Warming up for tonight's advanced screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I watched some of the earlier films in the series on ABC Family this weekend. (While I have them on DVD, I'm still just not an On Demand kind of person.) I noticed that despite new directors and screenwriters, and an ever-expanding cast of British talent, one thing remains the same: when compared to the books, the films do a huge disservice to Ron Weasley.
Much of this is Rupert Grint's fault. I don't know if he's a bad actor -- that kind of thing can be so subjective -- but he pales in comparison to his co-stars. His version of Ron comes across as too timid, and loyal in a mostly impetuous way. I can forgive this interpretation for the first few films, but Ron Weasley is supposed to blossom into a fully formed part of the Harry/Ron/Hermione triumvirate by now, and it's just not happening.
There's also the indirect harm to Ron Weasley caused by what the writers and directors choose to do with Grint. I once read that Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuarón asked the three principals to write an essay about their characters. Emma Watson wrote some 13 pages about Hermione, Daniel Radcliffe was concise about Harry, and Grint neglected to turn anything in. Maybe that's why Hermione gets to speak lines that Ron says in the book, like making a courageous defense of Harry in the Shrieking Shack.
As for movie #5, I liked it but didn't love it. Hitting on all the major points of the series' mythology, it comes across as a bit of a Cliffs Notes version. My sister was bothered by the film's choice to definitively assign the prophecy to Harry Potter (she always liked how it could just as easily been describing Neville Longbottom). I was bothered by its kid-glove handling of Harry, who in the book is a less likable, sullen teenager by now, but is made too noble here. By comparison, Dumbledore is too lawyerly in how he interacts with Harry, and at times comes across as a bit of an ass.
Watching the film, you get the idea that director David Yates and writer Michael Goldenberg were too concerned with staying within the Gospel of J.K. Rowling and less willing to leave things open to interpretation. For example, you see the jealousy of Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) in regards to Harry's interaction with Cho Chang (Katie Leung), clearly foreshadowing what happens in book 6. But no mention is made of the keepsake in the Black household that gets stolen in book 5 and is believed by some readers to be a horcrux for the purposes of book 7.
I imagine that most discussions of this movie will deal with what the movie left out (and you're welcome to do so in the comments), so I'll address what the film got right: Evanna Lynch and Imelda Staunton were outstanding casting choices for Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge, respectively. Remember how Kenneth Branagh aced his portrayal of Gilderoy Lockhart in the second movie? Staunton is at least as good at nailing her role here. The other new addition is Tim Burton's corpse bride, Helena Bonham Carter, who has the right look for Bellatrix Lestrange but speaks few lines.
The best thing the film does is take advantage of the visualization of Harry's memories -- a major plot point in the book -- by recalling scenes from the previous four movies, and even play around with them a little. The best involves the use of Severus Snape and the mirror of Erised... I won't say more.