Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Movie: The Screening: I Went

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Just back from a screening of Order of the Phoenix. I think I’m probably not supposed to say too too much about this. There’s a lot out there already anyway. But I will say this: it’s quite good.

As much as I like the books, I haven’t really ever been totally sold on Potter as a movie franchise. Maybe it’s because of the revolving directorial door, maybe it’s the length of the books (way too complex to fit comfortably in a two-hour movie), maybe it’s the inevitable uneven-ness you’re going to get when dealing with lots and lots of young actors, maybe it’s just the difficulty of reproducing Rowling’s delicate balance of charm and grit, and avoiding treacle. Maybe I’m just a books-snob. I couldn’t even sit all the way through Chamber of Secrets.

But — to me — Phoenix is by far the most successful of the movies, right from the opening scene, with Dudders and the Dementors. This was always among Rowling’s best openings, and this Yates fella — the director, whoever he is — gets what it’s all about, which is wiping the last of that Chris Columbus vaseline off the lens and projecting Harry’s fantasy existence into a naturalistic suburban world. It has almost a documentary feel to it, and the harsh realism of the visuals — you can practically count Mr. Dursley’s gin blossoms — makes the magic that much more magical. And someone had the wit to keep Radcliffe from shaving for a couple of days, a detail that really sells Harry as a teenager now, not a child.

The plotting is a bit compressed, the pacing totally hell-bent, but what can you do, there’s a lot to get in. Whoever did the script — I think they brought in a new writer — showed some skill (and some guts) in nipping and tucking Rowling’s plot points where necessary. And I’m really not going to say anything much about the showdown at the Ministry of Magic, except that, you remember that slightly unintentionally funny duel between Gandalf and Saruman in Lord of the Rings, where somebody ends up spinning on his head? This is nothing like that. When Dumbly and Voldy get down to it — well, that’s what a wizard-fight should really look like.