Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Disorder of the Phoenix


No. As a fan of the books, I’ve put up with a lot of shortcuts, lots of changes in the look of some secondary and tertiary characters, changes in settings, changes in tone, oversights and omissions in the transition from book to screen. I understand that directors are often more consumed by “creative vision” than by a desire to maintain narrative integrity to a beloved book or series of books. Often, that leads bad things, and I have to say that I think that happened in this case.

This movie cannot stand on its own, and it barely stands as a fifth movie in a proposed series of seven. Too much is lost for it to be really anything other than a parody of an outline of the book. It was as if they stapled every ten pages together, the director read the first and last pages for each stapled section, then invented what might be needed to get from page 11 to page 21 without ever looking at what was on the pages between.

Too many obvious devices were used to collapse time and attempt to convey information without panache or craft, and they were overused to the point of being annoying. There were some good points, however. The casting of new characters, Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge were spot on. In addition, they were portrayed fabulously accurately, just as loopy and sweet, or demonically precious as in the book. The Room of Requirement, while too dank and empty, was not as bad as many of the other egregiously inaccurate representations in the movie.

I was very disappointed in the sets; while those that were important and familiar were generally maintained, anywhere a new set was required, the movie fell off the track and lay squirming and whining in confusion. In some cases familiar locations were moved to illogical and inappropriate destinations, leading to significant dissonance for loyal readers and filmgoers. For example, the movie starts off with what had previously been a park in a suburban area being set instead, inexplicably, in the middle of a farm field, where the characters, also inexplicably, were gathered for an exchange of spite and malice. Somewhere out of the cornfields, an urban underpass tunnel appears, where the new dementors show up and are depressingly uncreepy, unformed, and uninteresting.

The Ministry of Magic was the most colossal error in judgment I’ve ever seen. Here we have a series of books, clearly set in England, which has some of the most delightful ancient buildings in the world. Every other movie has visually explored and lovingly caressed the aged, venerable architecture of England and Scotland. It’s part of the character of the books and the preceding movies. I asked my husband, who has not read the books, what he would expect a Ministry of Magic to look like. “Old, fairly plain, like a government building, and some interesting magic stuff,” he replied. I don’t think he was alone in thinking that the MoM would, in some remote manner, be similar to the other sets we’ve previously seen and enjoyed.

Instead, someone huffed paint thinner and designed a MoM which looks like Hell’s Bathroom with Neo-Nazi accoutrements, plus a little video equipment from the year 2060. The statues were lovingly designed by Dr. Seuss’s evil robot clone and then blown up to the size of dragons before being set in gargantuan bird food dishes, which were then covered in gleaming black tile, as were the walls, ceilings, floors, and doors of the rest of the building. At first I thought the whole thing was a holodeck set from Star Trek. There are sort of fireplaces for apparating into via Floo powder, but it was hard to tell with all that shiny black tile screaming at me.

(I’ve been advised that I’m remembering it differently from someone else, who doesn’t recall all the black tile. Each of us has only seen it once, so I admit the possibility of error.)

It failed on so many levels –inconsistent with being a “government” office building, inconsistent with the time and place, inconsistent with the description in the book, inconsistent with available technology or even magic, visually appalling, confusing in a bad way, and utterly out of character for a set in a series of movies where everything else is, frankly, more Dickensian than Futurama. Yuck, yuck, and double yuck.

I’m no stranger to symbolism, but attempting to evoke Nazi propaganda films is appalling. I am personally opposed to overuse of that particular caricaturization because it diminishes the truly heinous evil of the Third Reich. My view of the crackdown on discussing the return of Voldemort, making sport of Harry and removing Dumbledore from his honored positions is more like what’s been going on the US since George Bush invaded Iraq. It’s not Nazi Germany; it’s rotten, but it’s NOT Nazi Germany.

I also think there were a few instances where character development was inappropriately rushed to conserve time. I can generally go along with it, but, when added to the above departures from the book, it merely grates on already raw nerves.

Then we have the category of things that were just Plumb Stupid. Again, I’m no stranger to symbolism, but when Filch is nailing Ministry Decrees 20 feet in the air (ostensibly to show how ludicrously many are being issued), how is anyone supposed to read them in order to follow them? One simple example of a student pointing a wand at one and the decree speaking aloud would have been enough to excuse or explain that particular choice. The Owl examinations were wrong, wrong, wrong, they left out the swamp, Grimmauld Place was almost sarcastically pinched, and the fight scenes in the MoM left out everything except the Prophecy Room and the Veil of Death arena. Ptui.

Another 30 minutes and more attention to the details that Potter fans love, and this could have been the best of all the movies. There was so much rich material to work with, and we got a tongue in cheek, amphetamine infused extended trailer instead. I hope the DVD will include scenes that were cut, and that with repeated watching, it’ll grow on me.

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