Saturday, July 14, 2007

Phoenix Nights

Karen and I took the boy to see Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix last night. Well. That’s not strictly accurate. We took the boy along with us to cover the fact that it was we who both wanted to go.

I absolutely love the Harry Potter films though I’m probably one of the few people in the UK not to have read any of the books and I don’t, in truth, intend to until the film franchise is fully completed.

That might sound odd coming from a confirmed bibliophile but I actually have a deep reverence for the cinema. You’re never going to hear me complaining that a movie adaptation of a book is inaccurate or has “left out the best bits”. I don’t expect or want to see a movie that is just a slavish rendition of a novel. Both are entirely separate art forms and should function according to the rules and demands of their own separate disciplines.

Put plainly, a movie is never going to be a novel and a novel is never going to be a movie. And neither should they be. I’m quite happy for directors to run a bit with an idea and change it, reshape it, prune it, mould it… sculpt it into something new. For those that want the novel… well, there you go. It’s there. But the film must be accepted as a thing entire and integral to itself.

For that reason I was one of the few people among my friends who loved V For Vendetta. I also loved the last Harry Potter film, The Goblet Of Fire and found people’s comments about “this has been left out” and “there was so much more in the novel” really tiresome. To enjoy a film adaptation properly you almost have to forget the novel. Give the film a fresh start and a fair go. Hence, I have chosen not to read the novels. There’s too much hype around them. I’m sure they’re excellent and I shall enjoy reading them a few years down the line. In the meantime I’m enjoying the films immensely.

Talking of which, The Order Of The Phoenix, continues the gradual darkening and greying up of the main character’s moral outlook started with The Prisoner of Azkaban. This is a good thing. The world is not a simple black and white place and the politicising of the Harry Potter world is a good thing. It adds more depth to both the characters and the plot.

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and particularly Rupert Grint (Ron) have very much upped their game in the acting stakes and their performances are a joy to watch. They work well together and their (obviously) real life camaraderie spills over onto the screen in abundance and adds a good deal of warmth to the macabre goings-on. My only complaint is that Hermione’s dancing eyebrows – much controlled in the previous film – are now wildly river dancing in every scene and are very, very distracting! Other than that her performance as Hermione is superlative and the slow burning attraction between her and Ron is just charming.

Ron for me is the real star: though Daniel’s Harry has now beefed up both physically as well as emotionally and has developed a very real, very strong screen presence, Ron’s comic timing is absolutely flawless and his delivery so natural that you are utterly convinced by him. He does however look like he’s just stepped out of the 1960’s music scene. I could easily see him in the Rolling Stones or The Small Faces. Lazy Sunday afternoon’s anyone?

It was also good to see Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman and Ralph Fiennes reprising their roles although a fair few of them are looking decidedly creakier than in previous outings. I just hope the older ones are still alive when they to get to the seventh and final film. They’re totally free to cark it after that point obviously. Richard Griffiths as always looked particularly grotesque as Harry’s guardian, Vernon Dursley, but Karen and I were alarmed at how ill he looked. I suspect it was not all make-up and gloy which is rather worrying. Gary Oldman is superb as Sirius Black and there’s a very real warmth between him and Daniel’s Harry that benefits the film immensely.

Some of the new characters are notably excellent too – Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood was fantastic and, as expected, Imelda Staunton was untouchable as the torturing Dolores Umbridge. She was like an unhinged version of Her Maj The Queen.

My favourite though is still John Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy. His tightly controlled cruelty and superiority is always delicious to watch. His sneers drip acid and his voice is like a serrated knife coated in honey.

I could go on for hours but I will spare you all that. Suffice to say the film is excellent. Unlike The Goblet Of Fire though there’s not such a sense of crescendo towards the end. Instead the pace and tension are wound tighter and tighter as the film proceeds to its conclusion and there is no true sense of release. It feels like it’s part one of a two-part story almost. There’s unfinished business. Threats are left hanging. Promises are left to keep. None of this is a criticism. Real life isn’t about tidy, happy endings and I like the fact that the Harry Potter story doesn’t always take the safe kiddie option of nice, neatly packaged conclusions where all the loose ends are tied up. This is a dangerously adult world; not a kid’s world and there is a surprising amount of gravitas and food for thought in that one, single realization.

The Order Of The Phoenix is immensely satisfying and leaves you thirsting for more. That should be a thumbs up in anybody’s book. Roll on number 6 I say.


-eve- said...

Okay, now I want to see it too! I agree with you about the novel never being the film (and vice versa). I usually prefer novels, because then I can visualize it better myself (which is probably why film is so challenging - you have to live up to the mental imagery in different people's minds), but film is an art form in itself, and should be valued as such. Hmmm... I'd say that after the films, you don't really need to read the Harry Potter books, though. The film is good enough ;-)


My girls think that Ron is definitely the best actor of the Harry Potter films, they love him.I have never been able to manage to read any of the Harry Potter books but I do know what you mean about books being made into films.I read Patriot Games long before it was made into a film and when I saw the film I kept thinking that OH THIS IS DIFFERENT and THAT IS DIFFERENT, I did enjoy the film but I was disappointed that it was so different from the book.

TimeWarden said...

I haven't seen any of the films or read any of the "Harry Potter" books but you make a very important distinction in your third and fourth paragraphs.

There is absolutely no point in reproducing a novel word-for-word in movie form because all it would be then is a second-hand version of the original. The film must stand as an object in its own right, independent of its predecessor!

Some of the scenes in the earlier "Harry Potter" movies were filmed close to my home. Age 11, I went to the school where they filmed the school interiors for a year, though my brother stayed for longer. And, my Dad's first car was a light blue Ford Anglia though it didn't fly!!

Steve said...

I think Bladerunner and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep are a good case in point. Both sprout from the same source but both are entirely different from each other... and more importantly both are classics in their own right because of this.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the books myself either...I know, that makes a few of us only...

Sometimes I will read books ahead of films to see if they match my expectations or the crazy workings of my imagination...but I certainly find it tiring when people go on about how much was missed out.

I haven't read Lord of the Rings either but now that the franchise is over I am tempted to pick up the books...But then again being in New Zealand, they don't let you forget...

It is difficult to set all the hype away...especially regarding the Harry Potter's books and films...I will enjoy it when they are done and I can see it for myself.

Steve said...

Hi Janete, good to see you back. I can definitely recommend The Lord Of The Rings though it's been many years since I last thumbed through its pages. It's a great book but rather stiff and a little chauvenistic by today's standards. Don't let that put you off though!