Saturday, June 30, 2007

Harry Potter : Order of the Phoenix

Potter film is the best and darkest yet

As Daniel Radcliffe rolled up in a white suit for the Japan premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Tokyo yesterday, hundreds of Japanese girls began to scream in unison: "Kakkoiiii! Kochi mite!" Or, roughly translated, "You're so cool! Look this way!"
They probably won't be screaming "Harry, you're so cool" when they see the film. For a start, he is a bundle of adolescent anxieties: conflicted, often isolated and sometimes murderously angry.
And that much-anticipated kiss with his fellow pupil Cho might put people off. It lingers just a bit too long and there is not enough chemistry.

Yet the film is dark enough to engage adults, familiar enough to reassure us and fast-paced, as 766 pages are packed into two hours and 18 minutes.
And who can watch Harry and friends flying in formation along the Thames and not dream of being able to join him?
Each successive film in the Harry Potter series adds layers of depth while the plot moves into rewarding territory. Existing characters grow richer and more complex while new characters add spice.
In Order of the Phoenix, Dolores Umbridge - the officious bureaucrat sent by the Ministry of Magic to impose its will on Hogwarts - is suitably prim, cheerful and utterly nauseating. Helena Bonham Carter, as Sirius Black's demented cousin, manages to combine lunacy and sex appeal.
Harry is no longer just fighting off monsters in impressive set battles. He is fighting fear of failure and inner demons that wreck his peace of mind. Hogwarts is no longer a sanctuary, as Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid are driven away.
It is hard not to look for hidden meanings as the fight turns political. Harry knows Voldemort is back, but the Minister of Magic blindly insists that he isn't. Subservient media obediently echo ministerial spin against Harry.
Worst of all is the attempt to enforce a soul-crushing conformity at Hogwarts. Students are forbidden to learn anything that might be useful in battle because there's no threat, according to official thinking. Inevitably, exams fill the gap left by real learning.
If the film has one signature moment of pure joy, it's the festival created as the Weasley twins invade the exam hall and wreak havoc.
There are some trite moments. The danger to Harry climaxes as he struggles to evict Voldemort from his own mind. But he is able to win through because he sees his friends and realises he is loved.
Hermione and Ron are ever-present, but their significance in the story seems to shrink as Harry grows. But to dwell on a few weaknesses would be to neglect the obvious point - that Harry Potter is older, bigger and darker than ever. And no one would want to miss his journey.