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Quint trades jinxes and charms with HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. If you’re reading this, then today will probably be the 9th of July (WB wanted me to hold my review until the release date, but I was able to use my charm and deception to get an okay for posting it a couple days early). I’ll most likely be in the final stages of getting my one good suit cleaned for Harry’s wedding and beginning the organization of Comic-Com interviews/schedule. I write this on the 23rd of June. I have an hour and a half in Chicago before my flight back to Austin takes off, so I figured I’d write my review now, while the movie is still fresh in my mind. I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX a couple days ago in London with some other journalists in town for the press junket, including the Potter fansites and good ol’ Garth Franklin from Dark Horizons. I’m also writing this review after having just finished my second reading of HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, a process that started on my flight to London, so I could have that book fresh in my mind while talking to David Yates, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, all returning for the next movie. I caught a little flack in my interviews mentioning that ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is the weakest of the series, for me. To be fair, all the emails I got from Potter fans about it were surprisingly cordial, mostly just curious about my reasoning behind the statement. There’s no doubt that my thoughts of the book will influence my views on the film, but let me get to my specific reasoning after a little of talk about the movie, since most of the reasoning concerns spoiler-ish material. I will say that when I call the book the weakest of the series, that’s akin to me saying that LAST CRUSADE is my least favorite INDIANA JONES movie or that TWO TOWERS is my least favorite LORD OF THE RINGS movie. I still think JK Rowling furthered the story, brought in many interesting characters and did a superb job writing… until a certain point. Coming into the movie, I had no inkling of what David Yates was going to bring to it, I didn’t know what screenwriter Michael Goldenberg was going to add to it. These were unknowns. But I did know the trailers they’ve cut for the film have been fantastic, especially the last one. I am a Potter nerd, so I was excited. From the opening shot you know you’re not in for the same experience. The movie doesn’t open with a “fantasy filter” slapped on. Once the WB logo and title go by, we’re struck with harsh sunlight. It’s a sky-high shot of the familiar suburb that begins most of the movies, but the camera pans and we see that the suburbs are all blocked together, surrounded by a sea of fields. The wind whips the long, dry stalks as a lone figure cuts through them, headed for an abandoned playground. Harry begins the movie a loner, the guilt of Cedric’s death from the end of the last movie weighs on him. This is where I started perking up because I was most interested in seeing how the kind of broody dickhead Harry from the books was going to translate. I’m happy to say that Yates captures his torment, his feeling of isolation and his fear of losing those closest to him without making me dislike the character, which Rowling came very close to making me do in the fifth book. For the first 5 minutes of the movie, we’re treated to a completely non-magical world, so when the Dementors pop up, there is a real feeling of invasion. These things shouldn’t be here and since they bring cold and dark with them, it makes the perfect transition to the magic world again. Another thing that Yates brought to the movie was a sense of naturalism with all the main leads. Emma Watson is beautiful, of course, and this time she doesn’t talk with her eye-brows. When she’s with Ron and Harry, they feel like genuine mates. That’s not to knock their performances in previous films. I think they’ve all been strong since the beginning, considering their age and lack of experience, but especially since AZKABAN they’ve been taking giant leaps from one film to the next. What I mean is that in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX there’s not a typical “bonding moment” or otherwise forced or scripted feeling scene. They just feel natural together, they act like you act with your friends… or at least how I act with mine. The effects are also fantastic. Both Grawp, Hagrid’s brother (a full-blooded giant) and Kreacher (the twisted house elf who calls Sirius Black master) make you forget how poorly Dobby and the Troll were handled earlier in the series. Of course, the effects worlds have made big leaps since the first film, so I won’t crap all over the early ones, but I will say that the effects in the new film struck me as being fantastic. Of the new blood brought in, there’s no one that flops. From Natalie Tena as Tonks (great… but only in the movie for, like, 2 minutes… and she never gives us a “Wotcher, Harry!”) to Imelda Staunton, the perfect villainess, to Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. Evanna is brilliant and having met her when I visited the set, I think the producers were inspired finding this non-actress. It’s almost like they literally held open Rowling’s book and shook it until Luna Lovegood, in the flesh, fell out and asked to be called Evanna Lynch. Also handled perfectly was the political angle, of the ministry taking over the school. The Weasely Twins’ big moment does make you want to cheer after putting up with Umbridge for so long. The movie isn’t flawless. It clocks in at 2 hours and 18 minutes, making it the shortest of the series and I have to say… The shorter running time might make some non-fan parent happy, but I think the movie misses those 20 minutes and would have been better with them. Taking the biggest hit on the lesser runtime is the last 25 minutes. The ending felt rushed. It was fantastically executed in all other aspects. The design of the Hall of Prophecies is amazing. The Death Eater confrontation and the ensuing duel with both Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix is visualized amazingly. You get more than just grown men waving sticks at each other. Once more the movie opens up. You see just what adult magic is like and how out of their element the kids are. My biggest trouble with the books concerned the prophecy itself. I love what it means, in terms of what it adds to the mythos (the topic of choice and how the choices you make decide who you are), but I still can’t help feeling a little cheated. The build up was so big and the prophecy is next to meaningless. For what is lost, for all the struggle, the big pay-off isn’t really anything exciting. It kind of feels like something that should be found in the middle of one of these stories, and not the big deal at the end. I know that’s kind of the point of the prophecy, especially as underlined in book 6, but I was just let down as a reader. Plus, I wanted Umbridge to get a harsher comeuppance. She’s a great villain and you just want to see her get her dues and when the time comes it’s not nearly as big as you want it to be. Those were problems I had with the 5th book… as well as the handling of a certain tragic event with a loved character, which is translated accurately… It just kind of happens in the movie without any build up, just like it did in the book. For the fans, the big stuff missing… no big interview with the Quibbler, the statues don’t fight, no brains attacking, Ron’s stuff is cut (if he’s not standing next to Harry that scene is not in the movie, so no “Weasely Is Our King”), Neville’s involvement in the prophecy is completely removed and the occulemency lessons with Snape are significantly pared down. There’s more stuff gone than that, but that’s what jumped out to me the most. I’ve been asked repeatedly by readers and friends to rank the series, show them where the fifth movie fits with the ones before it. I find this is harder to do than I expected. My immediate reaction is that the order would go something like this: AZKABAN, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, GOBLET OF FIRE, SORCERER’S STONE and CHAMBER OF SECRETS. But I also feel that the first two movies get shit on unfairly. Sure, there are flaws in both, but something Chris Columbus doesn’t get much credit for is just how perfectly he set up the world. His casting was brilliant, even inspired, the visual tone of the movies are perfect. He brought magic to the films. I think AZKABAN might not be the best adaptation of the series, but it’s by far the best movie and I think it also benefited from being a breath of fresh air at the right time. AZKABAN changed gears just when the series needed it, just when it was starting to get stale. That’s one worry I have with Yates coming back for the sixth movie, that we’ll get a CHAMBER OF SECRETS. Again, not to shit on that movie. I do like it, but one of the things I’ve loved is seeing the same cast, same world, used in different ways by different directors. After having talked with Yates and hearing how he plans to completely change up his approach to this film, where Harry’s not the only central character like he was in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, I’m confident he’ll handle it well. Well, those’re my thoughts. I’m really wanting to see the IMAX 3-D version of this and I just found out it’s playing at Austin’s IMAX, so count me happy. I’ll be seeing the movie again later tonight. If my opinion on the movie radically changes upon my second viewing, I’ll come back and add some more thoughts. -Quint quint@aintitcool.com



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