Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nicholas Hooper -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 photo 220px-Ootp_cover_zpsmuvmab8j.jpg

In strange irony, despite all of the praise I give maestro John Williams, I own every Harry Potter soundtrack except for the three he composed. It's not that I don't think they are up to par with the rest of his oeuvre, but rather I don't really have much of an emotional connection with those first three Harry Potter films...they are kids movies, and when they were released, I was no longer a kid. I didn't take much interest in the films until the characters reached their teenage years (uh...that sounded improper...sorry...I mean because I can relate more to being a teenager than a me alone!), and my Harry Potter soundtrack collection reflects that.
Speaking of awkward, Patrick Doyle received the rather unenviable task of immediately following Williams, by soundtracking the fourth Harry Potter film when Williams was too busy with the third Star Wars prequel and myriad other projects. Doyle bowed out after that one effort, and the task of composing music for the fifth film fell to relative unknown, Nicholas Hooper. This composer choice seemed to take many soundtrack fans aback. "Almost any composer available would have thrown themselves at this project, and you got this guy?"
However, while watching the film, it is clear that Hooper is up to the task. The fifth Harry Potter film marks a harsh transition from the carefree magic of the first four films, to the dark, frightening new reality of the latter four. Trifling concerns like "Who will win the house cup this year?" are forgotten for more serious questions like, "Am I and all of my friends going to die?" Hooper's score follows suit. In my opinion, Hooper's work fits this movie to a T. Also, I don't know what "to a T" means, I've just heard it all my life and am parroting it.
Hooper's score is dark and brooding, just like the film, as Harry finds himself alienated, disbelieved, and persecuted. Much of Order of the Phoenix is a mental and spiritual battle for Harry more than a physical one, so the soundtrack is populated with quiet strings and subtle electronic ambient textures. However, there's a hope brewing beneath the surface which is at times given a chance to explode.
Phoenix's soundtrack album begins with the raucous "Fireworks," which features a boisterous string section that experiences a surprise rendezvous with some loudly distorted electric guitar halfway through. "Fireworks," showcasing new sounds, but not immediately focusing on the bleak tone, is a pretty brilliant piece to open up the album. Another moment of intense, yet hopeful emotion comes in track ten, "A Journey to Hogwarts," featured during a segue where Harry confesses his anger and confusion to his uncle and confidant, Sirius Black, then returns to school from Christmas break. Hooper works his way from more quiet sounds to clashing strings and woodwinds that build and blossom into a powerfully optimistic statement. He does something similar in the final track, "Loved Ones and Leaving," which brings to mind fraternal unity in the face of darkness. However, the centerpiece for this album, and perhaps for the musical journey of the Harry Potter films in general, is track seven, "Possession."
I'll be honest. I am a film snob. I have a minor in film theory (only because my college didn't offer a major), have seen more European art films than I can remember, have dissected most of Hitchcock's films shot for shot, and have even pretended to like The English Patient when I was in high school. With that said, one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema comes near the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I should also add a second preface: JK Rowling's Harry Potter books don't rank too terribly high on my favorites list. I don't have some kind of Harry Potter bias fueling this statement. I enjoy the films enough to have an emotional connection to the last few, but the wizard's duel and Voldemort's subsequent possession of and exorcism from Harry Potter in the Order of the Phoenix grips my psyche just as strongly as the last shot of Vertigo, Winter Light's pastor deciding to hold service in an empty cathedral, and "No. I am your father." The combination of Harry suddenly becoming a peon in his own series, then having all of his flaws and mistakes shoved in his face as his body and mind are violated, then being brought back from the brink by what 1 Corinthians 13 tells us is God is too much for my soul to bear, and has reduced me to tears 100% of the times I have witnessed it. Hooper soundtracks this scene with miraculous perfection, tense strings reaching a tempo and pattern that brings to mind a trial, as Harry is shown how much he is like Voldemort, then a building and rising to an almost unbearably moving climax as, guided by the words of his mentor, Dumbledore, Harry focuses on the ways he is not. Here is the scene. Turn it up.

The other piece of significant music here is a tinkly bells and string theme for Professor Umbridge, one of the most unpleasant characters in the series. The piece, fitting for the character, is also unpleasant to listen to. And since I've gotten the good stuff out of the way, I'll get to the bad.
As much as this soundtrack works to back the film, on its own, in between the standouts, it isn't very engaging. A major chunk of its runtime is filled with quiet, short pieces lacking in unity. The album would at least have a feeling of emotional cohesion if it was tracked chronologically, but the order chosen here is a head-scratcher.
In the film, Hooper weaves hints of the "Possession" theme throughout the film, so that when he gives the full statement in the actual possession scene, there is a feeling of catharsis. That buildup does not exist on the soundtrack album, though, as the statements that hint at the theme often come after its track seven arrival. I don't understand why the album iss tracked this way.
So what you get here are some lovely, powerful pieces, surrounded by some music that is not bad, but rather unremarkable in comparison, though if all this music were ordered as it were in the film, it would at least hold the listeners attention. As it is, a great score for the film is just an okay soundtrack on disc.

2007 Warner Bros
1. Fireworks 1:49
2. Professor Umbridge 2:35
3. Another Story 2:41
4. Dementors in the Underpass 1:45
5. Dumbledore's Army 2:42
6. The Hall of Prophecies 4:27
7. Possession 3:20
8. The Room of Requirement 6:09
9. The Kiss 1:56
10. A Journey to Hogwarts 2:54
11. The Sirius Deception 2:36
12. Death of Sirius 3:58
13. Umbridge Spoils a Beautiful Morning 2:39
14. Darkness Takes Over 2:58
15. The Ministry of Magic 2:48
16. The Sacking of Trelawney 2:15
17. Flight of the Order of the Phoenix 1:34
18. Loved Ones and Leaving 3:15


Neal said...

Out of the Harry Potter movies, I feel like the 3rd and the fifth are the best... they feel more contained, and I would say they capture the book well while still doing what they need to do. Almost all the other ones... the book was better. Even if I like the movies overall.

And actually, this moment with Harry that you note in the fifth movie is my favorite as well. Really nails it, and I believe it does it in a more focused way than the fifth book does... at least in a powerful scene. It's more just there, consistently throughout the book. The movie does that as well, but this is the crisis moment that lets off all that build up.

*sniffs* Though I can't believe the books aren't on your favorites list. Rowling's style is more about humor and clear action rather than beauty, but her ideas just work together so well. And as the many other wannabe hits these days show, it's hard to consistently make your world work, and to end your story well. Throw a rock in the air and you could hit any of the other series I'm alluding to.

*cough* divergent *cough* maze runner *cough* hunger games

Excuse me, I had something stuck in my throat. :p

Nicholas said...

I think the seventh movie, because of its emotional stakes and consistent, bleak tone and cinematography, is my favorite, though I know that is not a popular choice.

When I first saw the fifth film, the climax had me do a quick turnaround from "Aw, man, they're not going to go through all the cool, weird stuff from the Department of Mysteries?" to "Woah...this is way more powerful than all the cool, weird stuff from the Department of Mysteries."

I liked the books. I enjoyed reading them. I might even read them again one day. But as far as YA fantasy Gold, I think I could read LOTR and the best Narnia books every year. I think Harry Potter is a tier below (like there's a little less universal truth, or something). With that said...yeah, Harry Potter is so much better than the huge rush of YA franchises that attempted to sail in its wake. I loved answering the question, "Why do these Twilight movies suck so bad compared to the Harry Potter movies?" with "Because the source material from Twilight is bad and the source material for Harry Potter is good. You can't make a movie about garbage into a movie that is not about garbage."

Neal said...

Hmm, are you considering the seventh movie as one, rather than two? It's kind of a pity that they had to do that, but I was actually in the camp of people who would have been willing to watch longer movies from early on, though I know that would have been tricky to do.

I'll be honest and say I haven't seen them both enough (or recently enough) to make a good judgement call. I would definitely say that the kid's acting quality really moved along once they got to the third movie, and of course they always had superb actors to work with as well. I felt pretty good about the rest from there, and kind of dislike the reviewer hate for new approach of "the last book these movies are based on now needs two movies." Yes, some like the Hunger Games are milking it, but there is so much good stuff in the seventh Potter book and movie that it wasn't just a money grab (though I'm sure that played in its favor for the studio).

Part of why I like the Potter series so much is the sixth and seventh books. I actually had been feeling like the fourth and fifth books were getting a little too long and had pacing issues (even if there is a lot of fantastic stuff in there), but the sixth and seventh books really move along well and aren't slow, despite their being about the same length. Some people say the seventh book is a little slow when they're camping in different forests for so long, but I think they're mistaking "we have reached a really depressing nadir due to a horcrux and what's going on in the real world" for slow. They're the same as the people I hear saying Sam and Frodo's journey is too slow when they're on their own. Just because the Riders of Rohan and Ents aren't running around them, there is a lot of emotional intensity (Tolkien sure felt it, he got stuck in writing their section and didn't know what to do to get them out of it).

I hear you on the fantasy gold chunk, though. Harry's walk to the grove in book seven (and from there) is fantastic, but it doesn't hit me any harder than Aslan's own walk up to a grove filled with enemies. They're both going from the same source material, but something has to be said for the books that really established the type of book the Potter series is. Too bad Narnia's movies were not on the same par as the Potter movies. I actually couldn't bear to watch Prince Caspian, and Ebert's review of Dawn Treader just made me shudder and wish they had kept at least doing it like TLTWW. Or however you write that out in shorthand. :p

Nicholas said...

I think splitting the last book into two films is actually a great idea from an artistic standpoint. The first one becomes a moody, dark chase film, and the second one is essentially an action film with two extremely strong emotional beats. With that said...the seventh book is the only one I've read twice, and not because it is my favorite. The camping/bickering section of the book was a real slog for me (yes, I am one of those people). I had every intention to read the book in one night, and that section killed it. I read the book a second time a few years later to see if my opinion of that section would improve. It was a little better, but I think only because I knew it would end. Strangely enough, though, I enjoyed those parts a lot in the film...maybe because watching them goes by so much faster than reading them. The scenes are shot so poetically--by the time the snow starts to fall and Hermoine and Harry are limping through the woods, ready to give up, I think the cinematographer deserves a fat bonus.
With that said, I loved Sam and Frodo's bit. You can really feel the darkness around them. It also helps that the entirety of Return of the King is about as long as the camping/bickering portion of Deathly Hallows. I get what Rowling was trying to do, but it just goes on and on. She could have halved the length and doubled the impact. I must say, though, if there's something I enjoy more in that book, it's how she doesn't make Voldemort magically disintegrate at the point of death. I thought it was great that his body is lying in the hall in the aftermath, and the heroes have to deal/live with it. It humanizes the whole affair so much more. And then that should have been the end, blasted flash forward.
Wow, those Narnia movies are awful. I made the mistake of reading TLTWATW for the umpteenth time right before going and...holy cow, I made a post about what I was going to say right now 11 years ago, and there's a comment from your then future wife about how the two of you are worried the movie will ruin the book.
With that out of the way, Crystal and I gave Prince Caspian a shot on rental, laughed a lot at moments that weren't supposed to be funny, and fell asleep far before the film was over. What a shame. One day, maybe after we're gone, someone will adapt them correctly.

Neal said...

It's been awhile since I read it, but I enjoyed those sequences in the book because it made it so real to me. You get the kids going through that darkness, but other people on the run as well, and hearing hints of rebellion over the radio. The danger of making that part too small is that it weakens the release after they leave that and begin to ascend upward. And it's a valuable contrast from the other books, as it's a real nadir of the whole series--even lower than Dumbledore's death. Are they ever going to get out of this? I'm sure there might be some ways to trim it or make it a little shorter/paced faster, but it would a very tricky paring down.

I would agree that the movie nailed the depression of the camping/bickering well. My only complaint there is the dancing scene between Harry and Hermione, as it hung up a little on the chemistry between the actors, while the characters always have a more brother/sister feeling to them. I've read that Rowling now thinks those two characters should have gotten together, but I'm going to put that in the category of her first instincts while writing the book being better (and maybe being influenced by watching the actors in the movies). The friendship between Harry and Hermione has always been something I liked in the books and make them less of a stock fantasy/story, if that makes sense.

I also wonder if this is one area that film has it easier than writing, as it's sometimes quicker and easier for film to establish atmosphere because it brings in so many more aspects than just words (colors, light, audio coating over montages, etc.). At least I recall the movie doing well there, and the visual of Hermione hiding just on the side of their wall of invisibility from those hunting them does something visually that will almost take much longer in words.

That's not to say you can't do atmosphere with writing (I couldn't finish McCarthy's The Road, it's atmosphere was so depressing), but it's hard to do, and scene so often trumps summary--movies can cover over their summary a little more easily, even if some people don't like montages, etc.

And yeah, that old post of yours about Narnia completely captures why the Potter and LOTR movies trump the Narnia and Hobbit ones... the former kept the heart of the originals, and the latter lost it. Ironically to that statement, both the third Hobbit movie and TLTWATW got completely sidetracked in a huge battle sequence. Or is that a coincidence? Too tired to care. :p