Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"You Say It's Your Birthday..."

...well, it's my birthday too, yeah!"

So, to celebrate, I took myself to see the latest Harry Potter movie. I met a former student there, and we spent the preview time catching up on what's been happening since we last saw each other. I'm envious; she's spent the summer vacationing--not that I'd want to go to Disneyworld--I actually have no desire to go there. But a vacation would be nice.

Before I say anything about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, let me preface my remarks with what most of my friends know about me and how I feel about movies made from books. I generally don't like them as representations of the novelists' works. More often than not, a picture is NOT worth a thousand words.

In defense of film, movies do clarify description. Films can dispense with the overwhelming narration needed to describe a location or a person, for example. But the screenwriter has an obligation to treat the writer's plot carefully. If I've learned anything about fiction, I've learned that writers hardly ever tell us something if we don't need to know it. When a screenwriter, alone or in collaboration with a director, leaves out what appear to be tiny, insignificant details, the screewriter changes the context and intention of the writer. And I don't like that.

Having read all of the HP books, my conclusion is that the last three books--Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, and The Deathly Hallows--are a set-piece; they must be read in sequence (and together) because each book builds on the previous one. The small details in book 5, Order, become essential to books 6 & 7: the locket, for example, and Kreacher, the Black Family's house elf. The first four books work well as individual pieces; while they explore and amplify the world of Hogwarts and establish the personalities of the major and minor characters, each of the first four books can be read as complete stories. The last three books, however, form the same sort of trilogy as The Lord of the Rings. Skip from book four to book seven and you miss essential information and important plot points.

In fairness to the director and screenwriter of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, it is extremely difficult to shoot a work in progress; at least, when Peter Jackson directed the Rings trilogy, he knew how the story ended. For the Potter series, J. K. Rowling should have had something to say (or should have said more) about what should have been included in the fifth movie. But I don't know that she did; she might not have wanted to leak information about the sixth and seventh books.

The movie is visually stunning. The special effects--the dementors, the interior of the Ministry of Magic, the Room of Requirement--are awe-inspiring and dazzling. But so much of the essential plot is missing from the story that it almost doesn't make sense unless you've read the book. I just found myself becoming more and more agitated that so much had been lost. I filled in the gaps, but the absence of those key points will create problems in the next two films, and I don't know how the directors will overcome them.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is J. K. Rowling's longest book in the series, yet this movie is the shortest so far. It just doesn't do justice to the epic struggle of the young wizard or his friends. I liked the battle scene at the end, but I just wish it had been longer, as it was in the book; it just didn't seem as important as Rowling meant it to be.

I agree, in part, with my daughter, that, at one point, the movie almost seemed to turn into Star Wars--we all have the dark and the light in us, says Sirius. But I just think that Harry deserves better.


Simple Song of Hope said...

Happy belated birthday!

I was disappointed with how short the Order scene was.
I heard that the screenwriter wanted to leave out Kreacher completely. Rowling told him that he would seriously regret it if he did
Also, I wonder how they'll cover for not representing Mundungus in the 5th movie.

dotsmom said...

The question about Mundungus is a good one. Well, they seriously left out so much that's necessary for the last book, so I'm thinking they're going to have to backtrack, so maybe the next two movies will be much longer!