12 July 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the first movie I've watched in a cinema outside Singapore. A little on this: I went to the Dendy Cinemas at Canberra Centre on 110707, the first release date globally (and a day before Singapore). Yao rightly commented that this was probably the only moment you can see kiasuism in Australians; the queue outside the cinema was pretty intimidating when we arrived half an hour before screening time. This, however, can be understood as the cinema was free seating.

Back to the film, Phoenix is done quite well as a whole. In my opinion, it scores better than The Prisoner of Azkaban, which was too quirky and cliche to my taste, and The Goblet of Fire, which saw a very rushed pace and off-character acting. In terms of storyline, Phoenix did very well in building up the profile for Umbridge. It started off slick and smooth, and progressed at an excellent pace. But once it neared the end, things started getting too fast. I have read the book so I could at least follow what was going on, but Yao, who never, was quite lost at the end. It appears to me as if the director took his own time to develop the character of Umbridge and stew the plot into the appropriate mood, and then suddenly realised he was running out of time and flipped through the last few chapters. And suffering from the same flaw of GoF, the supposedly emotional and touching part was quite blundered. It just didn't fit into the flow, like a jarring rock breaking the surface of a smooth river. And there wasn't even the "mourning" part; it was as if Harry took a bowl of Forgetfulness Potion.

One of the major challenges that I thought would trip the filmmakers was building up Umbridge, but they amazed me: Dolores Umbridge was successfully ported to screen. Of course, there were some minor differences between the Umbridge from the book and the film, but the essence of her character was very well captured. Imelda Staunton, who plays Umbridge, brilliantly nailed the character's wickedness and provocativeness, sizzling with nastiness that would make one feel like stamping a boot into her face. Another excellent portrayal is Alan Rickman's of Severus Snape. Although he has quite limited screen time, he really did shine with what he was given. Undoubtedly, fans of Rickman and supporters of Snape will be thrilled. Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Bellatrix Lestrange was pretty good as well, but she could've gotten a larger slice of screen time. In fact, considering that the film is slightly more than two hours, the directors could've loosen up the pace of the ending which would, at the same time, give her more time on screen. Finally, whether it was because of irate fans or not, Michael Gambon's Albus Dumbledore was closer to the books now, and I think he did fine with that character.

For someone who has read the book, the story was adapted quite well; for someone who hasn't, he or she may be a bit lost at the end, but the movie is otherwise excellent. In fact, I would even say it is the best Potter movie so far.

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