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Better than the book 

HARRY POTTER: New movie better than book.
  • HARRY POTTER: New movie better than book.

Overlong in print, “Order of the Phoenix” gets a much needed editing on film.

I don’t really need to review this for you, right? You’ve made up your mind already whether or not you’re going to go see it. I mean, it’s Harry Potter. You already think the whole thing is either brilliant or stupid or demonic or just simply good fun. In fact, if you haven’t seen it by now you probably never will, so you don’t need the opinion of some guy you’ve never met. Then again, they won’t pay me if I don’t give you my opinion, and if you had anything better to do than listen to me, you wouldn’t have finished this paragraph, so let’s continue, shall we?

I’m probably in the minority of Harry Potter fans in saying this, and if you’re a fan, you’ll probably not trust my opinion after this sentence, but I’m of the belief that the Harry Potter movies are, overall, better than the books. I say this as someone who has devoured every last page that J.K. Rowling has written on the subject of wizards and witches, and I had a ball the whole time, but frankly, Rowling suffers from the plague of all million-selling authors: No one wants to edit her. My rereading of “The Order of the Phoenix” in preparation for the next book’s release revealed to me a story that could be cut by roughly 40 percent without losing a single necessary plot point. She’s big on filler, but it’s filler that sells, so her editor leaves her alone about it.

Not so with the movies. There, the writer is allowed only 120-180 mostly blank pages of script to get the job done. There’s simply no time for filler, so you wind up with the essence of the story distilled into a leaner, less rambling structure. You also — and feel free to throw things at me here — won’t have to read Rowling’s prose. I’m sorry, but it’s a scientifically verified fact: The woman can plot some amazing, addictive stories, but the writing itself never rises above fair-to-middling. The movie, on the other hand, dispenses with the narration and gives us just the unseasoned action and dialogue, which to my taste does better justice to the stories.

The time limitation of film can also be a drawback, of course, and is usually the primary reason why movie adaptations rarely live up to the books they’ve adapted. In this case, you can see some of those cutting scars — there’s not as much time invested in depicting the inner workings of the Order of the Phoenix, and so the organization lacks much of the intrigue and mystery it has in the novel. Same goes with Harry’s torment, his nightmares, and his training to shield his mind against He Who Must Not Be Named. The constant need to keep the story moving doesn’t give us as much time to linger over the important points of the story as we would like.

On the other hand, over-cutting is the peril in adapting a 900-page novel, even one that by all rights should have been a 500-page novel. The only cure for that is adding an extra hour to the film, an option that I would have wholeheartedly supported in this case, even while I applaud the filmmakers’ rejection of it. In the final analysis, I think they did a pretty fine job with what they were given. It’s not the best film of the series (that would be “The Prisoner of Azkaban”), but it’s still very good, very fun, and even manages to be quite moving at times.

And for those of you who spat in outrage at my assessments of Rowling’s work above, allow me to redeem myself to you with this: Harry Potter is to this decade and the last what Star Wars was to the 1970s and ’80s, a phenomenon so engrossing that it has left an indelible stamp on our culture. And compared to George Lucas, J.K. Rowling is practically Bill Shakespeare.

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