled or hurt by the Harry-Cho pairing – a detail that does absolutely nothing for this film itself, but sets us up nicely for the romance in HBP (although of course it’s noncanonical; in the novel Ginny has taken up with Michael Corner and, so far from acting hurt about Cho, even goes so far as to advise Harry how to patch things up with her). And who failed to note that that it was Ginny, with one spell, who took out the entire Prophesy Room?
Could I have wished to see the “Snape’s Worst Memory” scene in its entirety? Hear the whole prophesy and the story of how it was overheard? See the “Lucky you” sequence r_beccaloves so much? Sure, of course, naturally, but I think the choices that were made here were reasonable and efficient.
I’m of two minds about the changes in the Grawp sequences. The cute bicycle-bell thing, and Hermione’s successful ordering of Grawp to put her down, made him much less frightening than he is in the book – and indeed, we don’t see Hermione’s panic at all here.
It’s hard to know whether the sequence with Harry telling LV that he pities him was helpful. The thing is, even in the novel, the fact that it’s the force of love that’s driving LV out of Harry’s brain is unclear until Dumbledore explains it. Here it would have been utterly incomprehensible without more explication. Personally I think that just the flashes of affection (especially all the hugs) would have been enough, but then we’d want LV to just leave, rather than calling Harry a fool.
A bit earlier, I think I really objected to LV's urging Harry to kill Bellatrix. That was too much like Return of the Jedi, and too much like Palpatine and not enough like LV. LV has no desire to have Harry "turn to the dark side;" Harry is a threat, and if he did turn "dark" then he'd be a rival. In this sense LV is more like Sauron than he his like Palpatine. So it makes no sense to me, even in the context of the film, for LV to be saying, "Kill her, Harry, kill her."
I didn’t really like the last scene, because it seemed too pat. I think the last scene from the novel, with Moody threatening Vernon, would probably have been a lot more satisfying. Given that they were going to end it this way, I think that, rather than saying “Something worth fighting for,” Harry should have said “Each other.” But reasonable minds can differ.