Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review
Summer is drawing to a close. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is looking forward to going back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his fifth year but his excitement is touched with nerves. The summer has been long and lonely. He has not heard a single word from Ron (Rupert Grint), nor Hermione (Emma Watson) whilst even Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has been unusually quiet. Neither has he forgotten the events of the Goblet Cup, during which Cedric Diggory died in an enchanted maze, in which Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters had laid a trap. Harry would still dream about that day if he could sleep.
It is now near to the end of summer and Harry is spending another long day moping around the countryside around Privet Drive. His cousin Dudley and his gang and scaring kids in a playground when the skies turn grey and a cold chill sweeps through the fields and farmland. Running back to the safety of suburbia, Harry and Dudley take shelter from the rain in an underpass but see ice forming on the glass front of the lights. Two Dementors sweep in to the underpass, one on each side. Straining to reach his wand, Harry casts his Patronus into the darkness, chasing the Dementors away but drawing the attentions of the ministry. Later that evening, a letter arrives for Harry informing him that due to his using magic in the presence of a Muggle, Harry is to be expelled from Hogwarts following a trial at the Ministy.
That night, with Harry in the house alone, Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson) arrives to accompany to London. With him are a group of Aurors, Kingsley Shacklebolt (George Harris) and Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) amongst them, who, on broomstick, fly through London to 12 Grimmauld Place, which magically appears within a row of townhouses and in which Harry greets his uncle Sirius (Gary Oldman), his friend Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) Mr and Mrs Weasley (Mark Williams and Julie Walters), all members of the Order Of The Phoenix. He is also made welcome by Ron and Hermione. The next day brings Harry's trial and in a room in which he is surrounded by the good and great of the Ministry, Harry's heart is gladdened with the arrival of Dumbledore. But as much as Dumbledore may see him through that day, Voldemort is still Harry's to face alone, a figure that will haunt him every day of the coming year.
If Philosopher's Stone, Chamber Of Secrets and Prisoner Of Azkaban were all minor scuffles, each of them leading to the confrontation with Voldemort that ended Goblet Of Fire, Order Of The Phoenix, at least in book form, saw Harry take his first steps to what would be his final battle with the one others rather delicately call He Who Shall Not Be Named. Written in print, this makes the story sound very much more exciting than it actually is. Reading the book, one is made very aware that very little of the story of Harry Potter will be concluded in that volume, rather that it will be a mere appetiser for the main courses of Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. At 766 pages, that's quite an appetiser.
That same feeling is present in the watching of this film. Order Of The Phoenix is the longest book in the series - even Rowling has said that she would liked to have edited it more - but, so far, the shortest film. Director David Yates and writer Michael Goldenberg have been wise to trim the book as much as they did. It's a long-winded story, even feeling so as it rests in one's hands by the sheer weight of the hardback book, leaving Yates and Goldenberg doing well to reduce the story to its highlights, being the pre-school trial at the Ministry Of Magic, the introduction to the Order Of The Phoenix, the principalship of Dolores Umbridge, the gathering of Dumbledore's Army and the battle at the Ministry.
Some of the cuts have been savage. Quidditch, which had always broken the action in the past and was a favourite with younger members of the audience, has been removed entirely. As well as not offering a distraction from the main story - unlike the book, there's precious little of that in Order Of The Phoenix - this leaves Ron Weasley looking somewhat out on a limb as his trying out for the Quidditch team actually gave him something to do. Although quite a gangling presence anyway, Ron doesn't do a great deal more than stand around behind or beside Harry, now reduced to a Crabbe or Goyle presence within Gryffindor. Others find entire characters written out of the story, such as Firenze the centaur or Dobby the House Elf, who played such a prominent role in Chamber Of Secrets and will do so again. Sometimes, they leave problems for the writers and directors of films six and seven, including a number of items that Kreacher seemed to care a great deal for, which would prove important in Deathly Hallows. There is no mention of the pensieve with which Harry explores Snape's memories of being a pupil at Hogwarts - there is a brief aside in the film but nothing to suggest the concerns that Harry has over the actions of his father - Neville Longbottom is, once again, reduced to a figure of comedy and Dumbledore exists as little more than a cameo part for most of the film. Robbie Coltrane fares little better.
Other characters are more memorable. Luna Lovegood, who caught one's imagination in print as an odd spirit, is sensitively portrayed by Irish newcomer Evanna Lynch and proves to be much more of a friend to Harry in the film than either Ron or Hermione, although the opposite could be said of the same characters in the book. Similarly, Daniel Radcliffe is accomplished in the role of Harry Potter, making him much more sympathetic than the whining teen of the book. Potter is not a particularly likeable sort in books five through seven, with Rowling working hard to write him not only like a teenager but one who has been through a great deal. Radcliffe at least has his Potter smile occasionally. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Tonks both add an occasional sense of fun but there's much too little of them while the film doesn't make use of David Thewlis or Gary Oldman quite enough.
Where Order Of The Phoenix works so very well is in the same manner as that of the Star Wars prequels, seeing Aurors face Death Eaters in a duel that is not so very far removed from watching Jedi against Sith. There it was lightsabers sparking against one another. Here, it is flashes of light from wands that illuminate the screen, each one as colour coded as the weapons of Star Wars, Dumbledore's blue against Voldemort's red, Sirius Black against Lucius Malfoy. Such devotion to the proper planning of the finale is justified when it actually happens. Not only does the fight in the Ministry stand out in this film but does so when viewed within the entire series. Aurors apparate in the gloom of the deserted ministry in bursts of bright light, their ghostly white trails set against the dark cloaks of the Death Eaters as spells ricochet around the room. As in the book, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tonks, 'Mad Eye' Moody, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin draw wands against Bellatrix Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy and others in a riot of noise, light and colour. The glee in the character's eyes suggest this was a moment worth waiting for and that, now it has arrived, it is one to savour.
Order Of The Phoenix is very much at its best in these moments, not just there but in Dumbledore and Fawkes disapparating from the school and in the later duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort, which, for the sheer sight of it alone, tops anything seen in the series to date, even Harry's first casting of his Patronus in Prisoner Of Azkaban. But the trouble with Order Of The Phoenix is that it really is only interested in these moments. The fifth year's taking of their OWLs is only briefly mentioned and the sight of the examinations themselves is only so that Fred and George's impressive leaving of Hogwarts can have its moment of glory on the screen. And very good it is too but it overshadows everything else in the film until Harry and the rest of Dumbledore's Army travel to the Ministry on the backs of Thestrals. Order Of The Phoenix is not one of the better books of the series and nor does it make for a particularly strong film but come the colourful casting of spells late in the film, it very nearly makes up for all of its earlier faults. For them alone, Order Of The Phoenix almost redeems itself. It's no Prisoner Of Azkaban, nor is it even a Chamber Of Secrets, but it turns out to be a better film than is suggested by its rather nondescript opening. Anyone who actually dribbled with excitement during the Jedi-versus-Sith duels of the Star Wars prequels may want to step this way.
The trouble with Harry Potter is that for all the talk of the riches that it's bringing Warner Brothers at the tills and in cinema tickets sold, it does tend to look a little cheaply done by. The Philosopher's Stone was rightly criticised for the quality of its CG, most notably in the Quidditch scene, but while some films have moved the technology in leaps and bounds, Order Of The Phoenix offers the sight of Grawp, Hagrid's half-brother, and a more rotten CG creation you won't see this year. As well as bearing a quite curious similarity to Lee Evans, Grawp has that same sense of artificiality that came with much earlier attempts to render human characters but who is no made not a great deal better than were the Quidditch players of The Philosopher's Stone.
The actual DVD presentation isn't very much better than that of Goblet Of Fire. The picture, now as then, tends towards being very murky, with the viewer having to sometimes peer into the gloom to better see what's going on, with the effect being a good deal of banding around what bright lights appear in the darkness. Detail tends to suffer with the picture looking much softer than one would like. Artifacts are also something of a problem, most often in the darkness of the forest and in the sparkle of wand-light that illuminates the Ministry Of Magic at the film's end. However, at most times, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is generally fairly reasonable. The opening trip through London might well be nondescript but so too is much of the rest of the film, with it and the DVD presentation only really coming to life with Fred and George's leaving of the school. Thereafter, the picture is bright, colourful and offers plenty of detail but it looks far too much like David Yates finally realising that there ought to be magic in the film. However, for that last half hour, or thereabouts, the DVD presentation is in good shape.
There has been talk of a poor audio mix on this DVD but it's really not at all bad, more that it is rather more quiet than one is used to. The first minute or so will have the viewer adjusting the volume to just hear what is being said. Even then, one fears that with the first parp of noise, it will be a sprint to the volume control to subdue the film a little. However, let the film settle and there really is nothing to be concerned about. The film has many moments when the action is punctuated by near-silence, particularly during the final battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort, which helps give space to events, lending each swish of wand the feeling of sounding very impressive. However, for the most part, it sounds fine if, like the picture, not really very magical until the final half hour. Finally, there are English subtitles.
Additional Scenes (10m30s): Should you like Emma Thompson and found that there wasn't quite enough of her in the finished film, then you ought to be very happy with these, some of which were cut from the film entirely while others were trimmed. Thompson has a comedy scene in which she struggles to enjoy her meal while Umbridge is greeting the pupils of Hogwarts and another, a little of which appears in the final edit, in which Umbridge encourages her to predict something f the future. Elsewhere, we see more trouble from the hastily-chosen prefects, Umbridge threatening Harry and Hermione in the woods and Harry, Hermione
Trailing Tonks (19m24s): Tonks is one of the more memorable characters in the final three books, not least for the detail that Rowling pays to the colour of her hair but for the romance that she enjoys with Remus Lupin. Natalia Tena plays Tonks in the film and this video diary follows her from hair and make-up, through the canteen, her trailer, where she plays a self-written Christmas song for the viewers, and to the field where the actors play cricket between scenes. Tena interrupts the video diary occasionally and though she wanders in and out of sound stages, she doesn't actually see very much being filmed, tending towards interviewing members of the crew as they set about designing sets, props and visual effects. Although we do get to see how best to cast spells.
Harry Potter: The Magic Of Editing (5m21s): It's a feature on...editing. Wake up, you there at the back! The back of the DVD case offers the tantalising suggestion that this feature will show you the difference a good edit can make but, really, it does no such thing, being much too short for that. However, we do get director David Yates and editor Mark Day using a couple of scenes to illustrate how they should be edited and what their role, as well as that of the composer and the visual effects artists, is to ensure it has maximum impact.
The Secrets Of Harry Potter (43m52s): Without giving anything away - this feature ignores the final two books - this looks at the threads that are sewn through films one to five in the series of Harry Potter movies. With contributions from a number of authors and movie websites, this picks out some of the storylines that viewers and readers might have missed. That's much easier done than you might realise given that there's a tendency, with the sheer size of books four and five, to sprint through them so this little catch-up on the way the story's going, if not saying anything new, isn't unwelcome either. The cast are on hand to talk about their characters and how they see them and the story developing but JK Rowling is conspicuous by her absence.
Finally, there is some DVD ROM Content but given that I refuse to install (and immediately uninstall) Interactual on my PC, I was unable to access it.
Actually, I would say that for its lack of concessions towards pop culture and for saving us the sight of Radiohead as a wizarding cabaret band, I prefer Order Of The Phoenix to some of the Potter films that have gone before. That sight was not so very different from those sixties movies in which Dave Dee, Beaky, Dozy, Mick And Tich make an appearance amongst a lot of grim northerners falling pregnant and saying 'bloody' a lot and were just as welcome. For its staying just a little true to the spirit of the books, Order Of The Phoenix isn't bad but it's not the best of the films either. It certainly won't convert anyone but neither will it turn anyone who's been sufficiently devoted to the story to make it this far. Make no mistake, the age of child for whom Harry Potter was intended will not care but neither should they.