11 July 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Genre: Drama / Fantasy

It's 3:15am and I've just returned home, as (I'm sure) many thousands of others have, from the midnight premiere screening of this film, the latest installment filmic in the Potter series. Now, it is no secret, I was extremely disappointed and dismayed by the vast number of flaws and faults apparent in the previous installment and, so, as I marched into the theater earlier tonight, I was set upon by that recollective, familiar feeling of dashed expectant hopes for brilliance out of what has come to be a box-office-smashing, fiscally driven series. Yet, I am extremely pleased and proud to say, such doubts and feelings were quickly hurried away. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a majorly solid piece, possessive of effective writing, apt to excellent acting, and marvellously strong visuals.
Adapted from Rowling's massive ~800-page tome, the screenplay was no doubt a monstrously complex beast to tame for the slim and comparatively brief exhibition that is the contemporary movie. So, any adaptation that does so well to include the near-perfect entirety of everything important in such a huge original source, while also to maintain a smooth and trim pacing and structure, is very good work. Condensation and filmic translation (as opposed to transliteration) were of course expected, but not to such a swift and graceful degree. And the balanced intermingling of the epic between the gloriously adolescent everyday was fresh for the series, refreshing for the film, and absolutely spot on. To tell the truth, I was only significantly disappointed personally, by the lack of the inclusion in the final scene in the department of mysteries of the curio of the bluebird hatchling, attempting to be born and fly away but doing so all in vain, endlessly in repetition, for the effect of the time vacuum of its surrounding container, a parcel which I think may be the most fantastic and profound symbol in the Potter canon to date. However, do not misunderstand me; the screenplay was not otherwise for the bird completely flawless. Yet, it was certainly great enough to allow the rest of the aspects of the film to flourish, a task which is crucial to any ambitious film's foundation, and so it was, as I say, very good work.
Now, of those other aspects of the film, which the solid play allowed to flourish, I must here specifically cite the acting, which was to me the best that we've seen of the collective group yet. Mr. Radcliffe has, either by the capable hand of the director or of his own maturity, well shaken off most of the pathetic and unripe puling that overruled most of his former acting in this series - I specifically call to mind the winter's crying scene from Azkaban - and well shaped up, to deliver an honestly good performance. Much can be said in the same manner of Ms. Watson, whose turn in Goblet of Fire can best be described as execrable. (Mr. Grint retains his awkward charms, as always.) The rest of the returning cast too seems to have shaped up, Mr. Oldman fitting his part better than ever; and the incumbent ensemble shone magnificently. Both Ms. Staunton (who, if she hadn't lost some of her terrific dynamism as the film progressed, could have turned up a Supporting Actress Oscar nom.) and Ms. Bonham Carter (who, despite her brief inclusion, towered) were joys to watch. I even took a great liking to the young Ms. Lynch, whose ethereal Luna Lovegood was beautifully captivating when watched. All in all, again, very good work.
But the truly outstanding notes must go to the visual arts workers, whose inventive and meticulous designs were spectacular. Quickly, the visual effects were perfect, the costumes quite correct, the make-up even, the art direction superb, and the cinematography surprisingly strong - it was truly excellent, to see a man pull back on the camera, away from drowning suddenness of too many closes-up (which, it is well known, tend to plague very many fast-paced, action-fraught works) and really take in the scenes, him even hitting several great moments of framing and photography throughout the film. And all of this mastery worked within the sure and tight control of the color palette, whose shadows, hues, and contrasts impressed upon the film a level of skill beyond even the good work done in this area in Azkaban.
Supreme credit for all these achievements to the director, Mr. Yates, who, I sensed, must have really communed with, not only the primary text, but also the entire Potter canon, to deliver such a rich final product.
Despite all this fawning praise that - no mistake - is well deserved, however, in the spirit of fairness I must make at least a brief note and mention the one significant shortcoming that, I felt, the film did have. Despite the witty and apt inclusion of the track "Boys Will Be Boys" by The Ordinary Boys, the musical score left me feeling unfulfilled. Perhaps it was the unfortunately comparative genius of a predecessor's, Mr. Williams', work or the aspects of the composition that made me believe it to be too forthright oftentimes, that gave me that unfulfilled feeling; but, whatever the cause, the truth remains that, while sufficient, the musical work did lack the salience that the majority of the rest of the film did have (quite in spades really). It is regrettable for me to say so, especially considering the vast improvement that this score has made over its direct predecessor (i. e., that flimsy, awkward brute by Mr. Doyle) but, much like that bird which I mentioned earlier in this piece, Mr. Hooper's attempt, though admirable, ultimately falls short and fails to be born, despite its several propitious opportunities. (Sound mixing was great nevertheless.)

And, with only ten days remaining until the details of the final chapter of the Potter series are revealed with the release of the final book, one can only hope that the future of the enterprise will continue to so pique.

Grade: B+/A-

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