I remember distinctly walking out of the theatre after seeing Order of the Phoenix the first time and being furious about it. I declared it the most awful Harry Potter movie at the time, even worse than Prisoner of Azakaban, which is kind of sad since I didn’t have nearly as much invested in this particular book. In fact, I think Order of the Phoenix remains my least favorite book, though it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so maybe not. Theoretically, the less I care for the source, the less picky I should be about the adaptation, right? Clearly not, that first time.
This time though? I think I did manage to enjoy it a lot more because I just didn’t give a damn. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered. It wasn’t good, mind you, but not nearly as terrible. Maybe knowing that I thought Half-Blood Prince was even worse helped?
[This post contains spoilers for the fifth book and movie and vague hints about the rest of the series.]
Order of the Phoenix is a big turning point in the series. Voldemort has been returned to a physical body and is an active threat once more. He’s killed new innocents. Harry Potter has witnessed death… and is also hitting puberty. Bigger things are brewing, and a lot more people are getting involved. So you would expect a lot of Important Things to happen in this installment and for characters to grow, change, develop.
But Order of the Phoenix is where I feel J.K. Rowling definitively loses her focus and her writing gets muddled. It happened a little in Goblet of Fire too, but it was much more obvious in book five. By then, Rowling had already taken over the publishing world, and I imagine her editors weren’t nearly as forceful about anything. Lots of things are in there that don’t need to be in there. Lots of things are in there that are later forgotten, lost in the sea of other subplots and drama. It’s kind of a mess. But a less-than-stellar source is still not an excuse for an adaptation to suck.
The beginning of the movie does its best to set a foreboding mood, but it’s over-the-top to the point of accidental hilarity, especially with the use of the Trauma Swing trope. Dudley’s torment of Harry is full of bad acting on both sides, an indication of much more to come, though to be honest, I can’t tell if they were being overly forceful and exaggerated on purpose or not. Was it bad acting or just bad directing by new director David Yates? The Dursleys’ reaction to Dudley’s later fear paralysis was also pretty subdued — Vernon really didn’t seem that angry at all, especially considering his fury over the Marge incident. I’m used to cartoons acting with more realistic emotion and consistency.
Cinematography improves under Yates — there are a good number of nice, dramatic shots, and a lot of play with camera focus. I dislike the redesign of the Dementors to look more like corpses and less like grim reapers though — I actually feel this makes them seem less threatening? More like a zombie that you can stop by blowing its brains off and less like a bringer of death and despair. I also dislike that Harry’s Patronus didn’t properly manifest as a stag. It’s still the little things. Especially little things that have no good reason for being how they are. You’d think they’d jump at every opportunity to show off more (corporeal) Patronus eyecandy!
The introduction of the Order and 13 Grimmauld Place were sloppy at best, and there were a slew of miscellaneous changes and cuts, ranging from completely arbitrary (Lupin was missing from the Guard that retrieved Harry) to favoring prettiness over canonical practicality (flying low over a busy nighttime London — great for security) to mildly aggravating (McGonagall is not shown to be member of the Order). Very little is actually said about the Order; we don’t know how they’re actually fighting back, how they worked previously, or really… anything. They are supposedly to be vague and secretive, sure, but this is made worse because of the amount of subplot material that’s cut.
It annoys me that Tonks and Kingsley are the only members of the Order to be newly introduced, and neither are explained very well. I don’t think they mentioned that the former is an Auror or that the latter works at the Ministry. (No time for informative backstory, but we do have time for an awkwardly delivered “Don’t call me Nymphadora!”) As noted in my comments on Deathly Hallows part 1 last year, failure to introduce Mundungus Fletcher (and Bill Weasley) here lead to awkwardness later, but overall, severe downplay in regards to the Order and their goals lead to the titular society playing rather a miniscule role. In fact, not much would actually be affected if they had been taken out altogether (Dumbledore and Sirius could have come to Harry’s rescue at the end, with or without the Order). Kind of sad, isn’t it?
Also, I love how the argument about Harry’s [expressedly forbidden] involvement in the Order is unceremoniously cut off as soon as Harry exclaims, “I want to fight!” It’s like… no, we’re not even going to bother with a counterargument or any sort of character development/bonding here. Oh! Sirius got to grin approvingly at Harry — this is totally a sufficient contribution to the close relationship they supposedly have! Argh! Two-hour movies too short for characters to have depth! Let’s skip to the action!
Being the Longest Book Ever, lots and lots of other things were cut. I am okay with most of this, though much of the resulting scenes of mangled together inclusion are sloppy and poorly thought out. For example, the Percy drama subplot is axed. Okay, fine, whatever — not super important — but Percy shows up alongside Ministry officials retraining members of Dumbledore’s Army and attempting to arrest Dumbledore. After being inexplicably absent for a movie, having a Weasley showing up as an “enemy” is kind of disorienting, if movie-only fans even remember him. Percy graduates from Hogwarts at the end of Prisoner of Azakaban, but this isn’t mentioned at all; he is then 100% cut from Goblet of Fire, where all the family drama supposedly starts. Then, if my memory is correct, he is again 100% absent from Half-Blood Price and Deathly Hallows 1.But he has to be in Deathly Hallows 2, so I’m sure that’s going to be amazingly awkward.
I don’t think it would have been hard to throw in a short bit with Ron shooting off about Percy’s treachery. I tend to think that wouldn’t take a lot of effort to throw in most of these missing informative tidbits though… maybe it’ll be weird and choppy, but it isn’t like the movie isn’t already slideshow of poorly-paced events anyway. What’s another one-liner added to the trainwreck?
But I’ll pass on the play-by-play this time. It gets repetitive. Here are some more disjointed lists instead.
Nitpicky remarks about cut/changed material & other stuff:
- Would it really have been that hard to explain what a Squib is?
- Seeing as they never explained who the Marauders were in movie three, how can we refer to Sirius as Padfoot? (In fact, they referred to Peter exclusively as “Wormtail” in Goblet of Fire and continue to do so…) It can be guessed easily enough that “Padfoot” refers to Sirius’s Animagus form and “Wormtail” to Peter’s, but losing the connection to the Marauder’s Map is a goddamn shame since it is the easiest proof of that generation’s ingenuity. We are also never told that James also had an Animagus form since Remus never got to explain, so… significance of Harry’s Patronus? Pff! Whatever!
- I still don’t know why they took out time for Sirius to give Harry the photo of the original Order (Moody gave it to him canonically); I suppose it provides more (totally rushed and weird) bonding time which is needed to get any kind of emotional significance from Sirius’s otherwise pointless death, but the opportunity seemed poorly utilized. Gary Oldman plays a much better crazy!Sirius.
- The over-dramatization of Umbridge’s numerous Proclamations is forgivable enough considering Umbridge’s character is so shamelessly skewed “evil” that none of the added rules seem terribly farfetched. However, I do think that this, along with various scenes with Filch watching the Room of Requirement, took up a lot of valuable time that could have contributed to developing characters that aren’t so one-sided.
- Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore is still terrible, though as he’s busy avoiding Harry for most of this movie, it isn’t as obvious. But I’m pretty astounded that Gambon’s depiction hasn’t improved at all after three different directors — why does anyone think that Dumbledore shouting “Don’t you all have studying to do!?” furiously at the crowd of students [after Trelawney gets fired] is appropriate and in character? In contrast, Umbridge, Trelawney, and McGonagall all handled that scene wonderfully.
- Dear everyone, “Expelliarmus” and “Stupefy” are not the same spell. Yours sincerely, purists everywhere. PS — “Protego” is also not the same as “Legimens.” I don’t care if it saved you another scene with a Penseive!
- I really don’t know why they even bothered with Grawp. Pointless in the books; even more pointless here, but I suppose Yates couldn’t have guessed just how pointless prior to the final book’s publication.
- Is it just me, or does anyone else think that the Weasley twins’ exit could have been more impressive?
- The CGI centaurs kind of looked like crap.
- The Thestrals also looked pretty unimpressive.
- I hated that the Death Eaters swooped around in black like the [old] Dementors and that the Order of the Phoenix swooped around in white to counterbalance them. Okay for visual clarity, I guess, but a terribly boring substitution for actually choreographing a proper fight sequence. I am so disappointed with the Death Eater VS Order fight.
- Sirius’s death was, amazingly, even more disappointingly arbitrary than it was in the book. Part of me contends that the suddenness of the death is a fair emphasis on the unpredictability and cruelty of war and battle, but most of me doesn’t believe that Rowling or Yates thought about it that much. The death in the movie really, really underscores how poorly developed just about all of the character relationships are though. There simply isn’t enough time to make all the characters that matter, matter. Throwing in some dramatic slow motion when the death happens doesn’t help either.
Things that were actually pretty okay (maybe even good?):
- Luna Lovegood. <3
- Just about everything regarding Dolores Umbridge is perfectly detestable. Imelda Staunton does an amazing job of portraying her, right down to forced smiles and oh-so-aggravating simpering and clearing-of-the-throat. The overly pink outfit and office is perfect. The kittens! The teacups! The sadistic quill punishment! All perfect!
- I’m glad they included some drama with Seamus Finnegan. It seems like a negligible enough detail, but I think the idea that the world can be so easily divided by propaganda and fear is a Very Important concept.
- The Ron/Hermione silliness in this movie was actually pretty good in that it was smooth, natural, and integrated well with the rest of the happenings (for the most part). This is somewhat surprising knowing just how hard Yates pushes Harry/Hermione in both movie 6 and 7.1. I realize that the movie-injected H/Hr is probably there to make R/Hr more “significant” somehow, or to emphasize Ron’s insecurities as are revealed by the locket, but somehow this feels like giving Yates too much credit.
- I really liked the initial interest meeting for the DA. Radcliffe and Watson did great jobs as Harry and Hermione respectively, and I think the overall atmosphere of that scene was accurate and well done.
- The DA meetings in general were good. Harry did come off as an excellent teacher… in fact, he’s so good that basically everyone got their corporeal Patronus in one lesson! <_<
- The condensing job with Harry’s dreams, the attack of Arthur Weasley, the Occulmancy lessons, and the belated reveal of what had happened to Neville’s parents worked out okay while still being noticeably rushed and mashed together. It didn’t flow well, but all the important information was still there, I guess.
- I disliked it and regarded it as unnecessary the first time, but I didn’t mind as much the bit with the Black family tapestry this time. It was a nice enough replacement foreshadowing/warning of Sirius’s fated death, and it did provide yet another opportunity for the audience to hurriedly warm up to Harry’s godfather. Eh.
- I am okay that they used Veritaserum on Cho to bust the DA instead of Marietta tattling, though this does take points away from the “division of loyalties” thing that Seamus contributed to.
- The Department of Mysteries, while inaccurate in many respects, was still pretty cool looking. Especially with all of the prophecies falling.
- The ambiguity in the prophecy is cut, among other things, for simplicity and brevity. I guess I’m pretty indifferent to this.
- Voldemort VS Dumbledore was pretty neat.
So I think I did end up enjoying the movie more because I was resigned to the fact that many of the problems it faced are permanent, perhaps unsolvable, problems. At this point in the series, the relationships between the characters are as important as ever, but because there are just so many characters, and so many relationships between them, it is impossible for someone watching the films to achieve the same level of emotional attachment as someone reading the books. This makes just about everything less meaningful. Sirius’s death feels doubly arbitrary here because Harry has a grand total of five “moments” with his godfather scattered through three movies. And five is actually a lot, all things considered, but it still isn’t enough.
But even more important than Harry’s relationship with Sirius, in my opinion, is Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore. The trust, hope, pride, confidence, and forgiveness — and lack thereof — the pair of them invest in each other builds up so much in these first five installments, and it accumulates to so much in the sixth. And it puts strain on so much in the seventh. That Dumbledore’s explanation for his coldness in this movie is reduced to a two-minute scene of little note at the end of the shining battle at the Ministry is sad. The significance is sidelined, and it’s just… so disappointing.
The theatrical film sacrifices so much in character growth and relationship depth for visual splendor, and it is infinitely frustrating to know that it can’t be any other way. This is what bothers me the most — something that can never be changed. Though at just over two hours, including the credits, Order of the Phoenix is actually the shortest movie… It could have at least tried to be more than that.
Next up: let’s see if Half-Blood Prince sucks less than it did the first time! And then I get to rewatch Deathly Hallows part 1 again! AND THEN maybe I’ll finally drag my butt to the theatre and watch the grand finale like three weeks after it opened!