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Smash Cut – Harry Potter and the Order of Reader’s Digest…er, the Phoenix

with 4 comments

I am little behind the curve, but c’est la vie.  Watching this movie felt like watching the book in fast forward with every single subplot removed.  What is left, therefore, is a hodgepodge of a movie that disobeys one of the rules of a sequel that, when ignored, often spells peril.  Sequels ought not to be dependent on their predecessor(s). 

Granted, this little principle is difficult to maintain, especially when you’re trying to adapt book five of seven.  In this case, an 870 page book five, whittled down to about 138 minutes. 

Let’s take those numbers into account for just a moment.  My one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings runs 1,008 pages, and that doesn’t include the appendices (if it did, we’re talking, 1,112).  The extended editions of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the trilogy clocks in at just a hair under 11 hours.  Do the math, and we’re looking at roughly 92 pages squeezed into every hour of film.  That is a monstrous challenge in adaptation, but Jackson makes it work, and he has three Oscars to show for it.  Now, run the same math on Order of the Phoenix—that’s 387 pages, give or take, for every hour.  That’s not just begging for trouble, that’s inviting trouble in for tea and biscuits.

The previous four films, while there is plenty over which to quibble, at least catch the broad strokes of their literary counterparts.  This film is a fuzzy snap shot.  It nails, perhaps two things—Harry’s anger and internal rage, and the villainous Professor Umbridge.  Everything else is, as Janet Batchler put it, a mere trailer for what is the epic scope of the Order of the Phoenix

While I am pleased to know that the three leads have signed contracts ensuring their presence in the final two films, I am beginning to wonder if the degradation of quality everyone expected much earlier has finally eaten its way into the franchise.  Let’s face the simple economics of the matter: a 138 minute movie can play in a theater many more times than a film running for, say, 200 minutes (The Return of the King, theatrical release), and can therefore expect a greater box office return.  But stop a moment and consider this—The Return of the King won 11 Oscars, and is currently the ninth highest grossing film of all time.   

You do the math. 


Written by taj

July 26, 2007 at 10:00 pm

4 Responses

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  1. The only math that matters to the studios is $$$, and so they’ll more likely go for more theater-runs and therefore more ticket sales, than any actual faithfulness to the principles of story-telling. People will see films and hate them, but what the studio cares is that people see the films. If they love the films, there are at least two more films to be tossed like bread to the masses who will pay $$$ to consume them as well before hating at least one, if not all three of them.

    I guess it’s the actors, writers and directors whose job it really is to make a great story. The studios just want a marketable product that can be milked for all its worth, as long as its worth.

    The story needs to be great to begin with, and I honestly just felt the fifth Potter novel was lacking in story. This, despite being the longest of the series, I think. I’ve read each novel only once so far, and I can summarize the story in each one, except for book five, where the story just becomes a bit too convoluted.

    And, so, I felt the fifth movie did a good job of resurrecting SOME of the story, those “broad strokes” you were talking about. The only weakness I could immediately see, and this is true of almost all films these days, is that the visual spectacle did seem to become more important than storytelling.


    July 27, 2007 at 9:19 am

  2. The problem with Order of the Phoenix is that, in the book, most of the struggle deals with Harry’s internal angst. Internal conflict works great on the page, but it’s really difficult to put on film.

    That’s not to say its impossible, just difficult, and a talented filmmaker / writer / actor(s) can pull it off.

    I try to hold some optimism for big budget franchises, especially ones based on quality material. I fully expected the Harry Potter films to start heading downhill with Goblet of Fire. Thankfully, the filmmakers did a solid job. Goblet, on the other hand, is material much more conducive to film adaptation. On its own, Order of the Phoenix would not be a good choice for film adaptation.

    But, this is a franchise. And, like you said Andrew, the goal here is $$$.

    My disappointment, I guess, is not so much that the film did not meet my expectations, but that it was made in an environment where it would never have a chance to aspire to those expectations.


    July 27, 2007 at 11:00 am

  3. To that last paragraph, a huge yes. That said, I think the fifth film was good considering what they had to work with. They did a good job at what they COULD do.


    July 27, 2007 at 5:13 pm

  4. […] the original review, I camped too much on the adaptation quotient. I still think turning an 870 page book into a 130 […]

    New Review « Quadrivium

    December 14, 2007 at 5:59 pm

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