Monday, July 16, 2007

Phoenix Never Quite Rises

I have come to think of reviewing Harry Potter movies the way I ended up feeling about reviewing the last three Star Wars movies - with a sense of duty, but little enthusiasm. I have only read the first book in the Rowling series, and so I sense that I am watching completely different movies than the folks who are walking into the theaters with 2,000 pages of supplementary story information.

My experience of watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and really the last two movies in the franchise, is vague appreciation for the stunning visuals, but also narrative disinterest engendered by the certainty that these movies really aren't for me, as a non-reader of the books. The movies are visual tableaus of beloved imaginings for those who have read the books and walk into the theater already caring.

My experience watching Order of the Phoenix was like an acount of my sisters, Alison and Valerie, watching the NBC series Heroes. Here's the story in dialogue form as it was told to me.

Alison and Valerie stare at a television screen.

Alison: Who is that guy?

Valerie: I don't know.

A few minutes later...

Alison: Why did she just do that?

Valerie: I don't know.

Still, a few minutes later...

Alison: Wait a minute, how could that happen?

Valerie: I don't know.

A few more minutes later...

Alison: What does that mean?

Valerie: I DON'T KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I felt like Alison in my Thursday screening of Order of the Phoenix. Why Dementors in Muggleville? And why has the Ministry of Magic has gone all federal bureaucracy? And, why is Harry always moody? And who is she? And him? And him? And her?....... etc.

Having stipulated the above, here are some comments proceeding from my criticly duty to try and offer some kind of review of Order of the Phoenix.

The production value is, as with all the films, stunning and wonderful. There are beautifully realized fantasies over and over through the two hours (and then felt long to me).

The acting is great, as always, with the cream of the British academy all dropping in for what are effectively cameos. The most notable of these were the two scenes that Emma Thompson gets in the film, in which she manages to still make an emotional impression.

So, what's it all about, Harry?

The theme that seemed to emerge in the last moments of the film is that evil can not be avoided, but must be engaged and overcome. A secondary theme is also present in which relationships of love and friendship are better than power and domination, and, we suspect, ultimately more powerful. As with all the movies, I did not see any evil or dangerous themes in the movie. I do not think that Harry Potter is in any sense subversive from a Christian standpoint, and as the above themes emerge as the story heads towards its climax, I can't see how the Harry haters are going to hold their turf. It has long been embarrassingly obvious that J.K. Rowling is no Philip Pullman, in that Rowling's narrative orientation is toward the good, true and beautiful.

The weakness in this latest movie was all in the script. There was just too much story from the book for the writer to service effectively. I was disappointed by the non-existent development of the supporting characters in the movie. Ron and, my favorite character, Hermione, might as well have not even been in this movie. Everybody but harry ends up being frozen in place in terms of growth.

People tell me that it was a remarkable accomplishment to squeeze as much as they did in to the movie here, but achievement or not, I was still confused and hence emotionally unengaged much of the time.

For those concerned about their kids, there is no sex, language, vulgarity or graphic violence in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I didn't find it particularly scary. It plays like Return of the Jedi in terms of the violence being various folks getting banged around and slightly fried by lazer beams.

I recommend the movie for those who like the Harry Potter series. For those who aren't followers of the books, the movies will not be harmful, and are entertaining for their effects and style. Whatever.

No comments: