The Order of the Phoenix film: A “Trailer for the Book”?

I was scheduled last week to be the moderator of an Enlightening 2007 panel discussing the Order of the Phoenix movie. This, of course, put me into something of a panic; I know nothing about movies beyond what my mother taught me (“Sit quietly in the the theatre during the film, Alan, and try not to drop too much popcorn. It’s very hard for the nice man who works here to sweep up.”)

Fortunately for me and the people listening to this panel discussion, I have a friend who is both a Harry Potter maven and a professional screenwriter. Janet Batchler not only has a batch of great movies she and her husband Lee have written to her credit, she also teaches this celluloid magic craft at USC. I wrote Janet for help with questions for the panel. Being the charitable woman she is, I received these brilliant ideas via email almost immediately.

Thank you, Janet!

Yesterday, she gave me permission to post them here. I urge you to read Janet’s notes about the movie over at Quoth the Maven and then post your thoughts about the movie and answers to the questions below in the comment boxes here.

1) The movie is an extended trailer for the book. It moves incredibly fast, w/ little time to breathe between incidents. In most ways, this is unavoidable, because if the book were transformed beat-for-beat into a screenplay/movie, the screenplay would be easily 1200 pages long (a 20-hour movie). Given the need to compress and cut, where are the moments where we might have liked to have spent more time?

2) “Phoenix” is the book that is most-driven by a single dramatic theme: the theme of Loyalty. One thing the movie does very well is stay pinned to that theme in all its subplots. How is the theme of loyalty (loyalty to your friends, loyalty to the Ministry, loyalty to a cause, etc.) played out? Are there loyalty (or disloyalty/betrayal) beats from the book that are missing from the movie?

3) There are elements of the movie that are probably near to incomprehensible to anyone who has not read the books (Veritaserum, Occlumency, Kreacher, etc.) . Should these moments have been included? How could they be made more clear?

4) The heart of novelistic writing is the ability to go inside a character’s mind and live inside his/her thoughts. Given the impossibility of doing this on screen, what do you think of the ways in which Harry’s thoughts and dreams were visualized?

5) What moments totally worked, were totally satisfying, in the movie? (In our screening, the biggest reactions came to Harry kissing Cho, the twins and the fireworks, and the cut to Harry/Hermione/Umbridge in the Forbidden Forest looking for the “weapon.”) What moments do you love from the book that were missing in the movie? (In our discussion afterward, the big missing moment was the Portable Swamp — interesting that the same moment essentially is on both lists — and the many missing elements/rooms from the Ministry of Magic.)

I suspect #2 is the point about which the HogPro All-Pros may differ with Janet! The screenwriter seems to have decided that Phoenix was about loyalty — which makes the portrayals of Ron and Luna in the film that much more understandable — but the book is not. Or have I missed something? I look forward to reading your comments, as always.

Comments

  1. Arabella Figg says:

    I’ve read Janet’s essay and comments on it and your post.

    Film as a trailer; I like that. My husband, friend and I definitely left the theater with mixed feelings. However, I reluctantly feel they condensed the book to make a fairly digestible story for non-book audiences, despite some glaring things, including the ones mentioned.

    We thought Luna’s portrayal was excellent; ditto for Umbridge, but missed her “toadlike” appearance. The film did a wonderful job with Sirius, making him more three-dimensional than the book; it also made more understandable the love between him and Harry. I’m glad he called Harry “James” as in the book, and I liked Sirius’ poignant last look at the tapestry.

    I felt Emma Watson’s portrayal of Hermione was flat. Poor Rupert Grint was given practically nothing to do, although at least he’s been better directed, away from whiny, mopey Ron. Hardly any Draco. No explanation of Percy, only shown holding the caught DA members. A lot of characters were two-dimensional, even Harry due to the rushed pacing.

    It was hard to see poor, grieving, mixed up-Cho as the “sneak,” though she was later redeemed through Snape’s Veritaserum remarks. Fred & Ron consoling little Nigel Creevey about the detention torture was touching, but the book gave you the idea this was only used on Harry.

    I liked the portrayal of Harry’s nightmares, the newspaper transitions and the attempted Voldemort inhabitation of Harry, the Hall of Prophecy scene and yay! More Lucius!
    A shame the rest of the Hall of Mysteries was left out. How I longed to see the Death Eater turning into a baby and Ron and the brain.

    The Occlumency mind invasions moved so quickly it was difficult to know what was going on, especially for a non-book reader. And the revelation about James and its impact–completely unexplored. A few minutes on this wouldn’t have made my fanny any more numb.

    I was disappointed in the minimal use of a rather tame Bellatrix (frightened of Harry??) and especially Harry not running around the veil trying to find Sirius–it left the scene completely puzzling; couldn’t they have spared one minute for this? I missed Harry’s heckling of Dudders; the Dursley kitchen scene (a lot of time wasted with the Ministry letter as a Howler); Neville’s full bravery at the Ministry; more Ginny upfront.

    But what I missed most was Harry on the rampage in Dumbledore’s office.

    Shining moment–the DA classes, especially the light touch with the Patronuses. Duh moment–only Harry and Luna can see the Thestrals, yet the others have no problem riding them?

    The film’s look was too dark and dreary. I know the director’s trying to set a tone, but wouldn’t all this horror have been even more contrasted against the warmer lighting of the first two films? It made Hogwarts seem like Dracula’s castle.

    The ending scene with DD was a pretty flat denoument. And I can’t stand Gambon as DD.

    I agree with you John, about the loyalty theme. Yes, this was a strong element in the book, but to me the book is about insitutional bureaucracy, fear, repression, isolating and excoriating discomfiting truth-tellers, and how people respond to these things in times of crisis.

    Although OotP is a favorite book, this isn’t my favorite film interpretation. I would give that distinction to Azkaban and Goblet.

    Oops, the kitties are trying to nab a dropped chocolate chip…

  2. Arabella Figg says:

    I’d like to amend my paragraph about the loyalty theme. In a sense, the book is about loyalty–misplaced trust in and loyalty to institutional groupthink when truth is unwanted and/or unbearable, using scare tactics. Phoenix is, to me, about the many kinds of evil, and this is one of them–the manipulation of truth, demanding loyalty to the lie, persecuting truth tellers as unstable, dangerous and disloyal.

    No, kitties, nooooo…..

  3. cwestervelt says:

    Just a quick note concerning the writing of lines in blood. This was not just used on Harry within the book. There is a scene where Harry recommends essense of mertlap to a fellow student who had a detention with Umbridge. The scene gave strong indications that this was Umbridge’s standard detention method.

  4. Right. That was Lee Jordan, the twin’s friend, I think.

  5. crookshanks says:

    I, too, found the film version of OOTP problematic, more so than any of the other HP films, because so much of the elements that give the book depth and texture were jettisoned and what we were left with was a kind of Classics Illustrated Comics version of the book. I do realize that condensation was inevitable, and some of it was cleverly done. But much of the film would have been incomprehensible, or at least seriously confusing, to someone who hadn’t read the book.

    I do think that Daniel Radcliffe has grown enormously as an actor, which is fortunate because he’s going to be called on more and more to do really intense acting in the last two films. I also agree with Arabella that Gambon is unsatisfactory as Dumbledore; he completely misses the character’s whimsey, charm, irony and sly sense of humor. What a pity that Gielgud was too old to take on the role!! In my mind’s eye – and ear – I hear him give the perfect delivery of Dumbledore’s lines, with the requisite twinkle in the eye, even at serious moments: Arthur’s butler without the nasty edge.

    Imelda Staunton was good as Umbridge, but I was hoping for someone more simperingly awful and toadlike. And where was the little pink bow perched on her head? Umbridge in the book was a grotesque, and Staunton was not grotesque.

    Still, what there was of the book in the movie was well-done, and perhaps one shouldn’t be churlish and pine for more.

  6. The biggest missing element for me is that we were not told Umbridge sent the dementors! And I thought Arabella Figg was all wrong; too young, too mousy and intimidated at the hearing (she’s an original Order of the Phoenix member, even as a Squib! Give her some backbone!) and not nearly hysterical enough when the dementors attacked.

    I was glad to see Neville blossom into a competent young wizard, but wish DD had explained that he could have been the subject of the prophecy, too. I was looking forward to both Sirius’s mother’s shrieking portrait and to Harry’s career counseling session (my favorite scene in the book; and I love Maggie Smith as MM; she’d have been great in that!) so I was sorry they didn’t make it into the film. Also, why have the Fountain of Magical Brethren if you don’t give us a close-up lok at it?

  7. This seems a good place to repost a speculation I have entertained since seeing HP&tOoP film on wednesday, a week ago.

    Assuming JKR has authorial control over the revelations in the plot points of the films as well as the texts, I found it extremely interesting that what seems to be a throw-away line exits Snape’s mouth as he leaves Umbridge’s office. He remarks to Umbridge that he cannot supply veritaserum as she has used it all. He then goes on to specify that the last of it was used upon Cho Chang. THAT IS THE SEEMINGLY THROW-AWAY LINE that literally jumped off the screen into my consciousness. It was emphasized by a panning shot to Hermione who grimacingly acknowledges her error of believing Cho betrayed the DA.

    WHY? Why did Snape in the film make such reference to Cho? Within the context of the film, the mere use of veritaserum was explanation enough. There was no compelling plot need to have Snape say this – especially as there was no on-screen resolution of the mistaken belief of the trio towards Cho.

    I think it was a clue to Snape’s ultimately redeemed character. Having lived with the suspicion of two sides regarding his true motivations and loyalties, Snape made a totally unnecessary but characteristically coverable disclosure that SPARED Cho a life fated to be as his own! That he did so in the context of the need for urgency to communicate with the Order about the situation at the MoM and Padfoot is telling. It is revelatory of the goodness that lies in the heart of Snape. It is – within the context of the films – a clue given in full view but likely to be missed because of the drama of the situation in which it occurs.

    But if JKR retains the story arc in its essentials in the films as she surely must, then this may be a major clue. I do not at present recall Snape acting in this manner in any other film – nor in the texts. I have re-read all the published texts again within the last three weeks (okay, I have been prepping for the final book!) and re-viewed all the movies. Snape simply has not done this type of thing elsewhere.

    And ever since M!Snape, I have been reflecting on Severus a great deal. (Yes, I can spell o-b-s-e-s-s-i-v-e).

    And tonight I re-read the Polyeuctes posting and think, I must be right about this…again.

    Snape will be good in the end. Harry will die after achieving reconciliation with Snape which enables him to defeat Voldemort and save the wizarding world.

    I think on a week’s reflection that this point was the most memorable of the whole film. We shall see tomorrow!

  8. Linnapaw says:

    I was actually a little bit disappointed by the movie. I finally watched it last night, and I think one of the things that bothers me the most is that it seems to water the book down more than any other film. A lot of people complained about OotP for being very angst-y, especially on the part of Harry, and were happy to see that, for the most part, removed in the film. However, when you change the whole feel of the story like that, there is an ensuing disconnect. I actually *liked* the feel of OotP (the book) because I thought it was very realistic and normal for Harry, given all that he had been through, to consider what would happen if he didn’t fight for good. And a lot of OotP is about what happens when Harry makes bad choices…

    I think, though, too, one of the most striking things about OotP is that this is where we are most explicitly told about what death is, and that there is a place where people live on “behind the veil”. I think the veil was handled poorly, and I feel that my absolute favourite scene in the book (at the end with Luna and Harry in the corridor) was completely changed so as not to seem so overtly Christian, and by so doing, really detracts from the change of mood from teenaged-angst (“Why me??) to determination and hope that characterizes “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”.

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