Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix Movie

We finally finished reading Harry Potter 5 with our toddler so here are some thoughts about the film adaptation before we move on to Half Blood Prince. Below I’m going to post my thoughts chronologically, but let me start with a few high level points to add some context for the specifics to follow:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie poster
  1. This was the last movie I saw without having read the books. I always intended to read the books but, after seeing this movie, I felt I had to because I was left so confused about so many things.
  2. Although I am going to be very critical of this film in my subsequent comments, I did actually like it. It’s a one on the binary scale for me and has some really, really good things to recommend it.
  3. That said, I kind of “resent” this film because it was the beginning of the David Yatesification of the franchise, which I don’t think was a good thing. Yates, if I recall, came from directing TV, not film, and I think it really shows in this and the following movies. They are all serviceable films that hit the major plot points but they just seem less . . . well . . . less. They seem to be more formulaic Hollywood-style movies that focus more on big setpieces and gasp shocking moments rather than deep character development. They are also just less . . . magical (whimsical, charming) than their predecessors, for which again I fault the director.
  4. One of the great faults I find in this film in particular is how much was cut. It is the shortest film in the series and is based on the longest book! WHY??? “I’m a fan of the HP series but I sure wish the movies were shorter,” said no one ever. “We have serious budget constraints so have to shorten the movie even though it is guaranteed to make $1B+,” said no sane person ever. And, per some of my comments below, some of the choices of things to cut just make no sense. The plot suffers a little but the characters suffer even more.

OK, I think those are my big thoughts out of the way. Now let’s delve into the minutiae!

  • My HP book club leader, Becca, made a good point about Dudley being a very heavy-handed, mustache-twirly villain in this film. That’s odd, given that Umbridge is such a compelling villain. Of course, she’s pretty mustache-twirly too, I suppose; she’s just much better at it.
  • Why, you ask, are Dudley and Harry (and not the other boys because . . . reasons) running through fields and into a tunnel? For the same reason that shortly afterward Harry and Tonks fly low along the Thames in the heart of London (which Moody would never allow): because Yates is more preoccupied with cool visuals and set pieces than he is with intra-story consistency.
  • That said, I do like the London flight sequence as it showcases something this movie does very well: the music! Nicholas Hooper does a really good job introducing some new, memorable themes in this film and that is no small task when you’re following in the footsteps of John Williams!
  • The introduction to #12 Grimmauld Place falls really flat for me. Rather than build the world and the lore with its interesting backstory and the Fidelius charm, they just show up, it expands, and we’re done. It’s emblematic of this movie’s whole “go go go, no time to stop and tarry” thing, which is a shame.
  • I think Sirius is woefully underdeveloped in the movies. Most of his development happens in PoA (but most of that is a red herring with a twist near the end), he is all but forgotten in GoF, and he still gets minimal screen time in this film. The end result is that his death isn’t nearly as emotionally meaningful as it should be.
  • That said, Gary Oldman kills it in the little screen time he has. I love the subtle wink he gives Harry at the dinner table at #12 and I have always wondered if he had to practice that in front of a mirror for hours on end to get it just right or if he just nailed it the first time. Either way, most of what is positive about Sirius in the films is due to his acting adeptitude (not a real word but I think you know what I mean).
  • Helena Bonham Carter gets the same kudos: she does a lot with very little screen time and her portrayal of polyjuiced Hermione in the final film is just exquisite!
  • I don’t love Gambon’s Dumbledore during the “hearing.” I don’t find it nearly as offensive as his infamous moment in GoF but he just doesn’t seem to capture Dumbledore’s Dumbledoreness at all. Book Dumbledore establishes an overt superiority to everyone in the room but then tempers it with over the top politeness. It’s charming in its way and very in keeping with his characterization.
  • Gambon instead seems harried, impatient, and frustrated by the proceedings. Some of the fault lies with the director, of course, but I can’t help but miss Richard Harris at moments like this.
  • There is no Quidditch. None. And its absence is conspicuous. Not only was it a significant bargaining chip used by Umbridge in the book that leads to a very convincing abuse of power, but its absence contributes to a bigger thematic issue as well:
  • The minimization of Quidditch, OWLs, and Prefects remove a lot of the “kids at school” feeling in this adaptation. As you know, I subscribe to the classification that Harry Potter stories are British Boarding School Mysteries disguised as Fantasy. The former gives the series so much of its charm while the latter gives it its gravitas. Without as much of the “kids at school with things that matter to kids at school” feeling (and with what little there is – like the Cho love subplot – being poorly done), it loses much of its relatability.
  • On a related note, I would have loved it if the career counseling scene between McGonagall and Harry with Umbridge interjecting had been included.
  • This movie proceeds so quickly. Again, I think that’s the hallmark of a movie that strings together vignettes and fills things in with exposition instead of taking time to develop characters and arcs. As we have been reading the books to our kiddo, we have been blown away by how many pages and chapters go by before we get to any real action. The action isn’t what makes these stories work; it is the characters.
  • And again, I don’t get why these sacrifices were made; the movie-going public would have accepted much more runtime than what we got. It’s not consistent, either: Imelda Staunton does a BANG-UP job as Umbridge and she is the most compelling villain we see throughout the entire film series! I just wish as much care had been taken with the other characters as well.
  • I find Filch’s portrayal in the Yates films to be grotesque and wholly unnecessary. He is portrayed as a bumbling fool in this film and, if memory serves, is addressed directly as an “idiot” by a protagonist in the last one. For a series that tries to advocate for treating everyone well, this is a big misstep.
  • I love the look of resolve in Neville’s eyes as he puts down the Prophet, having just read about Bellatrix’s escape. We can see a spark that will become an ember and eventually a raging inferno of Gryffindor by the last film. Well done!
  • On the topic of Neville, though, the omission of the hospital scene is just such a missed opportunity. SO much character development and back story could have been accomplished instead of cheap exposition.
  • I love the patronus montage – again a great use of music.
  • Poor Dobby. He is basically written out of multiple movies so that, when he reappears and SPOILERS dies, it’s hard to care that much. In the books, he has been much more consistently involved so readers are much more invested. Obviously many people watching the movies have read the books so there is some carryover, but I try to evaluate movies on their own.
  • Add another check to the missed opportunity column: the Dumbledore escape is really underwhelming. They could have done so much more with this scene to earn Shacklebolt’s comment that Dumbledore’s got style rather than just poof-he’s-gone.
  • Grawp is . . . I don’t know, he just doesn’t work for me. On top of it all, his CGI was really bad at the time and it hasn’t aged well. I come back to this again and again but a movie that should have a practically infinite budget has no excuse for bad effects.
  • The Snape memory sequence is really ineffective for me. In the book there is just so much more dimension to it. As someone who lost his father when I was young, I know what it’s like to hunger for more time with him, even if it’s just through the memories of those who knew him when he was younger. Maybe I’m just projecting but in the book I really get that same feeling from Harry during this sequence.
  • That makes it all the more heart-breaking when this cherished time “together” with his father turns out to be far less idyllic than hoped for. It forces Harry to confront much more complex emotions. Instead we just get a one-dimensional, overacted bullying scene that is over quickly and then NEXT!
  • I’m more sympathetic to this omission than the others because I’m sure it would have been a huge effort, but still, I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the Department of Mysteries in this film. The extra rooms in the book did a great deal to expand the world, stimulate imagination, and instigate fan theories.
  • The Veil is totally misused in the movie to the point that I’m not even sure why it’s there. Bellatrix hits Sirius with the killing curse so he’s already dead; his floating back into the Veil is inconsequential. This eliminates all of the omgmaybetheressomewaytobringhimback response from Harry, which is such a natural and relatable feeling. Instead, all we get is the cliche “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
  • The prophecy is totally bungled. Here again, Yates trades any nuance at all for a straight forward plot point: “You have to kill Voldy.” Gone is any of the ambiguity around Harry and Neville or the realization that Voldy may have created his own nemesis, which I thought was very interesting in the book.
  • I know they had to choose a visual language for the fight scene in the Death Room but I think they could have done better. All the smoke-flying around and random bangs seemed pretty meh and it also doesn’t make sense how all the adults got there. If you can just apparate in, willy nilly, what’s the point of any of the Ministry’s security? When I watch really good action films that use action to tell a story through battle, I’m reminded of how meh this one is.
  • The Dumbles vs Voldy battle is a little better because at least it has some visually interesting spells, but it’s kind of the same in the end: all sizzle and no steak.
  • Final gripe: the movement away from robes to modern attire rubs me the wrong way. One way we know this is a funny, whimsical, magical world is that the characters wear funny, whimsical, magical stuff. Take it away and it becomes less . . . magical.

Becca likened this film to a trifle – with some delicious layers and some . . . filler – which I think is spot on. There are some flashes of brilliance in this film: Umbridge, the score, the confrontation scene between McGonagall and Umbridge on the stairs, for example. But so much of the rest of it just seems to be paint-by-numbers pasting together different plot points as if we’re in a hurry to be done and on to the next thing. And that’s . . . just not what I’m looking for in a Harry Potter film.

Published by Bryan Guido Hassin

These are the musings of a global cleantech entrepreneur. This blog began as a way to document my experience during the IMD MBA in Switzerland and now is the place where I publish eclectic thoughts on business, politics, fitness, entertainment, travel, wine, sports, and . . . whatever else is top of mind.

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