Ten Thumbs Up

The five of us (Margaret, Pippa, Si, Laura and I) went to see Harry Potter on opening night (not at 12:01 “opening morning” — we can’t stay awake that late). We had heard the polarized reviews that described Order of the Phoenix as the best of the series, or as a sign of the series’ exhaustion. I was uneasy; the book had struck me as largely stage-setting for the big climax in Half-Blood Prince and Deadly Hallows; the plot hadn’t left much of an impression on me when I read it. That suggested that the movie might be flat, since several of the directors have relied on a break-neck rush from one event to another to their dramatic conclusions; without a propulsive plot, though, we might encounter characters who stand around being puzzled or over-emoting (I’m looking at you, Ron). Add the fact that Margaret hadn’t read the book, and so couldn’t count on background knowledge to fill in the gaps left by the transition from mammoth book to two-hour movie, and the possible booby-traps gave cause to take the nay-sayers seriously.

On the contrary — all five of us were delighted with this entry. The director steers away from the somewhat murky plot, emphasizing instead the character development and thematic points. The adolescents spend very little time pouting and fuming (thank you, thank you, please remember how much this strengthened the movie when you direct the next one!). Harry and Hermione have grown into exceptionally good-looking young actors, and Phoenix gives them room to work. Even Harry’s sense of isolation — which in some of the movies would have occasioned frequent tantrums — is here subordinated to the struggle between Voldemort and Harry, between suspicious self-centered isolation and trusting, loving mutuality. Dumblebore’s decisions show frustrating lack of insight into Harry’s needs as a teenager (especially as an extraordinary teen), and educational policies of the Ministry of Magic (under both Dumbledore and Umbridge; you can’t dump the blame on her) seem bizarrely dangerous. Still, those perplexities don’t overshadow the satisfaction of seeing the films hero-children emerge as effectual agents with initiative. And the paring-away of Quidditch, Hogsmeade, and so on all served the laudable purpose of keeping attention on the protagonists’ progress toward maturity and reliance on one another.

Margaret thought the battle sequence at the end was too confusing and cluttered. I suppose so, though it caught me up into an uncertainty that intensified the excitement of the special effects.

I give Order of the Phoenix high marks. It’s not Citizen Kane, but it ranks with Prisoner of Azkaban as my favorites in the series so far. Not surprisingly, my main suggestion would be— more Lupin! I hope Rowling draws on his character more generously for the final volume, especially as Sirius Black and Dumbledore are now offstage.

We’re arranging to buy Deathly Hallows from a local bookseller, without the loss-leader discounting that the megachains will offer. I’ll have to wait my turn to read it, but I’ll be exceptionally eager to see what Rowling has up her sleeve. Well done, all around!

Johanna said:

I totally agree! I saw the movie yesterday and loved it for the very reasons you state so well!


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