On Friday, I saw the latest installment in the Harry Potter series at the IMAX theater.
And surprisingly, it was great.
I went in with low expectations. While I am a huge fan of the books, some of the movies have been lacking. After I saw the last movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I left the theater angry at how badly the director chopped up the story. It's always tough to turn a book into a movie, but the challenge is to preserve the story and the characters. The movie, however, was little more than highlights of the book. They dropped key elements from the book that are improtant to character development and the mythos of the Potter-verse.
Order of the Phoenix was different, though. While they made some changes to the story, and cut a lot of the material, they stayed true to the essence of the tale. The movie flows seamlessly from beginning to end, while balancing dread, humor, special effects, drama, and humanity.
The IMAX is a great theater to see a big movie in. The surround sound is amazing, and the screen is more than 60 feet tall. It costs a couple dollars more than a regular theater, but the immersive experience is spell binding.
If you've read the book already, read on. If not, I guess you probably don't plan to read it, and won't be concerned about what follows. After all, it's been four years. Regardless:
The 3D experience starts when Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, Neville, and Ginny visit the Department of Mysteries. The disorienting environment of the Department is a natural fit for the 3D glasses. As Sirius, Voldemort, Luscious, the Deatheaters, the Order, and Dumbledore show up, the action and effects get more intense.
I had trouble following a lot of the action in the book, but in the movie, it's perfectly clear what's happening. Without taking a break from the action, we still get a moment to mourn Sirius's death and feel Harry's pain.
The scene in the lobby where Dumbledore fights Voldemort is reminiscent of the scene in the Matrix where Neo and Trinity storm the office building lobby to rescue Morpheus. Except at the Ministry of Magic it's spells flying through the air and smashing walls, unleashing an amazing rain of destruction.
The climax of the scene where Harry fights his internal battle against Voldemort is quick, deep, and highly satisfying.
Action scenes in movies are often a great way to show off special effects. In this sequence, though, the fast paced action took everything further. It showed off the effects, but also told the story and drove it further, gave the characters a chance to grow, and did it all with heart.
Umbridge is as evil in the movie as she is in the book. She still tortures Harry with the "I must not tell lies" punishment. It's surprisingly graphic the way the letters get carved into his skin.
Umbridge's copious proclamations are played for maximum comic effect. And her pink, kitty filled office is utterly creepy.
Sixteen year old Irish actress Evanna Lynch does an amazing job playing Loony Luna Lovegood. She captures the essence of a character who is not quite "there" in the same reality as everyone else. She captures the contradictory dreamy/grounded nature of the character surprisingly well. She is at once both reassuring and slightly creepy.
They cut out most of the Hogsmead visit in the movie, and they take a different approach to resolving the Cho Change story line. It seemed they were mainly looking for a way out of that subplot. And, while they took some time to show Harry and Cho flirting with one another, those scenes were more about Ginny Weasley's reaction.
I was a little disappointed in how they handled the Weasley twins departure from Hogwarts. I'm not sure if they ran low on the effects budget, but a scene that should have been full of Weasley practical jokes and crazy magic, turned into them just flying around setting off fireworks.
I also wish they spent more time on the Grimwauld Place story line. They cut most of that material, and we see Kreacher for maybe a minute. A lot of what happens there is importnat to understanding Sirius's strengths and weaknesses. It's also important for what happens in the rest of the books.
We also saw very little of Privet drive. While the opening Dementor attacks are chilling, they lost an opportunity by having the Dursley's leave when they did.
They also spent very little time on Nagini's attack on Arthur Weasley. The movie didn't take us to Mungo's hospital at all.
They also didn't explain clearly enough what happened to Neville's parents.
Despite those shortcomings, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is true to the soul of the book, and it's a great movie in its own right. It may be the best movie of the franchise.
If you're a fan, and haven't seen it yet, go to the theater today. If you have already seen it, go again. At try to catch the 3D IMAX version.