Monday, July 16, 2007

‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’

For any who may be disappointed with the 2007 crop of summer movies, I give you … “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” not just the best movie of the season, but the best of this franchise, as well.
The fifth installment of author J.K. Rowling’s magical (in more ways than one) seven-part series, “Phoenix” covers the darkest subject matter yet, which makes it ideal for a more adult audience. This is the first film in the franchise that someone could walk in off the street without having seen/read any of the previous chapters and still really enjoy. The movie, obviously with a lot of help from the source material, has it all: Action, adventure, wit, charm, humor, emotion. It’s the story of a boy who finally embraces his talents and his destiny, and in so doing takes his first step into manhood. For the first time, the now 15-year-old Harry doesn’t stumble through challenges using his previous concoction of raw power, big heart, and seemingly blind luck; in “Phoenix” he takes command not only of his own skills, but helps his young classmates harness theirs, too. After watching this kid suffer under the weight of being “The Boy Who Lived” for four years, it’s thrilling and emotionally rewarding to finally see him believe in himself.
“Phoenix” is helmed by relative newcomer David Yates, a 44-year-old Englishman with a mix of TV and film work in his background, and none of it anything most people have ever seen. Thus this film marks a rather stunning big-budget debut, especially considering he trimmed Rowling’s longest novel into the franchise’s shortest movie (“Phoenix” clocks in at a relatively short 2:18). I have nothing to offer most of you out there in the way of changes from the source material, however, as I choose to see the movies first and then read the books later. From my perspective, screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (“Contact”) did a masterful job with his condensed version; the plot moves well and all elements are explained to satisfaction. For someone who didn’t know what was coming, the dynamic story moved along with no sluggishness whatsoever.
And, wow, am I glad I didn’t know what was in store. Rowling has provided some great climaxes in this series, especially in the previous two chapters, but “Phoenix” certainly boasts the best yet. Gates translates the written word into a visual tour de force that I would put up against any of the special-effects-laden cinematic clashes of the past decade.
I could barely get through the first two “Potter” movies, but looking back I must give Christopher Columbus, who directed those installments, a great deal of credit for handling the most important job of them all: casting this crew. I cannot imagine anyone at this point other than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione), and Rupert Grint (Ron) in the lead roles; all three continue to just get better with each movie. The supporting cast is equally superb, especially Alan Rickman as the not-so-sinister-anymore Professor Snape. Gary Oldman, a true chameleon, continues his excellent work as Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black (can you believe this is the same guy who played James Gordon in “Batman Begins”?). And Imelda Staunton steals every scene as buttoned-up professor-turned-Hogwarts-dictator Dolores Umbridge.
I really can’t say enough good things about this movie. It’s utterly captivating, exciting, infuriating (in all the right ways, especially its commentary on government-run education), uplifting, heartwarming, and tear-inducing. It’s the first movie I’ve seen this summer that I wanted to get right back in line and watch again.
And, for what it’s worth, I saw it with two people who HAVE read the books (and whose opinions I respect), and they loved it just as much as me.
Grade: A

No comments: