I realise I have gone a little bit Harry Potter mad lately, caught up in the excitement about the upcoming release of Deathly Hallows Part 1. I promise, after I've seen and reported on the new film next week, no more Harry Potter for a good few months!
This is the movie where David Yates took over the Potter series and stayed. I like Yates’ direction, though for me, it’s never quite matched the sweeping style of Newell’s or the innovation of Cuarón’s. My biggest problem with Yates as director is that he got rid of Patrick Doyle and hired his TV colleague, Nicholas Hooper, to write the music. Hooper’s music for the films is – well, it’s not awful, that’s would be unfair and untrue, but it does not work for the movies. His style screams ‘television’!, all abrupt changes in mood with every scene telegraphed by a horribly obvious theme that falls under a clear heading of ‘comedic’, ‘scary’, ‘creepy’ and so on. It’s horrible and it grates on me like fingernails on a blackboard. Where is the cheerful creepiness of parts of Williams’ score for Prisoner of Azkaban, or the sorrowful, romantic sweep of Doyle’s work on Goblet of Fire? After two movies in which music was used so beautifully and so effectively, being condemned to this bland, TV-style, soulless music for the rest of the series is utterly depressing.
Ahem. I may have got carried away in what I realise is not my area (though my brother is a musician, so it’s something we tend to discuss a lot!). As you can tell, this is just one of those things that really bothers me (I also get very cross about the yellow door at the very end of Return of the King. Sam should be living in Bag End and the door should be green!). And the music for Half-Blood Prince is a bit better. Generally speaking, this movie does a good job of condensing the longest book in the series, though I think perhaps parts of it have been too condensed – it sometimes feels like the film is rushing from plot point to plot point with no time for any actual emotion and no time to really feel for the characters. The highlight of the film has to be the final sequence in the Ministry of Magic. We see another excellent, intense performance from Daniel Radcliffe as he writhes on the floor, half possessed by Voldemort and moving like a snake, and the use of flashbacks to pull him back to himself was inspired (they look so little in the early films!).
There are plenty of interesting little touches that I notice on multiple viewings as well. I paused on the photo of Harry’s parents to see if Lupin was there and caught Dumbledore and Pettigrew giving each other distinctly suspicious looks – a lovely beat that it would take I don’t know how many viewings to see. Imelda Staunton and Maggie Smith arguing on a flight of stairs, each taking increasing steps up to try to stand above the other, is genius and Filch quietly torturing the scientists in the painting he’s removing is another tiny and creepy moment. Umbridge’s robe is shaped like a regular academic robe, not a wizard’s robe, and so is Snape’s; clearly, academia is evil! I also love the giant pendulum in the exam hall. Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix is fantastic casting, though I find her delivery just a bit too stilted – I had imagined Bellatrix’s madness to be less shouty and more contained with bursts of violence (more like Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, probably). Neville using Petrificus totalus on someone else is strangely satisfying, after his experience in Philosopher's Stone. I’m not sure why Sirius is suddenly half naked when he switches forms though, as McGonangall always manages to keep her clothes on.
Order of the Phoenix has one particularly important Classical reference; the centaurs. I’ve talked before about how Narnian centaurs bear little resemblance to wild Classical centaurs (both on the blog and in my paper here). Harry Potter’s centaurs are much closer to their ancient counterparts; wild, uncontrollable, dangerous. I have to confess, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with Umbridge’s fate in this story, awful as she is. Hermione didn’t really have much choice, but still, the unspecified horrible things the centaurs apparently did to her always left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
These centaurs are not entirely like the ancient versions, however. Like the ancient exception, Chiron, and like Narnian centaurs, they’re astrologers (though we don’t see that in the film). More importantly, Umbridge’s biggest mistake is her intolerance and the bigotry she shows towards them. Like the vampires in True Blood, this is a bit of a mixed message, as the centaurs really are wild and dangerous, but Umbridge’s biggest mistake is still her unforgiveable rudeness in saying some really nasty things about fellow sentient beings.
The name of the Order is also an example of the way phoenixes have come to represent resurrection and new life in modern culture. On one level, presumably, Dumbledore named the Order after his pet, but the name is also significant because of its connotations of something rising from the ashes. This was not an aspect particularly emphasised in ancient myth, though it existed, but of course in our Western, broadly Judaeo-Christian culture, the resurrection aspect has become the most important. Names are important in this story – the naming of Dumbledore’s Army not only allows Dumbledore to take the blame and keep Harry in school, but is also an indication of Harry’s innate goodness and the fact that he does what he does out a genuine desire to help people, not, as Fudge believes or as Umbridge or Voldemort do, out of a desire for personal power. I’m not sure what special power of phoenixes Fawkes uses to help Dumbledore escape – possibly it involves their ability to carry very heavy burdens, established in Chamber of Secrets – but it’s very cool.
I posted on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when it came out, so I shall return at the weekend with some thoughts on the new movie, and then move one and leave Potter alone for a while!