The most surprising thing about this movie is the credits list someone as being in charge of "world wide publicity for Harry Potter". Why?
You could post a note at 9 a.m. on J.K. Rowling's website that a new movie was coming out and by the end of the day the line to purchase tickets would stretch around the block. No matter how long until the movie's premiere. My husband is queuing up now for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
This film brings us to year five. Voldemort has risen, but the Ministry of Magic (specifically Minister Cornelius Fudge) is in denial. The Ministry is reassuring everyone that impending doom is not near. They question Harry's version of Cedric's death and accuse Dumbledore of being after the Minister's position. They send Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts.
This movie is essentially a chess game between Umbridge and Harry. Yeah, there are other bits with Voldy, Dumbledore and the Supernatural Scooby Gang, but Harry has to defeat Umbridge before he can move onto his next match. Umbridge, in true Orwellian fashion, keeps trying to reign in what she sees as disloyal to the Ministry factions at Hogwarts.
Hermione and Ron convince Harry to run secret sessions for Defense Against the Dark Arts for the students. It turns out Harry is probably the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher they ever had. Umbridge counters with a group of her own spies, and some line-writing detention time that really sinks in.
Here the movie really shines. In the book, Umbridge's clampdown on Hogwarts is slow and painful, and her persecution of Harry is so thorough it verges on the ridiculous. As a teacher, I know most parents would freak out if I assigned lines, let alone carved words into their child's flesh. In the movie there are only three scenes of this unique punishment, giving it far more impact.
The movie portrays Umbridge's missives far more dramatically than in the book. Plus we get wonderful scenes between Umbridge and the Hogwarts' regular teachers as she questions them in front of their classes. The heart wrenching expulsion of Trelawny (Emma Thompson) was a testament to the acting abilities of both Thompson and Staunton.
Umbridge pretty much steals the movie out from underneath everyone else. Her portrayal of blind loyalty to Fudge proves to be an interesting contrast to Harry's loyalty to Dumbledore. We watch her slow descent into madness. This is much more believable than in the book. Her giggle alone should garner a best supporting actor nod at the Oscars. The costume designers have done a great job portraying her as sort of a pink Stepford Jackie Kennedy. And the decorative cat plates on the wall of her office? Creepy.
Once Umbridge is out of the way, we move to visually the most stunning part, the battle with the Death Eaters. It was nice to see the kids lay down a bitchslap on the mean adults, but when the Order of the Phoenix shows up we see some real action.
Up to now, magic in this series has mostly been portrayed as parlor tricks. To see full-fledged wizards use unuttered spells in full combat is amazing. There is so much going on, it borders on chaos, but it is satisfying. Mad Eye Moody fights like you think he would.
And then Voldemort and Dumbledore go toe to toe. This battle is, quite frankly, awesome. It's what a battle between the two best wizards of their generations should look like.
The final struggle between Voldemort and Harry is also very well done. By using film clips, a huge section of the book is cut down to a few seconds and is much more effective.
This helps drive home the difference between Harry and Voldemort: Harry is loved and has friends, while Voldemort is alone. And that's why Harry will always win.
The movie clips along at an almost dizzying pace, and it has to in order to cram a 766-page book into a 138-minute movie. As always, with that cramming comes sacrifices. Ron and Hermione are almost spear-carriers in this movie, given the amount of time devoted to Umbridge and Harry.
Although Neville has the moment of growth during the training sessions, it means so little given his marginalization over the course of the previous movies. This also means that his revelation to Harry about his parents has little to no value, unless you have read the books. Luna Lovegood, so essential in the story, is there, but not utilized to her fullest. Cho's role has also been slightly changed in the movie. It works and will better explain what will come relationship-wise for Harry in Year 6.
Also sacrificed are many of the adult characters that appear or reappear in this installment. Tonks? She's there, and the casting is perfect, but don't blink or you'll miss her. Same goes for Mad Eye Moody, Lupin, the Weasleys, and Grawp, Hagrid's giant CGI brother.
The credits say it was Percy Weasley holding Harry in Dumbledore's office, but since they never mention his name, you wouldn't know if you hadn't read the books. Snape gets more screen time, but the insight into why he is so mean to Harry is too brief.
Sirius is back, but he doesn't really have the time to show how deeply crazy he is in the novel. The one crazy line that he does throw out has no impact unless you've done your reading. Nor does he really have time to develop the relationship with Harry as is in the book.
Still, there are moments in the movie just for the readers. When Neville pulls Luna out of the way, when Lupin holds Harry after Sirius's demise and when Tonks makes faces to entertain the kids, we know that the screenwriter and director care. The best of those scenes were Ginny's looks every time the Harry and Cho romance popped up. I appreciated that very much.
This is a very good adaptation. I enjoyed this movie way more than the Dickensian nightmare that is Book Five. Go see it. Several times. And then buy a copy. Work this good needs to be rewarded.