This Friday night at the movies, I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the bespectacled little spell-slinger. As a longtime bookstore employee, I came to dread the summer time releases of the newest book in the series and the midnight magic parties we would have to hold for the event. My old manager grudgingly allowed me to be exempt from having to wear a purple cloak with crescent moons and silver stars when I told him that he could fire me if he had to, but there was no way I would ever wear such a thing. We had fights break out in the parking lot when initial orders of Goblet of Fire sold out after an hour and I had to call the sheriff’s department to come settle the riled butterbeards before a muggle riot broke out. To be frank, I have never read the books. Not any of them. I can’t really say why because I enjoy reading in general, and I enjoy reading fantasy in particular. If pressed, I would say that it has something to do with my contrarian instincts. Some part of me feels that if that many people like something, it must be a little crap. I realize this is not a logically tenable position, and there are a million and one contrary examples of good, popular art, but there you go. So I can’t speak to their merit as pieces of literature, but it always made me a little angry that this particular bit of “youth-oriented fiction” flew off the shelves while lyrical, moving, and philosophical young adult novels like The Golden Compass moldered on the shelf in relative obscurity.
But that is neither here nor there, and despite my apprehension at the series of novels, I have faithfully watched all the films. The first two didn’t really do it for me, but with Azkaban I was hooked. I hadn’t heard too much about the director, but I was blown away. The newest movie, which I saw in a packed Metreon theater with a median audience age of about 30, doesn’t quite measure up to the third entry but it comes in a close second. Although movie clocks in well over two hours, things move fast and there isn’t much time for sub-plots and side stories. That is fine by me, and if I ever decide I need the missing texture, I will go and read the novels. As a film, I think it works. The main plot feels busy, but in a good way. Between underground resistance movements, prophecies, court proceedings, and educational reform there is plenty of ground to cover. Things like Quidditch and Diagon Alley have to make way for the return of Sirius Black and the creeping, Thatcherian menace of Dolores Umbridge. The movies are becoming more and more adult as Harry goes through his depressed, isolated teen phase and learns that the world is more than just simplistic good versus evil. This really comes across nicely in a scene where Harry ends up entering the mind of the delightfully prickish Severus Snape and sees his own father being as big a bully as Malfoy ever was. It humanizes Snape and underscores the point that the world is a more complicated place than the childlike Harry had thought.
It’s not all awesomeness though. The sprawling plot can feel a bit bloated, and it seemed to me that Ron and some of the supporting cast didn’t get all that much to do and the magical hijinks of recent entries mostly fell by the wayside. One of the problems I’ve always had with the books was that I didn’t like the way magic was presented. Candy that makes animal noises is all well and good, but I want to see these wizards throwing fireballs and summoning lightning elementals. I know it has been more kid-friendly, but I like what I like. This movie shifts the magic into a whole new level with an actual magical duel that pretty much blew me away. Spoilers prevent me from elaborating, but suffice it say there is some serious magical ass-kicking that goes down in the final act. The movies are getting more and more to my liking, which may have something to do with protagonists getting farther and farther from bing children, a larval state I find irksome in cinema. I’m eagerly awaiting the next one, as I will be for the next couple years.