Friday, August 17, 2007
Growing Up in Public
The following column is reprinted from the August issue of Providence Monthly
Eyes Wide Open
by Scott Duhamel
I am not, typically at least, a huge follower or fan of the following: fantasy films, film franchises, or effects-laden movies, but for some reason I find the Harry Potter series quite appealing. Having never read any of the books, I still find myself wholly immersed in the self-contained cinematic world of Harry, Hogwarts, and the shadowy Lord Voldemort. (Although I do, admittedly, have a tough time writing a fanboy sentence like that.) The newest Potter entry, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, neither elevates or deflates the series, yet it remains a satisfying installment, and gets points for attempting to head further towards the dark side.
Each of the four prior Potter movies boasted distinct authorial voices as directors like Chris Columbus (responsible for the first two, Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, replete with his neo-Disney, energized irreparably American point-of-view), Alfonso Cuaron, (behind the third, Prisoner of Azkaban, with it’s gritty, magical realism) and Mike Newell (responsible for number four, Goblet of Fire, bringing to it an emotional grounding that hovered been whimsy and the portent) came and went. The time around the Potter assignment finds itself in the hands of British TV director David Yates, the man behind the BBC political thriller State of Play. It’s an apt choice, for the Order of the Phoenix, spends much time dealing with the secret politics of recrimination, accusation, trust, and mistrust.
Of course the movie also sets it’s course on the growing pains of it’s three primary figures, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley( Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), who are all in their fifth year of study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. In the course of the film, Harry, beefed-up, hormonal, in a seeming constant state of self-turmoil, is labeled a liar, almost expelled, and beset on at school break by the dangerous dementors, all the while experiencing disturbing visions connecting him to the malevolent Voldemort, nicely brought to dark life by Ralph Fiennes. We also meet new characters like Bellatrix Lestrange (Helen Bonham Carter) a goth’s wet dream Azkaban escapee and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) a new ally to Harry with empathic powers, while Harry deepens his dealings with his godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman).
The movies archest move is the introduction of yet another new member of the Hogwarts staff, Dolores Umbridge, a dowdy, starched matron bent on choking the lifeblood of the student body in the name of terrifying order. British character stalwart Imelda Staunton does an impeccable job as the embodiment of ordinary evil, steely insides covered up by pink clothing, a Queenly-hairstyle, girlish giggles, and a grade school teacher’s singsong delivery. In the otherworldly environment of the Potter series, her middle-class fascist may be among the scariest sights ever.
As always the other sights are a treat in this fifth time out, with Stuart Craig’s delightful production design both artful and evocative, first class special effects that manage to feed the story and not wind up as the movies’ first course, and a couple of dazzling flying sequences that manage to truly soar. Much of the film, as crafted by Yates, pushes close to the feel of the horror genre, utilizing slashing cuts, shock visuals, and an air of impending doom. If the film wilts at all, it stems from Yates inability to successfully shift back and forth between the delicate balance of internal fear and external doom, the sumptuous visual scheme always seeming to favor the latter. Still, the film moves well, and boasts the typical Potteresque pleasures, and, despite its predictable oncoming automatic hold on younger audiences, never dumbs itself down. It’s a worthwhile outing, and, yeah, yeah, yeah, I welcome the next one.