11 July 2007

Movie Troubles

This is a review of the fifth Harry Potter movie. Spoilers, insofar as they can exist for a movie made from a wildly popular book, abound. Consider yourself duly warned.

I waited in line starting at 6 pm. When the movie ended at 2:30 am, I felt much like you might after completing a transatlantic flight: tired because of the marathon length, annoyed at the minor inconviences, elated by happy coincidences, and relieved to have arrived safely on the other side. Then the credits began to roll. When JK Rowling's name showed up, I clapped wildly like a fangirl child of the night, but a girl behind me started to boo loudly. I was baffled. People actually boo things? Movie screens? Authors who weren't even part of the movie?

"Well, I'm sorry," she said loudly, with her hands on her hips in her black robe, "but that movie sucked. It completely ruined the book." Instead of feeling an urge to tell her to shut it (as I usually do for people trying to make book/movie comparisons), I felt uncomfortable and quietly ignored her, as though the topic that she had brought up was slightly taboo. Normally, I agree completely with Joni on this topic: book/movie comparisons are irrelevant; movies don't erase books; movies don't have the same purpose as books; each form should be judged on its own merits.

But in the case of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I'm not sure I can agree. My opinion may change with future viewings, but right now, the movie doesn't stand on its own very well. Courtney phrased it well this morning: it feels like an outline of the book. Anyone who hadn't read the books would miss a lot of the things that made the movie worth sitting through, like the random cameos of Aberforth Dumbledore, Percy Weasley, and for that matter Tonks and Shacklebolt. They seem like good space-filler in the movie, but you'd have to be a book reader to understand their importance. Kreacher felt very tossed in, even after JKR explicitly told film-makers he would be important to keep because of future books. The establishment of the Weasley's shop is mostly hinted at, and three scenes basically cover the whole Cho Chang angst.

In other words, the style that makes Harry Potter better than your average pulp-young-adult-fantasy-novel is completely lost on the movies. On key part of JKR's style involves including some detail seemingly for humor value early in the book--for example, Dumbledore's full name (Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, his name is my name tooooo)--and having it end up being an important key to the resolution of the book--Dumbledore's initials are on the prophecy and thus he's our link to being able to hear it after Harry smashes it. But since in the movie Harry hears the prophecy, there's no suspense about that. The inclusion of Dumbledore's name becomes an interesting detail but of no relevance. The details are there just for the coolness factor, a common flaw in children's fantasy lit where the author has fallen in love with their own ability to create--look how cool and detailed my world is! The movies turn Harry Potter into something that's just average instead of so astounding that the New York Times had to create a children's bestseller list in order to keep Harry from constantly occupying the top 4 spots of their main list (which of course rightly belong to "serious" writers *cough*).

Then there are the major alterations in the plot--Harry handing over the prophecy to Lucious, Sirius being AK'd instead of just falling through the veil, Voldemort possessing Harry. I'm not sure what to do with these. I actually like the Voldemort possessing Harry bit; it's a more solid resolution of Harry's angst problems, a better transition into book 6 than even JKR wrote (as hard as that is to admit). But the others not so much. And these changes are not just to the mechanism of the plot, but also the meaning. Mechanism changes have to happen in the movies, especially since so many sub-plots must be cut. Things have to happen in new ways. But meaning changes are problematic. How can Dumbledore trust Harry in book 6 if he's willing to hand over the prophecy to any old death eater who's going to kill some people? It simply doesn't pan out. Movie 6 & 7 could end up completely different from the books of the same title. If the movies are trying to stand on their own without the books, I guess this is one way to do it, but unfortunately for me, the main point of the movies is to be able to experience that same story with other people. (Maybe I am making the argument that the books and movies should be the same . . . well, it is what it is.)

What did I like about the movie? I liked the separate development of Neville and Luna. Their character depth was better than I expected from the movies. Ginny needs more facial expressions, but I like the implied jealousy of Harry/Cho. (Ginny could also use more purposeful strength rather than accidental power. But maybe I'm biased about that because Ginny's character development in book 5 was a major point in my IB thesis on gender roles in Harry Potter.) After all my rant about the details, this movie does feel more magical than previous movies--the existance of a wizarding world feels real. The newspaper headlines rock especially.

Yeah, so I had a blast watching the movie. But I'm glad that's over. Now I can look forward to what really excites me: book 7! (More predictions coming this week, along with some non-Harry posts this week. I promise!)

And now after all this seriousness, here's a cartoon losely based on Harry in book 5: Wizard Angst. That summarizes the whole book/film pretty well. *insert brick wall here* Angst, angst, angst, angst . . . .


Joni said...


I'm going to blog about this later. But for now-you do remember that Voldemort *does* posses Harry, right? Or at least that's what the text pretty well defines it as. Not in the way he posses' Ginny but he inhabits him in some way. In the US book pg 816 Harry feels his scar burn and a creature tightly inhabit/curl around him in some way-the creature uses his mouth saying things like "Kill me now, Dumbledore...If death is nothing, Dumbledore, kill the boy..." etc. It may not be defined as possession but it's pretty darn close. They just chose to portray it in the movie in a way that made sense with the storyline they chose to focus on-because in the book the creature leaves when Harry feels that surge of love for Sirius. In the movie that would be hard to do because it's such a huge internal battle-so they choose to show it with friends instead.

Bah. I think you're being hormonal/distracted by the wedding. I thought the movie was brilliant.

Paradox said...

I actually LOVED the movie, which is weird for me. I'm one of the people who has really high expectations for book/movie translations, and out of all of the movies this one was actually my favorite.

The detail exclusions I felt were much more tasteful than in any other HP film. Much of what was taken out were the personal relationships (I never realized there are SO MANY in that book) and I didn't miss them at all. And once you take those out, many of the characters just aren't important enough to include. The Ron/Hermione, the Lupin/Tonks, Ron/Lavendar, and even Ginny/Harry. I think they're all missing for a reason. And the fact that Ginny/Harry is missing really kills a theory out there that Harry won't die because he has that relationship to look forward to. After seeing this movie, I'm really set in my theory that Harry is going to die.

There are changes that I question based on what I've heard about the series' ending. For example, I've heard that the mirror that Black gives to Harry is supposed to be significant, and it wasn't in the movie anywhere. I also questioned Sirius being AK'd. But to me, that seemed like JK Rowling trying to reach her audience with a firm, "Sirius is dead and he isn't coming back. Now get over it." And if she allowed a change to the movie in order to get that point across, then I begrudge her nothing.

The symbolism, conflicts, and themes really made up for the changes that were made, which is why I think the movie can stand on its own. I haven't read the book since the one time I read it when I got it, there were parts I didn't remember, and I still was able to appreciate what was included and what was taken out. Plus, being able to lean over to my boyfriend and say, "Only she can dress a government symbol in a fluffy pink cardigan" was a laugh in and of itself. The scene in the family tree room was so personal, I cried. And raise your hand if you LOVE Mrs. Figg! *raises both hands* There was more that I loved, but I won't go into it here.

All in all, the conflicts of one very overwhelmed Harry translated tastefully to the screen, at least from my $10 front row seat. I saw a lot of myself in the characters this time around, which I haven't seen before because THEY were the outline films, ESPECIALLY number 4.

I may just have to be the odd girl out and give Order of the Phoenix two thumbs up.

Joni said...

Paradox-most of those relationships aren't really featured until book six. They still have time to include Harry/Ginny-and they will. Or I'll personally see that they all suffer. As for Sirius being killed by the curse-I think it was probably more so that people who hadn't read the book would understand what it meant. I don't know-maybe they would have picked up on it with all the crying and yelling and stuff, but throwing the curse in there makes it pretty final.

But I agree with you. It was definitely the best movie :D