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July 19, 2007
Taking Notes: Harry Potter Edition

Taking Notes: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Going back again, to the place where it all started. Being ill prepared for the week ahead, I've decided to devote another column to a film I saw theatrically, as is my wont to do on occasion; this time, not unlike the last time, that started the whole affair, I am going to focus on one thing and one thing alone, and hopefully come up with enough to say so that you folks will be interested in it, read it, maybe discuss it a bit, and generally take something away at the end of it all.

Today I've decided to focus on that new Harry Potter film there, and while I am definitely later than usual with banging one of these out, I do have a good excuse. I waited to see the film with my family, which wasn't so bad. See, there? That's a good excuse.

...Isn't it?

About to begin his fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry learns that all is not right in the wizarding world. After he and Dumbledore warned of Lord Voldemort's return the previous year, the Ministry made a dangerous decison on the matter: complete denial. In the wake of their decision, accusations have been made, leading to the arrival of Dolores Umbridge, and the control of Hogwarts taken from Dumbledore.

With the Ministry in denial and Hogwarts securely in their control, it's up to the Order of the Phoenix to reassemble and prepare themselves; meanwhile in Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione come to this very same conclusion. After being denied the proper tutelage from Umbridge, they've taken it upon themselves to assemble a group willing to stand against Voldemort, and make themselves ready when he makes his move.

As a fan of the books as well as the films, it takes a certain bit of wonder when it comes to the Potter films. With how often the directors change, it's a wonder how the film will turn out, and what kind of pacing there will be, prior the actual going in. Each director has their own style, each director has their own vision of what the material is; so for me, it's always an adventure when a new director comes to the film.

With Harry Potter's storied, now five long, film history; they've taken a few directors on to the do the job. Looking back at the first to see how the films have changed up until now, those first two were really Chris Columbus's cinematic opus; and today we've got David Yates considerably shorter, but none the less character driven, story.

While all good in their own way, and the films themselves being enjoyable every time, I have to say that when Columbus left, so did that feeling of grandness; with the exception of Goblet of Fire, the films have all been shorter, and seemingly more cramped since then. Not always does it seem as if one scene would inherently lead to the next.

Many would probably protest this, though.

Going in, we're treated to an odd shot of a playground which seems miles off from anywhere that doesn't look like farmland, and there is where we are introduced to a group of Dudley's friends, and as quickly as they arrive they have left; shortly thereafter the film really just dives head-long into the story, and another short introduction, of Mrs. Figg; who had thus far only appeared within the books.

Really, the film only gets started when Harry learns that he has been expelled from Hogwarts, at which point he is whisked away from Privet Drive by a group of people he had never met, save for Alastor Moody. This doesn't work half as well as I am sure they had hoped it would, to set the pace for the rest of the film; this sequence especially, given the nature of it, and the overall brevity for which it entertained. We're supposed to buy an intrusion that lasts a minute or two at most, with the intruders hardly making any real noise along the way; yeah, no.

After the intrusion the film goes on and we're treated to several wide night shots of the surrounding area, which look really nice I might add, until we come to the next sequence and a small dose of second hand exposition from the characters of the last few films. This sequence, I would argue, was handled more interesting than the previous had been, and adding little touches like the house elf Kreacher, who had been a constant source of irritation, as well as Hermione's cat Crookshanks, and really made the best of what could have been a series of very dull scenes.

As we go along we're reintroduced to the characters from the last few films, and a small amount of exposition therein as to the current situation; this all ends as abruptly as usual, when Harry makes his triumphant announcement and leads into another brief sequence showing the return to Hogwarts. It's almost a shame that this sequence only lasted as long as it had, as there was a lot of interesting, but ultimately plot irrelevant side stories that took place at this point.

Beyond this point, the story really gets moving, with the arrival of Dolores Umbridge and her bid for power, so I am going to touch on a few things not related to the plot. First, since I mentioned Dolores, it's only appropriate to discuss her. In the books, she's a cheery, Ministry loyal witch, who really makes you hate her. She's also very rude. I don't know... there's just something about her that is detestable, and for my money Imelda Staunton really nailed it. She brought everything to the screen as well as I thought in the books. Not nearly as toady as I remember the description, but it played out exceptionally well.

Moving along, one of the major drawbacks I felt with the film had to do with the pacing. Aside the lack of proper introductions for a lot of the characters that came in during this story, the pacing of each sequence really seems to have been thrown off. Some scenes seem overly long, while others abrupt and short, as well as a few sequences where it just seems like the cut jumped to left field with the next sequence, rather than flowing right along into the next.
This isn't a huge issue by any means, but it is odd, and represents one of the few things I liked about Alfonso Cuaron's work on Prisoner of Azkaban; in that it seemed that he took a great deal of care to make scenes seem to flow into one another and work together, rather than making wide jumps.

Now, finally, I would like to take a minute to touch upon the action sequences. It wouldn't be a Harry Potter film without a little magical disagreement settling, and Order of the Phoenix has some of, what I would say are, the best sequences of any of the films. The battle that took place was, literally, an amazing sequence that seemed to jump right off the page; the set up to it seemed a bit shaky, but I couldn't help but be blown away by how they handled it.
It wasn't so action packed where you have to really pay attention to whats going on, but there was enough that it really seemed like they were embroiled in the battle J.K. put into words. This sequence alone was a high grade expectation, and I've been met with exactly what I was looking for out of it.

I don't see myself as amazingly hard to please when it comes to films, but I've devoted years of my life reading these books, and I've enjoyed them very well, so there's a bit I look forward to seeing; but by virtue, I am not so staunch that a few removed or shortened scenes can ruin these films for me. Not even Alfonso Cuaron's seemingly alien version of Hogwarts and the grounds could do that.

For everything I've said, it as always, is difficult to put into words my feelings about this film as well as any other, but I do know for certain that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it more than Transformers. The film itself stands well on its feet in spite of the various issues that exist within it, and manages to tell its story well enough for it.

Even going so far as to make the ending as climactic, or more, as it has ever been thus far.

Would I give it a pass? You bet your bottom dollar I would. More to the point, I am already giddy as hell for the DVD release, which should be... no later than December, if the release trend holds up. But, like always, there has to be a caveat; if you're among those who can't get past changes or absences from the books, it's probably not worth your time. For everyone else, go now. Have some fun.

-- lost in thought

Tags: Column, Taking Notes, opinion, Harry Potter

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