Friday, July 10, 2009

Harry Potter and the Slightly Wild-Eyed Fan Rant Over Film Five

“Fudge isn't in his right mind. It's been twisted and warped by fear. Now fear makes people do terrible things, Harry. The last time Voldemort gained power he almost destroyed everything we hold most dear. Now he's returned, and I'm afraid the Minister will do almost anything to avoid facing that terrifying truth.” –Remus Lupin

Phoenix continues the trend of chopping, cutting, re-imagining, and changing that has been the trend in this series since at least Azkaban. If seen just after a reading of the book upon which it is inspired, it is really a terrible film. It is a testament to the greatness of the source material that –independent of a recent reading—it is fairly enjoyable. A list of the differences and changes would be too long to undertake in a simple blog entry. So instead, an attempt to judge the film on its own merits should be made.

The dominate theme of the film version of this story is the fear of evil and the negative effects it has on society. People will do almost anything, including evil things, to avoid admitting that there is evil in the world. In the Ministry of Magic we see some who have stuck their heads in the sand and invent stories as an alternative to the increasing evidence that Voldemort has returned. We also see some who will take advantage of the situation to progress their own agendas and satisfy their own evil tendencies.

OK, forget what is written two paragraphs back; it is impossible to make the themes of this story truly resonate with what is found in the films alone. Here in Phoenix, the actions of Fudge are a result of the choice he makes at the end of the last book. When forced by Dumbledore to either: undertake considerable, personal, political, risk and prepare the world for the fight that has come now the Voldemort is back or take the easy route and pretend Dumbledore is lying, he wimps out. After choosing to believe a lie, Fudge is forced to spend the whole of the next year campaigning against the truth and actually fighting against the people on the side of good. He is not in fact evil, but in fighting the forces of good, he does become a “bad guy.”

His ally in this fight is Professor Umbridge, who in the film is quite annoying and hateful but not nearly as much as she should have been. Still, she retains enough of the original idea to be the best villain of the films so far. Here the film score really manages to shine. In the early moments of the film when the Order of the Phoenix is flying across London, Hooper’s score sounds like the theme song from an 80’s Prime Time soap. However, Umbridge’s theme communicates well the girly, syrupy sweet yet sinister quality of the character. Once we are in the climax at the Ministry the score is in good form, if somewhat cliché in the “2000s fantasy movie climactic battle” vein.

In a complete failure to see this movie as a stand alone story, three moments at least have to be seen as at best missed opportunities and worst defrauding the viewer of the real experience of the book:

The hearing at the ministry is completely botched. In the book it is a brilliant continuation of the Dumbledore-Fudge confrontation at the end of Goblet. It sets the tone for everything to come in this story. We have Gambon to thank once again for playing some version of Dumbledore that only he knows.

The events surrounding Christmas beginning with the attack on Mr. Weasley which are some of the best in the whole series are glossed over in a completely forgettable bit of film. Part of what is missed here is the Neville issue which is the next point.

What is the deal with Neville in the films? How can they botch this character up so badly? We presume they have read the books, so they understand that Neville is important, but they consistently cut his actions out of the scripts! Then to give his character more weight, they cut another important character’s entire role and give it to Neville. What are they going to do with Doby come films 7 and 8? They simply can’t cut him and give all of his actions to Neville unless they intend on having Neville’s ghost conclude the film.

In a way this series of films has become a long string of cutting some characters and giving all their lines to others who don’t have enough to do—because their own lines have been trimmed out. One wonders why the producers didn’t split the three books that could have supported two movies and make money off of 10 or 11 films from the beginning.

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