Yesterday, Therese and I dished about the newest Harry Potter flick. While we both gave it the thumbs up, we did have a few nits.  Mostly we were pleased with the way the filmmakers managed to streamline an unwieldy story into a swift two-hour movie while retaining plot coherence. Today, we continue our analysis.

Kathleen: The Umbridge character is really worth dissecting for writers who want tips on creating memorable villains. Rowling took the mantra of contrasts to the -nth degree here, but it paid off, imo. Umbridge is a sadist with a girlish giggle. The pink walls with kitty-plates, the tea laced with poison—and every scene she’s in, there’s a sense of dread. No one’s going to forget her.

I really loved the Luna Lovegood character, too. She bugged me a bit in the book, but she’s the “wise fool” archetype, and Evanna Lynch was pitch perfect. I have a feeling we’ll find out that nargles really do exist in Book 7!

I just want to say one more thing about pacing. I guess I didn’t have a problem with it, the climax excepted. I thought it was wise of director David Yates to stay away from the cutsey stuff, hew to the story and keep the tension rising. After four HP movies, everyone should be on board with what the wizarding world is all about. I mean, Peter Jackson didn’t spend any time grounding the viewer into a retelling Middle Earth in Return of the King.

Therese: The movie felt choppy to me in parts. I could see how someone who hadn’t read the book would view the Grawp cutaways as intrusive and even irrelevant, for example. I guess it’s one of the disadvantages of sticking too closely to the book, without having the advantage of tossing in some internal dialogue to make sense of things. But there are some things you just can’t leave out if you’re going to tell Rowling’s tale. I was glad they left in Snape’s flashback but sorry to see they left out the bit about Sirius giving Harry that (never discovered) two-way mirror. I was kind of hoping that would play some strange role to come, but the absence of it in the movie almost deletes that possibility. I’ve read that Rowling is often consulted about those things.

KB: I agree about Grawp. I found myself getting annoyed that he was even there, until I remembered that he played a crucial role in getting rid of Umbridge. You’re so right that the filmmakers have to be really careful. The power of Rowling is that the most minor detail can become a major plot-point later. Which is, I suspect, why they kept Kreacher in. Now we know the sourpuss house elf is going to play a big element later.

TW: I think you’re right. And, now that I have the chapter titles beneath my hungry little fingers, I think the mirror WILL play a role later. Hee. I guess they’ll have to fix that in the movie version.
The filmmakers did a good job showing the many forms of conflict in this story. Sure, there’s the ever-present Harry vs. Voldemort current beneath it all, but there were so many other tides to worry over: Umbridge vs. Dumbledore, the DA and Harry; Harry vs. himself (those disturbing visions); Harry vs. his (ex-)friends (Ron & Hermione, his housemates, Dumbledore); The Death Eaters vs. the DA. I think we’re really seeing a full-world crystallization of good vs. evil in this film.

The film also did a great job showing Harry’s character growth. People begin finally to believe him, and he begins to believe more in himself and his abilities: he becomes a teacher, a real leader; he makes decisions about who will know what. He even has a girlfriend. I missed the deep thinking he does about his father’s relationship with Snape in the book, but I understand why the film couldn’t go there. Still, Harry is beginning to question what others have been feeding him, he’s demanding answers now and forming his own opinions, and because of that he’s becoming, well, a man.

KB: Yes. Harry grows up in this book. The games wizards play are not nice and no one is pulling any punches anymore. This movie has crossed the bridge between childhood and adulthood in a way the books didn’t, imo, and I think that has to do with the visual power of filmmaking. It just looks scarier. The adults have a careworn appearance, like the situation is really starting to wear on them. The wizarding world looks like it’s fraying. Even the kids seem tense.

TW: Definitely not in Kansas anymore. Final thoughts: It was a good movie, tense and adult and complete, but it might feel scattery for those who haven’t read the book. I’m looking forward to the next installment—where we’ll surely see much more of Snape, the DA and Dumbledore, and learn all about horcruxes. How ‘bout you? Where do you think the films have to go from here?

KB: I think the next two filmmakers, whoever they are, have their work cut out for them. Every director has put their distinct stamp on the film, to the betterment of the stories. Book 6 relies on a huge amount of flashbacking, so it’s going to take a subtle touch. I’m really looking forward to seeing Rickman and Fiennes let loose.

Overall, I think this movie is a worthy addition to the cannon. If Azkaban was the mystery, and Goblet a suspense thriller, then Phoenix will surely be known as the political thriller. I really can’t wait to see how Steve Kloves, the screenplay adapter for Half Blood Prince, handles so much backstory. Only two years to wait!

So now we’ve had our say. What do all of you think?

About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.