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July 21, 2007

Obligatory (Spoiler-Free!) Harry Potter Discussion Thread

No spoilers. Don't even hint about spoilers; people are smart and figure that stuff out.

Link your own reviews but if it has spoilers put up a big fat warning about that.

As for the well-publicized deaths of major characters in it: Obviously, don't say who they are or hint about who they are by job or age. Just say whether it worked for you or felt contrived etc. Unfortunately I got a spoiler (I think) in this regard.

I'll put up a discussion thread with spoilers allowed in... what? A week? That should be enough time.

I'm going to try to read it, just to be part of the whole dealio, but really, I do lose patience when JK Rowling insists of giving me every single trivial detail of a conversation, including those who may be "gasping" or "squealing" in response to the last statement made, and goes on and on about the Weasley parents' pet-names for each other.

I usually put these down after one hundred pages have gone by and nothing at all has happened.

Incidentally, the Order of the Phoenix was the best Harry Potter movie yet. The rest have been okay enough to sit through with a girlfriend or kids; not actually something you'd want to see on your own, but effective enough that you weren't actually annoyed at having to see them. The last one is actually worth seeing without any obligation to take someone else to see it. Not great, but enjoyable even for a non-fan.


Here's how every previous Harry Potter movie has been structured: We had an A Plot, about the Second Coming of the Dark Lord of Black Magic and the Possible Destruction and/or Enslavement of the Entire Word Under His Dread Rule, and a B Plot, consisting of Wacky Gradeschool Games and Hijinks Aplenty.

I don't like Quidditch, but even if I did, it seems a rather trivial question whether or not Harry can score a Quidditch point when the Fate of the Whole Stupid World hangs in the balance. And the movies, of course (and the books, I imagine) were mostly about this fairly unimportant B Plot. The A Plot keeps you reading, but it's the B Plot that gets all the page-count. You have to slog through six hundred pages of Dumbledore saying "Three points for Gryffyndor! Sixd demerits for Slytheryn!" for seven hundred pages just to find out (as usual) the Evil Guy is really the Good Guy and the Adorable Rodent is really the Villain.

The Order of the Phoenix largely avoids this problem. For one thing, the A and B plots are better integrated; the B plot here -- the takeover of the school by the Ministry of Magic -- is related to the A plot, because the Ministry of Magic is trying to deny the return of Voldemort, and, moreover, take away any actual useful teaching of magic from the kids lest they be tempted to join the He Who Does Not Exist.

But more importantly, the B Plot is lots of fun. The new headmistress, the martinet Delores Umbridge, is a terrific character, with a Roald Dahl/Willy Wonka-ish flavor. She's absurd and ridiculous and completely comical in her stupid pink hausfrau coats, but she's also menacing and... evil. That's kind of a hard combination of attributes for an actor to pull off at the same time. The actress playing her will, I think, get Oscar buzz, even if she doesn't actually get nominated. But she just might -- the Academy never gives awards to comic performances for lead roles, but occasionally it does for supporting roles.

Plus, more seems to be happening in the B Plot than stupid Triwizard tournaments and eating dumb magical candy. With the teachers no longer teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts (or, it seems, any actual magic), Harry Potter and his friends organize a secret group to train in such now-forbidden subjects. It's not really Wacky Gradeschool Hijinks anymore; it's an interesting little rebellion/guerilla-training cabal plot. It feels more adult.

Which is another key to why this one is so much better than the previous ones. In past plots, JK Rowling had to make Harry Potter the hero who had some sort of active role in the plot while also making him pretty weak -- he was, after all, just a kid. But in this one, he's not really a kid, at least not a young kid, so the story finally allows him to actually be able to... do something. Oh, he's stilling getting bailed out by his friends and the various adults, of course, but he also gets to shoot off a few magic charms before getting knocked about by Malfoy or Voldemort.

My only disappointment was in Gary Oldman. He's one of my favorite actors, so I wanted to see him do more in this movie than project Paternal Warmth, which is, alas, pretty much the only thing the director lets him do. He winks reassuringly or playfully at Harry like three or four times. That's a lot of winking for one movie. I wonder if they took out an insurance policy on his emotionally-crucial eyelids. And, as Sean Connery said in Last Crusade: "You left just when you were becoming interesting."

Director David Yates moves this plot along much more quickly than previous directors have, making liberal use of the Daily Prophet's headlines to swiftly bullet-point all the dumb crap that's going on between the stuff we care about. The dreaded middle act dragginess of previous offerings is notably absent here.

The climax -- with the Order of the Phoenix against the Death-Eaters -- is sort of lame as usual, but that's an inherent problem with magic. It's just not very exciting, because really, we have no idea what it can accomplish and what its limits are. We know what a bullet can do, we know what a lightsaber can do, and, in a superhero movie, more or less what a super-strong punch can do. What can the Petronas Charm do? I don't really know and I'm not sure JK Rowling is firm on this point either. So really I have no idea who's winning or losing at any point.

Still, the magical duels were... well, they were kind of lame, but I've grown to accept that. People "wanding" each other repeatedly just looks stupid.

Anyway, good movie, even if you (like me) think this whole Harry Potter craze is pretty dumb.


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posted by Ace at 04:21 PM

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