July 19th, 2009


Pre-Lab on Saturday...

DVD: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix [PG-13]
Widescreen Version

Mrs. Dr. Phil figured we should do a Harry Potter 5 pre-lab before going to see Harry Potter 6 today. This was a good call. It's not that we can't remember the gist of the story, but given the time offsets between the releases of the books and the movies, it was useful to remember what we were supposed to know in the latest film.

First of all, we are in familiar territory here -- all but one of the principle stars of the series have survived to this point so far, so we know who they are. And the kids at Hogwarts were recruited when they were appropriately younger, so we are watching them grow up -- which is also pretty impressive.

I guess my basic short comment about Harry Potter 5 is that it is "edited tight". By this I do not mean that it shows crisp, professional editing, though it has elements of that. No, I mean that they've taken the longest Harry Potter novel and had to hack and pare it down to fit in to a movie. This is always a common complaint -- novels are just too long and too full of details and complications for them to make a normal length film. But the thing is that Harry Potter 5 is not a stand-alone movie. There's really no attempt to introduce the characters, the settings, the school, the villainy, etc., from the previous four books/movies. I think it was possible for people to watch The Empire Strikes Back or even Return of the Jedi without having seen the original Star Wars. But I cannot imagine seeing Harry Potter 5 without having ever cracked open a book or movie -- this is a movie for the fans.

In the beginning, Mrs. Dr. Phil asked, "Did we see this movie?" She was, in part, joking. But we only saw it in the theatre once, perhaps, or maybe twice. I had a hard time getting the Widescreen DVD -- twice when I listed it on "greed lists" for the summer birthday bash and at Christmas, the giver gave us the pan-and-scan DVD, which I gave to deserving fans who hadn't seen the movie. Also, this is a dark movie, both literally and figuratively, and the former makes it tough viewing on a TV set. Still, Delores Umbridge is one of the great (and pink) villains of all time -- tremendous performance. Much of the rest of the cast is shown in cameos, though even at that Emma Thompson as Professor Tralawney is heartbreaking in her mumbling downfall. Luna Lovegood is prefect IMHO, exactly as I'd want her to be. And Helena Bonham Carter can play the crazy bitch witch from hell like nobody's business. There is one glaring continuity flaw to me, regarding who can and cannot see the Thestrals, when it comes time to fly them to London. And one silly joke, considering the DVD came with a trailer for Get Smart, regarding the public entrance to the Ministry of Magic.

I glanced at the Wikipedia entries, to confirm some of the things I knew had been left out of Harry Potter 5 the movie. You want the whole story? Read the book. Same refrain as it's been through the whole story. But it is a great transitional movie as we move out of the young Harry Potter into the realms of the Final Battles for man- and wizardkind. And I think watching Harry Potter 5 followed immediately by Harry Potter 6 enhances both movies.

A movie for those in the know. Recommended

Dr. Phil

... And Feature on Sunday

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince [PG-13]
Celebration North Theatre #13, 2:40pm

The forecast is dark. Continued dark and getting darker.

Things are getting more serious and more dire in Harry Potter 6 for Harry & Co. Many of the things I could say here, I also said about the DVD of Harry Potter 5 from yesterday's pre-lab, especially about the editing down of the novel to the film. The characters we love are all there, even if only shown in quick cameos. The kids are hitting puberty with a vengeance and pairing off with varying degrees of success. We get no introductions as to why Harry is sent to the Weasley house -- at this point there is no time, you are just supposed to know. As in HP5, this is not necessarily a problem for the intended audience.

The visuals of the Pensieve memories is nicely done. I'm sure the engineers who built the Millennium Bridge in London would sit through the opening and say, "Our bridge cannot bloody well oscillate like that!", but it does look cool. The movie bounces back and forth through okay and great bits like this, but we were particularly struck by the cuts. Kreacher and the house that Harry inherits from Sirius Black is completely gone. The eldest Weasley boy and his fiancee -- gone -- though the twins have a rip-roaring scene with their new joke shop. Quidditch, which was missing from HP5, is back and looking pretty damned good.

One surprising omission -- I don't think anyone actually uttered the names of the four houses at Hogwarts once. Oh sure, the colors and banners were there. The student seated at meals at the right tables. Everyone wearing appropriate T-shirts and sweatshirts. But the names, absent. Also MIA is the whole business of points and the House Cup. And passwords into the dormitories. All those things are just part of the lore you are supposed to know and assume is going on in the background. And to be fair, you don't miss these details in the movie itself, but only in the postmortem afterwards, which SF/F fans will do endlessly to any movie, TV show or book. (grin)

At 158 minutes, HP6 is about the right length and twenty minutes longer that HP5. But we did miss the ending of the book version.

In one sense, HP5 and HP6 are still transitional pieces, leading into the Ultimate Battle of the finale in HP7. Frankly, given what necessary editing had to be done for HP5 and HP6, I think splitting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into HP7.1 and 7.2 may be what is needed, to include what needs to be included and show it all in grand style. Lots of commenters assume that the split is done to make more money, and I don't doubt that this justified the decision. But considering what was cut in this movie and the last, do you really want a 2½ hour version of chopped-down HP7? I surely don't. I strongly suspect that some items cut from HP6 will show up in HP7.1.

Also of interest is that the IMAX version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won't come out in the U.S. until Wednesday 29 July, because of exclusive deals with that silly Transformers sequel. We've found that the IMAX versions have been pretty damned impressive -- and we have a local IMAX theatre. (double-wide-grin)

In short, a good show and making us want for more! Recommended

Dr. Phil