Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle
Kenilworth Castle, John of Gaunt's Hall

Thursday, July 12, 2007

order of the phoenix - movie montage madness!

so i surprised myself by being very eager to see the film adaptation of Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. surprised, because though I am just as addicted to the books as the next person, I've been vastly disappointed with the films. But I've become, in the last year or so, VERY attached to Phoenix (the book), and I really quite wanted to see how the director (David Yates, who has far as I can tell, hasn't done much of real note before) dealt with it.

Yates seems to have been an excellent choice - there were a lot of small visual details, and cinematographic decisions that I really, really liked. lots of weird, rapid zoom-in close-ups of fragmented body parts - an eye, a neck - that really gave the film a nice spooky tone without being over the top or horror-movie-ish.

Imelda Staunton does a KICK-ASS job as Dolores Umbridge. Her costumes were perfect; she nailed the smiley pinkish evil of Umbridge perfectly. her desire for power is brilliantly staged - one scene has her seated in a throne-like chair, overseeing an exam or lesson. the way she briefly caresses the arm of the throne is genius.

one other genius move: in the final scenes of the film, in the Ministry, we see an enormous portrait banner of Fudge - it's a touch right out of, say, 1984 or any other film about dictators. It's such a brief touch but so brilliantly frames the politics of the movie - i cheered when i saw it.

Also, and I feel hideously creepy saying this, but my friend (with whom I saw the film) said it first: Daniel Radcliffe is going to be one extremely handsome young man. and soon. (although the ringer t-shirt/corduroy hipster/intellectual look he sports in the final scene could go).

I still loathe Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; she's simply NOT hermione. The actor playing Ginny would make a much better Hermione; she has a less glamourous prettiness. The film keeps wanting to make Hermione a Leading Lady, but the stories just don't permit that, so every glowy scene with Watson seems forced. And - sorry, Emma - but she just doesn't look smart.

Helena Bonham Carter is PERFECT as Bellatrix, and stole every scene she's in. I wish she was in it more, somehow.

Evanna Lynch, a fangrrrl who was cast as my favorite character in the whole series, Luna Lovegood, was incredible. Totally dreamy, totally Luna. I wish she had more screen time.

NOW! Let's rip the film to shreds! Keep in mind that of the films in the HP series, this was by far the one I'm most pleased with.

An acquaintance very astutely observed on Monday that they'd need to make two films per book (especially after Azkaban) to really do the books justice. The amount of STUFF in the novels simply cannot be squeezed into a 2+ hour movie. Recognizing this limitation is essential, I think, to having any kind of objective reaction to the films.

The main criticism of this film: to cram everything into 2 hours - everything required to set up the next installment - Yates & co decided to produce a series of montages, rather than a solid block of narrative film. There's remarkably little dialogue. Things happen very, very quickly, and in montage - one of my favorite parts of the book, the St Mungo's chapters, are eliminated altogether. Within about four minutes, Harry has:
seen the snake attack Mr Weasley
been whisked off for Occlumency with Snape
gone on christmas holiday
Mr Weasley returns home cured

it happens rapidfire, montage style.
The DA sessions also run in montage, as do the series of Educational Decrees and Umbridge's inspections of the teachers.

We SEE a lot happen in a short space of time, but never really experience it. The film has virtually no interiority; there's a weak-ass attempt early on, when Harry writes a diarylike letter to Sirius, talking about how sad and alone he feels. Harry's estrangement and persecution by the Wizard community - the awkwardness at school, his sense of alienation from everyone, his anger (ALL CAPS HARRY, WHERE ARE YOU???) are almost completely absent in the film. They're gestured at - he snaps at Ron and Hermione a bit, but the real angst is just....gone.

In my humble opinion, they blew it with the Ministry - it's a hightech 21st century-looking black and glass underground city, not the peacock blue and jewel-toned ministry i imagined. it has the look of being built in a subway stop (and in fact the credits thank and cite Westminster tube stop as a location), and feels creepy in all the wrong ways.

The details of the Ministry - especially the Department of Mysteries - is absent. Harry finds his way into the hall of prophecy instantly; there is none of that spooky blue-black lighting, no Time Room. They don't stumble into the Death Chamber (with the Veil) until after retrieving the prophecy.

I think these absences matter. In teaching Azkaban this summer, (the novel), one of the things that seemed evident to me through our discussions is that the wealth of detail - the fullness and depth of the fantasy world Rowling creates - is perhaps THE major reason why so many people are so passionate about the books. It is a deeply, thoroughly realized Other World. There are spellcheck quills and magical socks. there are self-peeling potatoes and family-vehicle flying carpets (or were, before the ban on them). there are things we can't imagine: the beautiful, glittering belljar, with the hummingbird in its stream - the jar of TIME - in the department of Mysteries; the myriad ailments in St Mungo's ER; the very entrance to Purge & Dowse, Ltd (in Regent Street). The magical parallels of real-world life are what make the books so enthralling. we want to live in that world, and it's so vividly created that we almost believe it exists.

The films fail us in this respect. The richness of the fantasy world is lost, and instead we have this weirdly fakey juxtaposition of magical world and muggle - this is perhaps most cringeably noticeable when harry and the order fly on broomsticks to Grimmauld Place, in London - the "flying broomsticks" look so fake against their bluescreen backdrop of 2006 London. the Magic doesn't seem REAL, in the films, and so it disppoints.

The feel-good moments of emotion between Sirius and Harry, Dumbledore & Harry, and Harry, Ron and Hermione feel like crap, though. It's the problem virtually ALL children's texts suffer when they are transmediated for the big screen: we can't have gritty, subversive, grotesque or subtle emotions. The darkness of the film vanishes in this hopeful conclusion, with harry feeling good about what's worth fighting for. he's too heroic in the most cliched way possible, and too inspirational. Not much about Harry Potter, the character, is truly inspirational. But the film forces him into that position, and again: it grates and jars against the rest of the narrative. The novel does not end on an especially uplifting or hopeful note; the film tries to, and that's when it suffers most.

But i did love some of the staging and cinematography; the Weasley twins are marvellous, as always; Luna and Bellatrix and Umbridge are brilliant casting decisions.

3 comments:

k8 said...

I'm conflicted when it comes to the past few books. I might be imagining it, but it seems like I come across more sections that feel like they were written to be shown in the movies. I read certain chapters and think that it feels staged like a movie scene. Does that make sense?

The Duke said...

I still haven't seen this, so I didn't read this one. I did respond to the comment you left though!

eric3000 said...

I haven't read the books but have seen all the films because Other Eric has a professional connection to them.

The fascist imagery was pretty interesting but I still found the film a little boring. It's unfortunate that they had to skip over so many good parts of the book and then insert so many scenes that seem to go on forever. Most of the adult actors were excellent but most of the children could have been replaced by robots.

p.s. You confused me a little with the name change (frogboots) but I recognized the picture.