12 Jul 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Review

Well last night, after a couple of years of waiting, I finally got to see the new Harry Potter. Let me first say that Order of the Phoenix is, after Chamber of Secrets, my least favorite book. It's too long, too dark and contains stretches of unimaginable tedium. Despite this, I was still very much looking forward to the new movie. There's just something magical about having a book you've read transferred into moving images.

The reviews I had read about this latest installment prior to seeing it had been overwhelmingly positive. This got me even more excited about opening day. As I sat down last night to watch the film, it is fair to say that my expectations were high. By the time the movie was over, I experienced that rare feeling of having my expectations not only met, but exceeded.

This was, by far, the best of the HP film adaptations. The achievement by director David Yates of transferring 870 pages of text into 133 minutes (the shortest running time of the series, by the way) was nothing short of monumental. Every major plot point throughout the book was expertly crafted onscreen. The casting (always excellent in the films) was pitch-perfect. The art direction of the film matched the book's tone fabulously. And, finally, the acting of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson was actually, for once, very good - something that had always been a little off-putting for much of the previous films.

How they managed to adapt such a large and cumbersome story into a lean running time is beyond me, but they did. Gone were the largely extraneous scenes of HP in the Order HQ. Gone were the needless extra scenes of Grawp. Retained were the fantastically awful scenes with Umbridge (an unbelievably good Imelda Staunton). As for the final battle at the ministry, a tip o' the chapeau to you, Mr. Yates, for visualizing EXACTLY what I had in mind when I first read the book.

Of the new characters, the aforementioned Ms. Staunton steals the movie, frankly, as she conveys the menace, evil and diabolical characteristics of Umbridge through something as small as a smirk and a squeak. Newcomer Evanna Lynch invests Loony Lovegood with just the right amount of cluelessness and whimsy without resorting to quirkiness. And Helena Bonham-Carter, while only onscreen for a few scenes, is truly horrifying as the deranged Bellatrix Lestrange.

Radcliffe and Gary Oldman as Sirius Black bring heart and truly great performances to the film. The scenes they share are among the best and most heartfelt of the entire series.

In short, then, the best Potter yet and, easily, the best movie of the summer. (Most) highly recommended.