Books and movies offer different kinds of pleasures, and nowhere is this more evident this summer than in the newest movie about a certain...
Books and movies offer different kinds of pleasures, and nowhere is this more evident this summer than in the newest movie about a certain bespectacled teen wizard. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” based on the fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster series of novels, takes us through Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, where exams and teenage angst take place under a threatening shadow: The evil Lord Voldemort, as we learned previously, has returned.
Continuing the increasingly darker, more adult trend of the series, the film version is swiftly paced, engrossing and often thrilling. But in its scope, does it pale by comparison to the book? Yes. Does it seem fairly similar, in mood and theme, to the previous movie? Yes. But, in answer to both questions: How could it not?
You could fill a cauldron with ways in which this movie isn’t exactly like the book, and it wouldn’t matter. We visit the books for the joy of reading, and go to the movies for the joy of watching — for seeing Harry and the Order zoom on their broomsticks over the sparkling lights of London under an indigo velvet sky, or hearing Ron and Hermione banter as snappily as a longtime comedy team, or noticing that the kitten-themed decorative plates on Professor Umbridge’s office wall are meowing in a cute but vaguely menacing chorus. And we go for the pleasure of watching a top-notch British cast constantly surprise us; both the regulars and the newly cast.
That said, many will watch “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” looking in vain for a favorite scene that isn’t there. Rowling took 870 pages to spin her magic; the new team of director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (taking over from Steve Kloves, who scripted the first four movies) have less than 2 ½ hours. Out of necessity, Yates and Goldenberg have pruned severely: There’s no hint of Quidditch, nary a peek at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, no Rita Skeeter or “The Quibbler,” no botched Valentine’s Day for Harry and Cho Chang (the girl with whom he shares a sweet first kiss, under the mistletoe). And many storylines that do survive get fairly short shrift.
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But all these elements are still available to us, most likely sitting within reach on that nearby bookshelf. What’s not on the shelf is newcomer Evanna Lynch’s wonderfully vague, wafting performance as Harry’s schoolmate Luna Lovegood, the girl who “did not seem to need to blink as much as normal humans.” Nor is the way Alan Rickman, as Professor Severus Snape, deliciously slices off the ends of his words as he hisses his lines; you can almost see the shards falling to the floor. Nor are the film’s glorious production designs, which take the descriptions in the book and run wild with details both vast and tiny. The cavernous Ministry of Magic has old-fashioned, iron-doored elevators that whiz in all directions; Professor Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), the film’s pink-clad villain and new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, wears a cameo of a kittycat pinned to her tweedy bosom.
As No. 5 in a seven-book series (the last volume, as surely every Muggle knows, hits bookstores July 21), “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is a stop along the way, rather than an end in itself. Though the story takes us a step closer to Harry’s ultimate battle with the powers of evil (Lord Voldemort, scarily played by a sneering, noseless Ralph Fiennes), it resolves little, and the movie ends on a note very similar to that on which it began. But Yates does well at creating tension, even for an audience who knows exactly what’s coming next. And despite his all-star supporting cast (in which the cozily threatening Staunton is a standout), he gives the spotlight to his young stars — whose acting skills get better and better with each movie.
Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), the perpetual sidekicks, have developed a nice comic rapport over the years, and Grint’s disgruntled reaction to a Hermione lecture about What Girls Are Really Thinking is wonderfully funny. But their more important role is to stand at Harry’s side; to reassure this troubled young wizard that he isn’t alone. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is becoming increasingly angry; his life is harder than those of his friends, and he knows that growing up brings with it an inevitable life-and-death confrontation.
It’s been one of the great pleasures of this series to watch the trio grow up on screen, and a series of memory flashbacks in this film remind us of how very young they were when it began. Now on the verge of young adulthood, Radcliffe has become a confident actor who possesses a gift that’s remarkably like magic: He can tell us a story with his eyes. Whether book or movie, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is a celebration of storytelling; on screen or page, it’s a worthy adventure.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org