Fri, Jul 06, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Harry Potter's magic turns dark

Inquisition, punishment, abuse of power and the lack of political will to recognize an enemy are all contemporary issues that find an echo in the latest Harry Potter film

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Unfortunately, Harry Potter movies have a momentum of their own, and though Yates battles bravely, eventually he has no choice but to capitulate. Though he has been bold enough to forgo a quidditch match in the film, he has allowed for a scene of mayhem during the final examinations wrought by the two Weasley twins to run on too long, and the final battle sequence in the Ministry of Magic commits the ultimate sin of failing to shock or awe. More importantly, it was merely eye-candy demanded by the Harry Potter formula, and it wastes precious time in an already over-crowded 138 minutes.

What makes all this eye-candy so profoundly unsatisfactory - and make no mistake, it is very well executed as eye-candy goes - is that Yates' work with the actors, especially Daniel Radcliffe, is so exceptional. Here at last, there is real darkness and depth, rather than simply some tawdry gothic trappings. The scenes that seek to develop character and relationships are acutely aware of adolescent insecurities, and while sanitized, are never trite.

Something should be said of Katie Leung, who plays Harry's love interest Cho Chang; she serves as a highly serviceable prop but little more to Radcliffe's commanding presence. The much hyped kiss scene is well handled, though the appearance of animated mistletoe above the young lovers is truly hurl-inducing, and another sign that the Harry Potter juggernaut is taking no prisoners. But young love in Hogwarts is bitter-sweet, and Yates cleverly leaves the budding romance unresolved.

The cameos, of course, which draw on the cream of the UK acting establishment, have always given the Harry Potter series a significant lift in terms of quality. In the Order of the Phoenix, they are all there doing what they do so well, but special mention should be given to Imelda Staunton, most recently of Little Britain, whose characterization of Dolores Umbridge serves as the linchpin of Yates' allegorical efforts, suggesting that while dictators are often comic figures, their absurdity in no way lessens the destruction of which they are capable.

For fans of the series, Harry Potter movies are a good thing in and of themselves, whatever their failings. For the rest of us, who hope to get through a couple of hours without feeling aggrieved and insulted by the cretinizing instincts of Hollywood, Order of the Phoenix has kept the dramatic spark alive in a formulaic production that could otherwise have become no more than a template for another Harry Potter video game.

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