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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Is there anything left in the entire world to say about Harry Potter that hasn’t already been covered? Don’t get me wrong. I love Harry and his pals, but I also love ice cream and yet I wouldn’t want to have hundreds of gallons of it shoved down my throat non-stop over the course of a week or two. Nobody can fault the public relations people at Warner Brothers for being slackers. They’ve worked harder and faster than Dick Cheney’s flacks did in putting a positive spin on his hunting mishap last year to spread the word that Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix was coming to theaters this week, but I’ll bet you already knew that by now, right?

I usually try to avoid midnight openings of movies because they are filled with fans who attach the “atic” back to the meaning. You know the type. They show up dressed as the characters in the movie. They adopt the personas of the characters. Sometimes they even act out scenes along with the film in the space below the screen a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. These people are the future of America, and I weep while I digress as usual.

On this occasion, I attended the premiere of
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix at the Essex Cinemas because it was also the 21st birthday of my dear friend Nancy Mixon’s son. James is an adorable, charming and too-cute-for-words delight who would definitely be on my short list of “America’s Most Eligible Hotties” if I was thirty years younger and single, if you know what I mean. Anywho, James is an expert on all things Potter and he wanted to kick off his natal celebration at the movie, so he and his parents, Nancy and Steve, were there, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to show up if for no other reason than to sing James a badly off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” from his seat in the packed auditorium and make sure his special occasion would not soon be forgotten. He’s lucky I didn’t show up in my Marilyn Monroe drag and give him the same version of the song she belted out to JFK more than forty years ago. That room is still smoldering.

Speaking of things not to be soon forgotten, let me tell you about
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. In this fifth book-to-film adaptation of the wildly popularly series, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe; December Boys) is in trouble right fro the start. After using magic to defend himself and his surly cousin Dudley (Harry Melling; Friends and Crocodiles) from a pair of marauding Dementors, Harry is hauled before the Ministry of Magic and put on trial for the grave infraction of using magic in the Muggles’ world, a definite no-no for underage wizards. If that makes no sense to you, then you might as well forget seeing Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix right now. This is not like a lot of sequels that take time to “refresh” the memories of audiences by explaining plot points from the original or previous entries and educating newbies to the finer bits and pieces you have to know to keep up. If you aren’t already familiar with the lingo or the who’s-who and what’s what by now, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is going to be like seeing a foreign film in a language you don’t understand. When people talk about Azkaban, Muggles, a Patronus Charm and the Cruciatus Curse, you had better know from the get-go what they mean or you’ll be completely lost.

That’s the biggest problem with the movie. The other is that it suffers from what I call ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ Syndrome. Like that movie in the Star Wars franchise, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is a “bridge film”, i.e., one which exists mostly to set up the action for the Grand Finale, which will unfold across books (and the inevitable movies that follow) of six and seven, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which is being released in hard cover on July 21st).

Much of the story in
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix stirs the pot, and takes Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint; Driving Lessons), and Hermione (Emma Watson, who, as of yet, has made no other films but the Potter series, but we expect great things from her someday), along with Neville Longbottom (This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper), the wicked Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton; Anna and the King), and the rest of the kids from Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the edge of young adulthood in this chapter. These students are no longer looking at the magic at Hogwart’s as tricks but as defensive moves meant to protect themselves against
the dark arts and a potential (if inevitable) attack by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, or, in other words, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes; Land of the Blind). Unfortunately for Harry, the Ministry of Magic and the witches’ newspaper, The Daily Prophet, have labeled him a liar and a lunatic for even suggesting that Voldemort has returned from the dead. Naturally, we, as true believers in Harry, know he is right, and it is not long before he realizes that there are others who also believe him, the secret Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards that include Harry’s godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman; Batman Begins), Ron’s father, Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams; Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) and Harry’s old teachers, werewolf Remus Lupin (David Thewlis; The Omen) and Alastor 'Mad-­Eye' Moody (Brendan Gleeson; Breakfast on Pluto), all under the direction of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon; The Good Shepherd) himself.

While Harry is rebuffed and told he has no place to fight with these adults in such an “army” as he is “just a boy” it is only a matter of time before he amasses a group of his own youthful believers at Hogwart’s who are willing to train in secret to face a possible showdown with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

In the midst of all of this Hogwart’s itself is under attack by its own ghastly threat in the Pepto pink guise of a would-be Mary Kay cosmetics lady, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton; Freedom Writers). Umbridge is in actuality an agent of the Ministry of Magic and there to overthrow Hogwart’s as a way of rousting out Dumbledore for having supported Harry and his claims of seeing Voldemorte alive again.

Much of the best entertainment in Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix comes from watching the interplay between Umbridge and her prey. Once she establishes her total commitment to cruelty the efforts of the kids to foil her plans and then bring on her comeuppance make for great laughs in an otherwise dark and serious episode of this series.

For the most part,
Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is a type of anxiety-producing foreplay waiting for the real deal to arrive in another couple of years. This may prove unsatisfying to casual followers of the Potter films, but true Potterphiles understand that with each step we move closer to that final ultimate smackdown and it is bound to be worth the wait.

In this chapter, we are also introduced to new characters besides Umbridge, most notably Evanna Lynch debuting as the ethereal and slightly off-center student Luna Lovegood, Helena Bonham Carter (Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) as the psychotic Azkaban escapee Bellatrix Lestrange and Kreacher (Timothy Bateson; Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont), a CGI-represented house elf, all of whom we can assume will have more to offer in the subsequent films.

No matter whether a huge fan or just along for the ride, a parent or spouse dragged into the theater skeptically, the last thirty minutes or so of the movie will definitely have you sitting straight up in your seat. There is a climactic battle royal featuring the followers of Voldemorte, led by Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs; Friends With Money), whose long blonde locks I would love to rip out by their wee black roots, against the possibly less-capable warriors from Hogwart’s. Blood is shed, and a death does occur, so parents should be aware that the tale of Harry and his friends has taken an even darker and irretrievable turn to the adult side of life.

What started out as children’s fantasy with the ten year old wizard in
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has, with each subsequent entry, stepped further away from that children’s world, and is now at the cusp between adult fantasy and reality. Should children see Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix? Probably not if they are prone to nightmares. My feeling is that the audience should most likely begin with the age of the characters themselves. Dumbledore has worked hard to protect Harry from the things he believed the boy was too young to handle until he was mature enough to do so. It’s the least you can do as a parent for your own child.

1 comment:

Cathy Resmer said...

No final "e" on Voldemort!

Otherwise an entertaining review.

Thanks! I've been checking to see when you'd get to it.

I stood in a long line to see it Friday night, with the rest of the fanatics.