My Review of Harry Potter and the Order of Fries–er, the Phoenix

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:34 pm

This joke shamelessly appropriated from Alison Bechdel and her delightful comic Dykes to Watch Out For.

Margaret and Shawn were all set to go see the ten o’clock showing of the aforementioned at the Majestic Bay Theater yesterday and, what the hey, I decided to go with them. It was that or order take-away sushi and play Prey all night, and this way I at least got to eat some very nice Indian food and some frozen Junior Mints. The theater was packed, but given that this was a ten p.m. showing, the vast majority of the audience was over the age of twenty and everyone was very solicitous of their neighbor. We had a nice pre-movie conversation with a German citizen on our left who has been living in the Seattle area for about 8 years….apropos of nothing save the overall cordiality of the audience. Good thing, as I almost never attend the cinema, given the less-than-stellar quality of moviegoer they’re letting into theaters these days. I was more than prepared to bail out and spend the evening at Cupcake Royale next door if things had started to sour. Even brought my laptop. 🙂

Anywhoodle, about the movie itself….

It should be noted for those who may not be aware of it—say, someone who does not know me, has never visited my site before and only managed to stumble upon this entry whilst scouring the Web for nude pictures of Erin Esurance—that I am in no way a Potterhead. (My ever-so-clever term for the slavering throngs of Harry Potter fans, of all ages. I happen to like how the term combines the epistemological lacuna embodied in the term “pothead” with the hideously upbeat, loopy idiocy of the term “Parrothead” {the self-administered label for fans of Jimmy Buffett}. Do not, however let this lead you to believe that I feel that people who enjoy the wizard-oriented fiction of JK Rowling are in fact themselves devoid of personality, hapless yahoos, intellectual or sociocultural chamber pots, etc. No such thing. I just get so sick of hearing about the whole goddamn thing that I feel the need to strike out against it in any way possible, the more base or puerile the better. I seriously considered celebrating my wife and housemate’s trek to the Majestic by staying home and watching some Harry-Potter-themed pornography….sort of the Potterhead equivalent of performing a Black Mass. Sadly–or really, perhaps not–I did not get my act sufficiently together to find any in time.) I have not read the books, bought the video games, or eaten the hideous jellybeans, nor do I intend to. Any slight impulse to read the books has been quashed through repeated exhortations from the ranks of the Pottered….not to mention my own less-than-pleasant tangential brushes with the culture. For God’s sake, just today I heard a news teaser on a local AM radio station about a psychologist offering tips on how to help your kids deal with Harry Potter’s purportedly imminent death in the final book of the series. I have an idea: how about you put your hands on little Timmy or Susie’s shoulders, look him/her straight in the eye and say, “HE WAS A CHARACTER IN A BOOK. HE CAN’T DIE BECAUSE HE WAS NEVER ALIVE. GO PLAY A VIDEO GAME OR SOMETHING.”

What? Oh, yeah, the movie. Right, sorry….

Despite having never read the books, eaten the cereal, used the Dumbledore Brand Home Enema Kit, etc., I have seen all of the movies. This strikes me as a fair compromise, because it allows me to get a glimpse of the plot, characters and setting while not getting totally immersed in all the Potterage. Sticky.

The first flick, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was a big ol’ brimming mugful of “Meh”. I mean, yes, the magic elements were quite clever, and little what-his-face with the glasses made an adorable Harry, and wow isn’t a fully-animate chocolate frog kind of a neat idea for a candy. But it was obvious even to someone who had never read the book that the powers-that-be had cutsied up the whole thing to an almost unbearable extent, and I found myself hoping in vain for something to come along to darken the atmosphere up a bit. I mean, it was like I was watching something made for children, you know?

Much like the books—so I’m told—each successive film did exactly that, and by the time you get to the current theatrical release, things have gotten quite dark indeed….sinister, really. As is only fit for a story about a being of pure evil attempting to rally an army of talented, unstable misfits and blackly scheming power-mongers for a battle against the powers of good. Harry’s nightmares involving the return and ascendancy of Voldemort are at times quite disturbing, and the whole film carries a—ahem—timely message about the politics of fear and the consequences of rash acts in the name of doing something.

And—joy of joys!—no fucking Quidditch.

Shawn brought up a really fascinating point about the style of the film; that all of the villains in Phoenix are exceedingly well-dressed, very nattily and expensively attired, while the heroes are all dressed in street clothes or other modest wear….sometimes in outright rags. This proletarian message is brought into sharp relief during one of Harry’s nightmares, where he comes across Voldemort in a rail station, dressed to the absolute nines in a perfectly tailored black suit with almost invisible black pin-striping. He looked like James Bond after some super-villain torched his nose off with a laser.

The acting is good all around, with the usual cast of “kids” (what, eighteen these people gotta be by now?) putting out the good-to-quite-good performances that hopefully make George Lucas even more suicidally ashamed for casting that horrid little no-talent bowl-headed imp as the starring role in The Phantom Menace. The choice of Imelda Staunton for the role of the Inquisitor for the Ministry of Magic was inspired. She transforms effortlessly from bumptious biddy to sociopathic control freak before your eyes, and it’s both fun and a little creepy to witness. I recognized a couple of actors, George Harris and David Thewlis, from their stints on the amazing BBC crime drama Prime Suspect. Helena Bonham Carter had a minor role as Bellatrix Lestrange—whoever the fuck that is—and seemed to be reprising her wardrobe and makeup from her stellar performance in Fight Club, with eyeballs courtesy of her role as Ophelia in the 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet. Ralph Fiennes makes a supreme Voldemort, at least as far as I can tell having never seen the dude in print.

I agree with both Margaret and Shawn the climactic standoff between Voldemort and Dumbledore was one of the best treatments of a battle between magic-users that has ever been presented on screen. It took a slightly different direction than, say, the battle between Gandalf and Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring. While I appreciated the lack of “fireworks” in that particular battle (i.e., no massive light show to indicate the forces at play), the quasi-martial-art moves with their staffs was a little goofy. What, you can’t shake the spell out of the staff without whirling it around a few times? Need a little centrifugal force to wankle that sucker loose?). The director of Phoenix decided to do the light show thing, with the two wizards straining back and forth against the tidal forces of, well, a bunch of pretty lights. But it went further than that, and held (once again, I am told) to the elemental/metaphorical nature of the battle in the book, with each combatant conjuring what basically amount to thoughtforms to wield as weapons against the other. Very spectacular. the film ends shortly thereafter, with a real sense of anticipation and foreboding for the struggle to come.

I’m surprised but not at all embarrassed to admit that I really liked this movie. This will be the first of the Potter films that I would actually be interested in owning and watching on DVD. I’d recommend it to just about anyone, Potter-besotted nor not. :mrgreen:

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