Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Ever-thickening Plot (and books)

Sylvia asked me what I thought of the latest Harry Potter movie. I wasn't exactly certain how she wanted me to answer, but I thought a post would not be amiss. So, anyway, if you aren't interested in Harry Potter, or if you are, and would rather not have the plot spoiled for you, I suggest you stop reading . . . .now.

Here be my conundrum. I made the mistake of reading Order of the Phoenix directly before I saw the movie, so my first viewing of what was essentially summer film fare was inevitably tainted by comparison with a richer, darker, much lengthier book. The book was not the most well-written work of fiction I've ever read, but it had a steady, mesmerizing pace that allowed the characters, particularly Harry, a lot of interior space to develop and deepen. In a nutshell, the driving force of Order of the Phoenix is not so much the plot, as it is the tale of Harry's motivations and paradigms beginning to shift and refocus. At any rate, the movie tried its best, but much of the plot was (understandably) reduced to vignettes and the whole thing had a more sleek, by-the-numbers feel. I've never been a stickler for retaining all the details of a book in a movie, film being a different medium and all, but I couldn't help but feel a little let down.

Then I saw the movie again a couple weeks later. It definitely improved. Standing apart from the book, the film is really great: the pacing is swift but decided, the characters economically but deftly drawn. The themes of justice, love, and friendship are brought out firmly but without overkill. I especially noted that the film's conclusion is actually stronger than that of the book, tying in Harry's struggle with the individualistic angst of youth with the overarching value of friendship and love (I can't say too much more without giving it away). Bill Gibron of he puts it quite nicely. "Those pining for all the meat in Rowling’s writing will probably be disappointed – its impossible to condense almost 800 pages into a little over 130," he writes. "But if they accept the film on its own terms, they will find a great deal to enjoy." I agree.

All in all, I'd recommend it as one of the better Potter films. Just allow yourself a few weeks in between book and movie, and be sure to give the movie a chance. It really does its best.

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