Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Welcome to the New Order

Finally, Harry Potter's gotten a decent clean cut hairstyle, compared to that ghastly shaggy dog manes that he spotted in the previous installment Goblet of Fire. The much touted scene here is The Kiss (about 1 hour into the movie), but seriously, that's much ado about nothing compared to what the rest of the movie has in store for audiences around the world. Just so you know, I've still not read any of the books by JK Rowling thus far, preferring to rely on cinematic magic to condense the ever increasing thickness of the novels into 2hrs and 10-20mins of full sensory invasion.

As a movie franchise installment, it doesn't waste time introducing characters or what's been done - either you know it, or you don't. So for those who have not watched Goblet of Fire, then please do, as Order of the Phoenix starts off pretty much from where the previous left off, with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) left haunted with his experience of battle with the dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who also gained recent notoriety with his mile high exploits). Soon he finds himself devoid of friends, save for those loyal 2 - Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and plenty of pent up teenage angst of being unable to figure things out and make things right.

Yes, Harry's all grown up now, and instead of the usual teenage dalliances, he gets troubled with the ways of the world, of school politics, ministry politics, an evil Lord after his blood, and many more just to make him break. Even the staunch fatherly figures of godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seem so distant when he needed to reach out. Our boy wizard surely has his plate full.

Without spoiling the plot, I thought the movies have already developed a formula in presentation, and its predictability comes in the form of starting with the Muggles, then a little scuffle, before proceeding to Hogwarts for the semester, uncover a certain mystery, get tangled into that mystery, where solving it leads to a major fight sequence, followed finally with some resolution, yet having a reminder loom around that while the micro stuff have been attended to, the macro issue of his parentage, his scar, his affiliation with Voldermot, are still not addressed in its entirety, and satisfactorily.

Despite the structure, I've come to enjoy the franchised installments so far, as they play out like X-Files episodes - with mysteries that can be solved within the episode itself, yet having that long drawn conspiracy theories that continue to make you come back, just to learn whatever you can on new developments. As our characters grow (and actors grow in real world time), the story also develops and becomes more mature - gone are the cutesy antics in the earlier movies, and these get replaced by the darker themes, and in both mood and tone. Certain subplots do seem to get introduced quite haphazardly, but I suppose they're there as unmovable plot devices in order to stay true to the novel's actual plot development.

The supporting cast continue to grow, and the introduction of Imelda Staunton's Folores Umbridge will indeed incense anyone - the quintessential teacher from Hell. Fans of Hermione and Ron will perhaps rue that their idols somehow get lesser screen time, and spend most times in the background. But I thought that each time when they get together and the scene is just on our 3 buddies, you just can't help but feel for the camaraderie so strongly forged, given that they've spent years and 5 movies together already. There's a scene where they smiled (yes it's that simple), but somehow, it rung through as being so genuine, so heartwarming in spite of the story's contextual doom and gloom, it's like a beacon of hope that no worries, everything will be alright. That simple scene alone won me, that this is indeed a movie with important themes on love and friendship, that in the face of adversary, you just know who to count on.

Some may complain that the movie doesn't really feature much or new magic spells, but that I believe stays true to the storyline with many of Umbridge's unwarranted rules and regulations imposed on the student population. But when it's time to duke it out, I'd say the special effects were second to none, with the battles between the magic practitioners nothing less than spectacular, and since it's done by Industrial Light and Magic, then I'll state that they have been designed to be more intense that the Star Wars lightsabre fights - given of course we're dabbling in the realm of magic, where anything and everything goes, and to perfection as rendered in the movie - truly an awesome sight to behold when the masters settle it mano a mano.

I think this is the best Harry Potter movie so far (I've made mention that Goblet of Fire was, back in late 2005), even though it's still a cock tease. Guess we've got 10 days to find out what will really happen to the boy wizard, and thereafter, stay interested enough to want to watch the remaining two movies. I'd like to say that I can't wait (to read about the ending in Deathly Hallows, and for the last 2 movies to be made).

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