Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Potter-Watch (33 of 77) Review: Order of the Phoenix

When others rank the Potter movies, I'm always surprised to find this film in the top two, not only for most critics, but for members of the cast as well. It's a real shame because it remains the worst in the series. It sounds a bit harsh, but I just felt that this was one of the most unnecessary of the films, as nothing important really happens. When watching an entire marathon of the series in the future, just leave this film out, and it makes the sixth relatively more intriguing. As a matter of fact, this one may even steep down into the Twilight zone, where bad things happen to pretty people, and we don't care. Is it a bad film? Well there are a few bits I enjoyed, but on the whole part, this film was kind of disappointing.

The fifth episode picks up where the last one left off, with Voldemort now resurrected, Edward Cullen... sorry, Cedric Diggory dead, and the ministry in denial of the fact that there's a problem at all. And then the film stays there for the rest of its duration. The film moves at a fast pace, is packed into a tight two hour and ten minute runtime, but still feels awfully unnecessary. If you were to ask my opinion, if we cut off everything that doesn't matter in this film, it would be less than an hour long, and it would still be the worst in the series. However, please don't go around blaming David Yates for this catastrophe. The man is honestly a very skilled director.

If I were to point out one man to blame for how this film turned out it would be the writer, Michael Goldenberg. Steve Kloves has done a pretty outstanding job of the first four films in the series for the most part, and if he had consented to return for this film, I'm sure it would have been a great deal better. The dialogue that Goldenberg puts together is absolutely clunky, and rather than bring the plot points together coherently and explain certain things that people who didn't read the books wouldn't know, he just drops random facts from the book into the aesthetic of the story. He never explains such characters as Mrs. Figg, who never appeared in the series before. Grawp practically appears out of nowhere. It's just a bad translation of what is an otherwise good story.

Oh, and in case you didn't notice, the whimsy of the first two films is officially back, and it sucks. How easy it is to forget that people are dying everywhere when a CG Santa is riding around on a broomstick, Fred and George are poisoning Filch, and Hogwarts is being made a wreck by a fireworks dragon. The tone of this film is simply all over the place. It never feels consistent, and leaves you with a weird feeling in your stomach. That may due to the fact that angst is in the air, mostly coming from Daniel Radcliffe. He does decent job here, but he's definitely in danger of becoming far too familiar. You can tell how he'll do something before he does it, and that should just never happen.

Despite the whimsy and all that, it does offer us an interesting villain in the form of Imelda Staunton's Dolores Umbridge. There are so many things I hate about the film, but she isn't one of them. Umbridge is such a foul sociopathic character, and if she was given the Stephen King treatment, we'd be squirming in our seats out of pure fear. As it is, she still embodies this obsessive-compulsiveness and cruelty that simply work in the context of everything. This episode also offers us the last performance from Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, a lot more well shaven than the last time we saw him, and he gets in just enough scenes to make us feel a deep pang of sadness when we know what's coming. We don't feel that when he dies, and that's where the film messes up. All the same, my heart always rips to pieces when Sirius utters one particular line: "When all this is over, we'll be a proper family. You'll see."

One of my biggest problems with the film is the technical credits, which are absolutely terrible. The visual effects are fine, and I have no complaints there. The cinematography either looks like somebody urinated on our characters faces, or it just sits there in a boring and mundane position. Nicholas Hooper composes a score just as despicable as Umbridge, and it's very much to blame for the whimsically vomitous portions of the film. However, worst of all is the script for the film. It'd be one thing to take lines straight from the book, but this film commits a further atrocity, by replacing them with boring and cliched dialogue that could put you to sleep. Ultimately, David Yates' first outing as Potter director leaves a lot to be desired, and when I heard he'd be directing the last three films in the series, I was more than a bit concerned. This installment just doesn't live up to the standard created by the third and fourth films. It would take a while before Potter truly found its feet again. All the same, it isn't quite a horrible film, and despite unbearable slogs through foul territory, it still manages to just barely stay a relevant part of the series.


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