So my wife and I went to see the latest Harry Potter film last evening.
I am not a hardcore Harry Potter fan. When the original film came out, I had never read any of the books as I don’t tend to read children’s books, although I had heard that they were rather good from some of our friends. However, the 2001 film won me over for its excellence and its since of wonder. When the second movie finally loomed near, my wife and I read the first book, and thereafter, we adopted this pattern for our Potter consumption: read the novel from which the previous movie was adapted to refresh our memories and then see the lastest film entry.
Our pattern was doomed to failure as we continued to enjoy the successive film adaptions. After watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, my wife could wait no more and she plunged ahead devouring books 4-6. Seeing as I didn’t want to risk having the story spoiled for me accidentally and seeing as my wife was eager to discuss the books, I too followed her in this reading endeavor and found myself enjoying every moment of the series.
That is why it pains me to find this latest film adaption flat and disappointing. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m biased by having already read the excellent book from which the material springs (I doubt this since I’ve loved other adaptions where I am familiar with the source material) or if it is the new director for this film or the fact that the principle actors have been playing these roles for six years now and are finding the whole thing tiresome. What I do know is that I found the film a mediocre disappointment that bored me at a few points and that actually managed to draw me out of the magic of story telling and bring to my attention the mechanics of filmmaking to notice the flaws on display.
The first thing that leapt out at me was the editing of the basic story. I realize that the source novel is massive and that it was inevitable that many of the subplots and scenes would need to be cut to fit it into a standard movie-length adaptation, but they cut some things that I thought were vital for the development of some of the characters (and this pieces will be sorely missed in the next film). More immediately damaging was the fact that the way the filmmakers cut things out and pieced scenes together produced a very episodic and jerky film where the pacing just felt off to me. Even if I had not read the book, I think I would have noticed that material is simply missing. The third film also suffered from this problem, but its otherwise excellent production kept the editing from being an albatross draped over its shoulders.
In this case, the rest of the filmmaking only added to the mess. I felt that the acting and the scenes were all very static and lifeless. The main characters seem to do a lot of standing around and talking and often seem bored or wooden. The one chief exception to this is Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. Her performance is excellent and her character unlike many of the other adult characters is given enough screen time to actually breath and live. The normally excellent Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman seem little more than stage props with the bits that they are given to do in this film – which is a big shame since they are fine actors and the roles as written in the source novel have a lot of depth and material to explore.
This film just felt tired to me. With the staticness and the disjointed pacing, I found myself wondering how much longer the film would last about two-thirds of the way into it – which is almost unheard of for me even while watching a bad or mediocre film.
The special effects were commedable once again. There were some magical moments at Hogwarts such as the magical paper airplane and the Weasley twins OWLs stunt, but there were a few places where even the special effects failed to truly deliver. I’m sorry, but after seeing the wonderous spectacle of absolutely perfect and believable giant transforming robots in Transformers, some of the stuff on display here like the overly cutesy Giant just didn’t cut it for me. We can do much better these days and audiences shouldn’t settle for less.
Finally, the film’s conclusion was a mixed bag – albeit this time it was not entirely the fault of the filmmakers. This book’s conclusion features a battle between the forces of good and evil in which a group of children are pitted against the evil death eaters and no matter what rationalization one wishes to use, I found it extremely implausible in the book that the children could manage to hold their own for even a short amount of time and find it equally so here. Although the effects in this battle are nice to watch and deliver some of the better visuals in the film, there is no real tension in the scene and I never felt fear for the children – which is in sharp contrast to the most excellent finale to the previous film. The death eaters come off here as a bit of a joke instead of real source of menace. Only the excellent Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemorte rescues this scene dramatically by capping it with some true villiany and a real sense of threatening power. However, the film makers decide to ruin things a bit here by introducing some silly trite stuff about friendship and love that weren’t in the book and shouldn’t have been in this film.
It’s a shame that such an excellent story as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was brought to the screen in such a lifeless by-the-numbers manner. I really hope the filmmakers recapture their game with the next film.
At least there’s still Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the bookshelf. I’m pouncing on that book as soon as my wife finishes devouring it! :)