Saturday, July 14, 2007

Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter Audiobooks

I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at the midnight showing Wednesday, and then again with my daughter and her friends Wednesday night. No matter how good a job they could possibly do with the films, they can't come close to matching the books for richness of detail, emotion, and magic (in all senses). They always make me want to "read" the books again.

I say "read" because I listen to the performances by Jim Dale on the audiocassettes. I've gushed about him before. He doesn't just read, or raise his voice a little to signify a female speaking. Every character is distinctive and unique, and it's a true performance.

There's a bit of music at the beginning and end of the audiobooks. I'm not sure if it's Listening Library music or unique to the Harry Potter books, but it will always indicate HP to me. When I first hear it, even if it's at the beginning of a book I have listened to half a dozen times, it gives me a little thrill of pleasure. And when I hear it at the end of the book, it brings with it sad satisfaction.

I imagine next week both reactions will be intensified.

So, the movie. I always have to see them a second time, because the first time, no matter how hard I try, I can't help having a running mental commentary about the changes they made and why, and whether or not I like them. In the second viewing, both what they did best and what was flawed are enhanced.

WARNING: There are spoilers to the movie in the next bit.

Spoilers to the book, too, I suppose, but if you haven't read the book by now...

Things I Didn't Like

1. The stripped prophecy

They shortened the prophecy and made it basically say that Harry has to kill or be killed. I know they did it to simplify things. They eliminated the element that meant Neville could have been the Chosen One, which I'm okay with for the movie's sake. You want people to be able to understand what's happening without too much exposition and confusion. But they removed what I felt was one of the most important points about the entire book: It's our choices that define us. They made it so that the prophecy must be fulfilled. Not that Harry has to choose whether or not to fulfill it.

2. The length

The director felt the other movies were too long (which is so not true--ask any true Potter fan, and those are the ones who go see it over and over again, so those are the ones that make up the bulk of the income). He seems to take great pride in making the longest book into the shortest movie. But I think making it even 10 or 20 minutes longer would have made it more satisfying.

They were trying to emphasize the level of fear, but they did it by telling each other all the time that they should be afraid. Adding Molly's scene with the bogart that kept changing into everyone she loved, dead, would have gone a lot further to showing us the stress and strain they were all under.

3. The very, very bad editing

This was more the case in the first half of the movie than in the second half. There was scene after scene that went like this:

  • Establishing shot
  • Character one, dialogue, one line
  • Character two, dialogue, one line
  • Transition to new scene

By the end, it left me feeling like I'd satisfied a craving with inferior chocolate.

4. The Melodrama

Sometimes it was musical (during Dumbledore's final words at the weak trial). Sometimes it was acting (Hermione, in several scenes). Sometimes it was dialogue that was trite and dull (Sirius telling Harry he's not a bad person, just a good person bad things have happened to, as if he didn't know that). It wasn't through the whole movie, but when it came up, it was very obvious.

5. Not Enough...

Ginny. Ron. Kreacher. Dursleys. But most especially, Fred and George. That's a minor complaint in the grand scheme, though. Except about Fred and George.

Things I Really Liked a Lot

1. The Casting

Everyone's been saying all along that Imelda Staunton and Evanna Lynch were perfect as Dolores Umbridge and Luna Lovegood, and I totally agree. Some of the description of Umbridge didn't make it to the screen, but the spirit was completely there, and there wasn't anything about Luna that I can think of that was wrong or weak. Comparing to the horrible miscasting that is David Thewlis (a talented actor but SO not Remus Lupin) or the astonishing character assassination that was Michael Gambon's interpretation of Dumbledore, these two performances were inspired.

Bellatrix was slightly over-the-top, I thought, despite her suitability for the role, but that isn't a big thing. It's a matter of degree alone, and Helena Bonham-Carter's treatment is probably more like the author's vision than what I have in my head. I loved Tonks and wished she'd had a bigger role. I hope they keep her in the sixth movie.

2. The DA

The scenes where Harry is teaching the DA were so great. You could see his confidence building, as well as everyone else's, as they learned how to do patronuses and stupefy each other. I found it curious that they put levi corpus in this movie (as one of the things the DA learned--and it wasn't how it works in the book) when we don't see it in the books until book 6, and wonder what that means to the role of the half-blood prince in the script. And I still don't get the central role of "Nigel," who is solely a movie character. But this section was truest to both the spirit and the reality of the book scenes.

3. The Possession

At the end of the battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort, Voldemort possesses Harry. Since in the books we obviously experience this as Harry does, inside, blind and in horrible pain, I knew it would be difficult to express on film. I'm not sure everyone who hasn't read the books will know what's going on, but I thought they did a good job with it.

4. The Atmosphere

The world building in the movie is STELLAR. I suspected that some of the trimming might have been due to budget, and read an article last night that talked about that very aspect. It looked like the majority of their budget went into the sets. Sure, they trimmed out nine-tenths of the Department of Mysteries, but the Hall of Prophecy and the Death Chamber were awesome, as was the rest of the ministry. The Fountain of Magical Brethren was huge and breathtaking, what little we could see. But my favorite was the Black house. It was exactly as I'd pictured it on the inside, right down to the troll-leg umbrella stand that Tonks tripped over.

5. Harry

Let's ignore the hair, which has NEVER been right. I always thought Daniel Radcliffe was well cast, and that when he hit a note ("I can figure out the right sort for myself, thanks"--to Draco in movie 1) it really resonated. When deeper emotion was called for, though, he tended to slide all over it (as in movie 3, when he was supposed to be so upset over Sirius betraying his parents). But it's been a lot of fun watching him improve with each film, and really embody the character so well. He's not perfect, but by the seventh movie I think he will be able to do it complete justice. And judging by the kiss with Cho, his kiss with Ginny will be everything I want it to be.


MaryF said...

I thought Daniel did a great job in this movie. I am with you, wanting it to be longer, and wanting to reread the book. I also agree the editing was problematic. I really liked Luna. Unfortunately, I don't remember enough of the book to compare!

Natalie Damschroder said...

No, that's a good thing, Mary. I wish I didn't remember the book so well. :) I think my husband liked it more because he didn't.

Four more days for the book!