Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

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Now on its fifth installment, the Harry Potter movies are starting to blur together in my mind. I can only learn about so many new characters, creatures, spells, and magic items before the old ones pack up and leave out my left ear.

Conservatives for Voldemort

Harry takes over where his teachers leave off
Harry takes over where his teachers leave off

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix continues the tradition of introducing new characters, creatures, spells, and magic items. The most notable addition is Imelda Staunton as professor Umbrage. Wearing pink to a black-robe formal at Hogwart’s, she’s a female version of Dana Carvey’s “church lady.” She dislikes the idea of progress for progress’ sake, preferring that the children study what has already gone before, which I suppose is one definition of the word “conservative.”

Umbrage has been sent to make sure that the children follow the education minister’s faith-based program to the letter. You see, in this make-believe world, there is evidence of a coming global catastrophe, but the administration chooses to pretend that everything is fine. Those who disagree with the current administration might be mildly tortured, which is only technically illegal.

Harry and his friends realize that they will never learn anything useful from this minister’s education system, so they set up their own classroom. Harry’s class offers evidence-based education and training, and instead of preparing for written exams, they prepare for real-world eventualities. Not everyone sneaks off to study with Harry; Malfoy and his clique become hall-monitor snitches, looking for the rebel base.

Episode V: Voldemort Strikes Back

Speaking of rebel bases, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix seems to borrow heavily from Star Wars. Whether it came from Rowling’s book, Michael Goldenberg’s screenplay, or Yates’ direction, the parallels are disappointingly striking.

As in Star Wars, the hero and the villain are deeply connected, as though they were both branches from the same tree. Yes, one is evil and one is good, but their power is strong and fate has chosen both of them for greatness.

Thirty years ago, the idea that revenge is evil — in an action movie! — was novel to me. Of course I was thirty years younger. By now I’ve seen enough action movies to know that audiences will demand revenge, and that screenwriters who call it evil will only find themselves painted into a corner, and that they’ll inevitably find some technicality that does more to pervert the idea that revenge is evil than respect it. So when Harry finds himself with the upper hand, a demon appears on his shoulder telling him to go ahead, take the revenge, I anticipate a handy coincidence or dastardly deed in movie seven that will allow revenge for the audience, but it will look like self defense or some other technicality. Movie morality hasn’t gained much nuance since 1977.

Also, Dumbledore has never looked so much like Obi-Wan. Both are robed men with a gray beard and a twinkle in the eye. And both get to fight a black robed opponent with a scary face using glowing red-and-blue weapons, no less.

And did I mention the Jedi... er, wizard mind tricks?

Harry Potter Fatigue Syndrome

I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with my niece, and she I saw completely different movies. She’s an avid fan who has read every book several times over. For her, Order of the Phoenix was a disappointment, but mostly because it didn’t follow the book closely enough. She could tell you why better than I (and if you post a comment below I’ll try to coerce her into answering).

For me, a simple muggle, it’s yet another jumble of special effects, plot shards, celebrity cameos, and sometimes-impressive imagery. Deconstructing the movie as a liberal statement against American domestic policies, or calling it a ripoff of a movie that itself borrowed heavily from classic hero stories, may spice it up for the otherwise bored.

In the end, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is just the next film in the series. It’s not very different from the others, and if I’m looking forward to the next installment, it’s partly because I’ll be that much closer to being able to put all this behind me.