Well, life goes on.
Jeff and I took some time yesterday afternoon to follow the example of millions of children and teens, and went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. What can I say? Either we are lemmings or we just really like Harry Potter.
I liked a lot about the production, and the casting was, as usual, spot-on. However, both Jeff and I thought the book-to-movie adaptation could have been a little better. I know that such adaptations are challenging even with routine material, and with Rowling's books, everybody has an opinion and many people are dissatisfied with their favorite parts or characters being given short shrift. However, the movie axed some aspects of the book that really contribute to the unfolding of the plot (for example, the actions of the house elf Kreacher, the significance of Harry's growing isolation when Ron and Hermione achieve important roles at school, and so forth), and the emotional climax was hurried in favor of a showier action-fueled climax. And (most offensive of all) there is not a speck of quidditch anywhere in this movie! If you've read the book, you know that quidditch plays as important a role in the fifth story as in the previous four.
Dramatically, the film hits its stride and is most comfortable when showing scenes of the DA students training and growing in skill (we feel their exhilaration when they cast successful spells), and in the few quiet moments when the three close friends (Harry, Ron, Hermione) are talking with one another. We see the ease the actors have achieved in their years of working together, and director Yates seems to know how to handle them. On the negative side, the action and the smooth flow of the plot have, regrettably, suffered. To be fair, if you've read the book, you know the plot gets pretty convoluted in the parts when Harry isn't overcome with teen angst (although if any teenager has the right to a bit of angsty self-pity, it must be Harry Potter) and in some parts even when he is. However, other directors have managed to keep some complicated plots afloat (cf Alfonso Cuaron with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which plot involved time travel, of all things), so we'll hope that we get good writers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and give David Yates another chance at directing (per IMDB, he is currently set to take that chance).
As noted above, the film's greatest strength is in its cast (the Potter films have always been fantastic in this respect), and the actors do not disappoint, even when allowed only disappointingly small roles in this entry (Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid, for example, is in only a few short scenes, and Maggie Smith's Professor McGonegall is much less in evidence and much less spunky than in the book). We see a bit more of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, but David Thewlis as Lupin and Natalia Tena as Tonks are practically absent (we hope this will be remedied in the sixth movie). Likewise, talented Alan Rickman has little to do as Professor Snape, but he makes as much as he can out of it. Props also to newcomer Evanna Lynch as a perfect Luna Lovegood (even if the writers took the Quibbler away from her), as well as solid Matthew Lewis, still portraying the put-upon Neville Longbottom. So far, the Potter series' best secondary villain (the primary villain being always Voldemort) is Dolores Umbridge, and gifted actress Imelda Staunton brings her to life in an amazing way, her pink suits and floral teacups contrasting perfectly with her cruel punishments and destruction of students' rights, all done with a creepy smile on her face. Other evil-doers are also done well, with showy Helena Bonham Carter making good with the crazy as Bellatrix Lestrange, and series veteran Jason Isaacs still collecting his paycheck as the menacingly silky-voiced Lucius Malfoy. As the self-styled Dark Lord himself, Ralph Fiennes is acceptably scary, if not particularly charismatic.
Overall, I thought the film's unintended consequence was to aptly illustrate why government should not be in charge of education. The attempt to control minds and thoughts, the intentional subjugation of truth for the purpose of political agenda: these seem to be the exaggerated fabrication of fiction, but they could happen in real life. [Obviously, they have happened in other nations.] The state's selection of standards and curricula already have garnered a predisposition of the state-run schooling system to sacrifice the next generation to an arbitrary set of expectations. If some person decides that controlling students' access to certain information and training in certain areas would be a desirable end, the means are available and such a person need only apply slight manipulation and force of will to achieve his or her ends.
Education, like journalism, should be free from government tampering. This will produce better citizens in the end.