Bright Lights Film Journal

Harry the Fifth Comes In Third

OK, the latest Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to give the full name, isn’t a bad flick, it’s no Live Free or Die Hard, which needed way more explosions (SO I COULD STAY AWAKE!), and it’s probably as good as Harry One, or Harry Two, or Harry Four, none of which I can remember in any detail at all, except that at the end of Harry Four we finally get to meet Valdemort (big whoop), who, I’m almost positive, is the guy with no nose who shows up in Harry Five. And, I’m reminded by Harry Five, this kid gets killed at the end of Harry Four. None of this sticks in my mind too much because I haven’t read any of the books.So, as I say, Harry Five is probably as good, or even better, than Spiderman 3, but no way is this flick even close to Harry Three, which is formally titled Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.[1]Harry Five is consciously “darker” than the earlier films,[2]because, after all, Harry is entering puberty and starting to, you know, masturbate (OK, that is not in the film), but that’s no reason to drop all the clever touches, like the Knight Bus, or the singing toads in the “Something wicked this way comes” chorus, of the “monster book” that really is a monster, that made Harry Three so much fun. There isn’t much that’s new in Harry Five. The creepy winged critters (Thestrels) that only Harry and the little blonde girl (Looney Luna)[3]can see look an awful lot like reptile versions of the hippogriff, and, because everything is so “dark,” we can hardly see them. And, of course, the hippogriff is much more important to the plot of Harry Three.[4]

It’s the plot of Harry Three that really stands out, the way that Hermione manipulates time to make everything come out right in the end. Not only do we learn why Hermione is so smart (because she can control time she can take twice as many classes and do twice as much studying as anyone else), but in the final sequence, where everything goes wrong, Harry and Hermione go back and make everything right. Along the way, they also show us that we only thought we saw everything go wrong. This double sequence, which stitches everything together in the manner of an 18th-century novel, is one of the best I’ve seen in films, a lot better than the one in, oh, I don’t know, Citizen Kane, for example.[5]

There just isn’t much cleverness in Harry Five. The dummies at the Department of Magic screw everything up, because that’s what bureaucracies do. Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who sometimes seems like a parody of Margaret Thatcher (who, of course, hated bureaucrats), is entertainingly malicious, but ultimately she doesn’t prove to be much of a menace. If, when push came to shove, she’d turned into an enchanting temptress, to lead Harry over to the dark side, as it were, now, that would have been fun. Instead, we get a lot of Harry having bad dreams, courtesy Valdemort, of course, but showing a character having bad dreams doesn’t really dramatize torment. When Harry’s in real trouble, Dumbledore or someone else pops up and saves him, in contrast to Harry Three, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione all had to save themselves.

Harry’s first kiss, with Cho Chang (Katie Leung), lives up to expectations, and the gang gives him a proper rassing as well, but why isn’t Cho now part of the gang? We get the feeling that Harry’s embarrassed to be seen with her socially. Most of all, there isn’t enough of the gang. I’m big fans of both Ron and Hermione, and they don’t have enough to do in this pic. As for the Order of the Phoenix, well, they seem to be a pretty motley crew. Who needs adults anyway?

For enthusiastic thumbs up from real Harry Potter fans, go here and here (scroll down).[6]

This is the first Harry Potter not scripted by Steve Kloves, who also wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys. Michael Goldenberg, with remarkably few credits under his belt, did the script for Harry Five. Goldenberg worked on the 2003 version of Peter Pan, which explored the latent sensuality of that work in a way that earlier films hadn’t, at least, that’s how Roger “Mr. Latent Sensuality” Ebert sees it. David Yates, a relative newcomer who previously had mostly worked in British TV, was the director. Alfonso Cuarón directed Harry Three.

[1] Microsoft Word can spell “Azkaban.” Not too shabby!
[2] Because it’s “darker” and more grown up, we get a lot of talk about good and evil and freedom of the will, too much, inevitably. Don’t talk, dramatize!
[3] Looney Luna (Evanna Lynch) would probably make more sense to me if I’d read the books. She shows up at several dramatic moments, but I could never tell why.
[4] The Dementors, which we first saw in Harry Three, also show up in Harry Five, but they’re so “dark” (we can’t see their death’s head faces) that they aren’t as scary. I’m guessing that Harry Five, despite all the “darkness,” was deliberately made less frightening than Harry Three, which, with its werewolf and black dog transformations at the end, was probably too intense for a lot of kids. It certainly would have been for me.
[5] I never saw the point of that “twice through” bit. It just made the film more boring.
[6] Kingtrio9 from Kansas is ga-ga over Natalia Tena as Nymphadora Tonks. “Natalia is sheer delight. She is the penultimate punk rock witch girl (think Dead Milkmen here).” I am thinking Dead Milkmen here, dude, and I’m liking it, a lot, but if Natalia is the penultimate punk rock witch girl, then what I need to know is who is the ultimate punk rock witch girl. (And, not to be a total asshole, but couldn’t Nymphadora have been a little more, you know, nympho?)