Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I just re-read my comments on the first four films, and there’s a funny thing. I rated #4 the best of the lot … and I can’t really remember much about it. I’ve been a fan of both the books and the movies, and I’m waiting along with everybody else for HP and the Deathly Hallows. (I don’t think Harry will die, do you?) So … why didn’t this one excite me more?
I scanned some other reviews, and the ones who had a bone to pick mostly didn’t like that this one was so dark. (In both the figurative and literal senses; I had a hard time seeing what was going on a lot of the time.) Of course, the book was dark. The whole series is getting darker as it goes along, as it should. The first one was nothing but fun, in spite of the dangers involved. These were kids, they were studying magic, everything was delightfully wonderful. What’s not to like? Wouldn’t you like to go to Hogwarts, even if an evil mastermind was out to kill you? Sign me up, I’ll take my chances.
Now the kids are growing up, almost grown, and if we want to get metaphoric—which Rowling isn’t shoving down our throats, but I think it’s entered her mind—this is a tough time even if you’re not engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the Prince of Darkness. Hell, struggling with your own hormones is scary enough. As we move from childhood, many things become a lot less fun, and that may be sad, but it’s a fact. It is entirely right and proper that as her initial audience of 10 to 14-year-olds mature, the books should grow more adult along with them. It was inevitable that, as Harry was never intended to remain young forever, like Nancy Drew or Tom Swift, and the author intended all along that he would grow into a man’s estate, the mood would get more serious.
But I miss something, and I guess it’s just the sense of fun. I know that’s unfair, and how many jokes can you make about any-flavored-jellybeans? How many times can you re-capture the wonderful whimsy of owls delivering the mail? The answer is: Not forever. And it’s sad, as I guess all lost innocence is sad.
I didn’t love this movie. It’s not bad by any means, but I didn’t gasp in delight.
Something else: We saw this at the drive-in, and a couple of times I looked around at the three other screens to see the tiny, far-away action playing out there. Transformers. Live Free or Die Hard. The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. How did we come to this? Okay, it’s summer, it’s a drive-in, what did I expect, okay, okay, okay. But special effects used to be in aid of the plot. When did we tip over the edge to the point that the SFX now drive the plot? Are the only reason for the existence of the plot? I’ve given up railing about making movies out of comic books (or “graphic novels,” as their apologists sometimes call them), but when did we start making movies about toys, fer chrissake? What’s next? Attack of the Lego Creatures? Erector Set: The Movie?
Bigger is no longer better, at least not in my book. For a while, that worked. What new CGI creations do you have to show me, Hollywood? Oh, boy, that was snazzy, I’ve never seen that before! Now … yawn. Been there, done that. There is nothing new you can show me, Hollywood, nothing at all. You’ve reached the limits of CGI. I’ve fucking seen it all. I am not even tempted to see Transformers. So they change shape and fight a lot. Big deal. Now how about giving me a story that means something?
The Harry Potter series is still delivering on the story, but it’s also getting caught up in its own dazzle. It happened with Star Wars. The first was sheer WOW!!!! The second, gee whiz. By the time Return of the Jedi came around, I was feeling dissatisfied and wasn’t sure why. Now I know. I’m bored!! Oh, right, here it comes, another goddam stinkin’ light saber duel. Five minutes of screen time, the CGI people can do it in their sleep now, they can phone it in. Time for a snooze, wake me when it’s over. And you know what? One more scene of wizards hurling light at each other from the tips of their wands and shouting “Expectorate!” is just a goddam stinkin’ light saber duel, too. It’s too bad that it’s the dramatic climax of this film, because I was … bored. Spitless.