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Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix – the boy wander finds girls

having a wanderful time

having a wanderful time

Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix – David Yates

(written 2 weeks before Deathly Hallows was released – August 2007)

Harry Skywalker lives to fight another day. My literary track record is stained with two failures: I failed both the Hobbit and Harry Potter even at GCSE level. Never even took ‘A’ level ‘Ring’ cycle or ‘Pottery’, let alone post-graduate Tolkien or Rowling. (However I do have expert technical advice from my teacher daughter who occasionally re-opens her copies of HP to make sure she hasn’t forgotten the words). As it seems to me to fully understand the HP series you also need to be a Star Wars specialist, I’m even a bit light there, being a cursory fan rather than a forensic obsessive about Lucas’s cosmic concept with the earthbound words.

So I can only respond to TOTP (no not Tops of The Pops) as a movie. And as a movie it’s just like a football match (‘soccer’ David, soccer) – it’s a game of two halves. I almost lost the will to live in the first half with so much plot development and lots of jaw-clenching reaction shots to camera that almost, though not quite, made even Hermione seem boring. This likeable band of young actors are great when they have something to do, but go a little rabbit-in-the-headlights when entrusted with a bit of narrative to progress. And TOTP has a lot of plot. My adviser tells me this is all beautifully developed in the book with the practices of the Order of The Phoenix painstakingly and absorbingly described. So out of necessity in a visual medium, David Yates is forced to rush us through the first half plot set-up without the fascinating contextual detail that so entrances millions of children, grown up and not, around the world. He has had to drop Dobby; and Hagrid seems to have shrunk along with his role as the intrepid chums have raced into puberty and filled out – dramatically, as we might say.

A tedious first half then – score: Plot 1 – Actors 0. But all is forgiven in a second half that fizzes with the excitement, tension, and thrills that prove 2 million young readers, salivating for the upcoming Deathly Hallows denouement, know what they’re about. And that JK knows how to tell a rattling good yarn. The confrontation between Dumbledore and Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic is as thrilling as that between Obi Wan and Vader that it irresistibly calls to mind. Just switch high-tech light sabers for low-tech wands and you’re set. Not the last echo of Star Wars either.

Plot-wise, suffice to say that the central themes of the series are developed and explored in TOTP: the mystery of Harry’s provenance, his special wizardly skills, an apparent deep link with the evil Voldemort that sees their destinies as inescapably entwined. Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor (his Obi Wan) keeps his distance to allow his protégé to develop but re-appears at critical moments to rescue him. It is the core of the Harry Potter series that most recalls the Star Wars franchise: the eternal battle between good and evil as represented by Voldemort and Vader. In both cases the young hero who is to be the nemesis for the figure of evil and the dark forces he has given himself up to, is mysteriously linked to his evil protagonist. Vader turns out to be Skywalker’s father. In about 2 weeks we will know whether Voldemort has the same or similar link to Harry.

The TOTP plot line of Ministry of Magic hack Dolores Umbrage (Imelda Staunton – ‘disgusted’ from Tunbridge Wells given power, a whip and clad in hideous non-iron pinkness ) forcing Dumbledore out of Hogworts and imposing a we-know-what’s-best-for you bureaucratic, party-line works well enough as something for Harry and Co to fight against. But its possible political resonance doesn’t really come off. For me the whole ‘Hogworts’ setting is the weakest element of the series. It is so incredibly English Public school, repressed sexuality, ‘chummy’ it sets my teeth on edge. Any moment I expect to hear Harry warning his chums to look out with “‘cave’ chaps” (collective noun including girls). As with the cod Latin ‘expelliamus’ that accompanies the villain-zapping spells Harry teaches his schoolmates. How on earth this oh-so-English, oh-so-Middle Class archness plays to Americans in particular is a mystery to me. And perhaps to them.

That said – if you can put up with being so-to-speak ‘put in the picture’ in the first half, the second half of TOTP is for me easily the best of the franchise so far. Wonderful, visually imaginative special effects that actually contribute to the tension and pace of the action. And once Radcliffe and Co break into a sweat they carry us willingly with them. Not much sweat in Harry’s famed first kiss mind – Cho Chang (Katie Leung) is beautiful, oriental (not tokenism surely?) but left naked – without a shred of plot to protect her I mean. So when Harry suddenly randomly snogs her in the corridor on the way to do something dangerous and important – how English is that? – he looks more likely to be the victim of a harassment suit than undying love. Anyway we all know, what he doesn’t – that he really wants to snog Hermione and that she definitely has the hots for him. Quite the most deliciously written scene in the movie is where Hermione does a quick emotional analysis, pretty routine female rigour for the area, and Ron with an archetypal male, rueful smile observes that “no one could feel all those emotions at once!”. Hermione dismisses him as having the emotional insight of a teaspoon. Watch it Ron – writing’s on the wall girlfriend-wise.

TOTP is great fun. And the Phoenix really does catch fire in the second half. Rowling’s genius is to have written something that can appeal on many levels to embrace everyone from 5 to 95. The great merit of the books my adviser tells me, is the painstaking, coherent assembly of almost entirely imagined detail, to create an amazing world of totally credible, totally fictional reality, that entrances the minds of children and stimulates their imagination. These qualities are so precious, so necessary, so essentially literary, that we all owe a debt to Rowling for having re-awakened them and motivated young minds to rediscover the power of the written word when allied to a curious imaginative mind. In that sense this movie, any movie, is of mere secondary importance. Together with any parallels with Star Wars.

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