Posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2007 by Peter Sciretta
The Harry Potter series has grown on me. I remember attending the first movie wondering what the big deal was. I half dismissed it, but was there opening night for the sequel. I’ve since read all the books (or rather, listened to them on audiobook/ipod, which I highly recommend), I own all the DVDs, and I even wear a Prisoner of Azkaban t-shirt on occasion. I’m not one of those obsessed Harry Potter fanatics, but I’m also not what could be considered an occasional or recreational fan. I’ve seen the trailer for Order of the Phoenix more times than you can count on your two hands. But enough about me. The point is that I enter the Harry Potter films with high expectations.
And the Potter film series has improved since Chris Columbus first two films. Alfanso Curon’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is arguably the best in the series, followed shortly by Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Two great films by two great directors. So it worried me greatly that the next film was handed over to David Yates, a guy whose imdb resume included a bunch of British television shows and miniseries, and not much else. But fear not my friends, Yates knocks this one home. I was really happy to see Yates play off of the extended sweeping camera shots which Curon introduced in Azkaban. The special effects have also vastly improved over the course of the series.
Order picks up where we left off. Having fended of Voldemort in the climax of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Harry is about to start his fifth year at Hogwarts. But Potter is not greeted with a heroes welcome. The magical administration have turned the wizard media against Harry and Dumbledor, replacing the practical teachings with theory, and putting Hogwarts under the authority of Minestry of Magic member Dolores Umbridge. A secret order must be formed in case he who must not be named were to attack.
It’s hard to judge the Potter films based purely on the self contained movie. I’ve read all the books, and thus have a better understanding of the world and story than can be presented on screen. My biggest problems with this film and the last is the condensed story. It’s hard for me to watch or critique the film and not compare it to the book. Order was 896 pages long, yet the film is barely over two hours in length. This means that a lot of great stories and subplots don’t make the cut. Much of the Quidditch story has been cut, which includes Ron Weasley being appointed a Gryffindor prefect. But I think what irritates me the most is that in the book you really feel for Harry as the whole school and wizarding world turns against him. In the movie it is done in such a short time. Heck, they need to create Dumbledore’s army, so there isn’t much time for everyone to hate Harry. I also felt that the storyline between Harry and Cho was rushed in the film as compared with the book.
Condensing a 900 page story into two hours can also become exhausting. Gone are the fun scenes with character interaction. Order is almost non-stop story. That’s not a bad thing, but we just love the characters so much. I wish we had more time to just hang out with them. And of course there are moments that I wonder if casual Potter movie fans will understand not having read the books, but I guess that has to be expected.
One of the complaints that some had with the book when it was first released was that it was too dark and serious. That has definitely translated onto the big screen. Harry and the other kids have grown up. The wizard government has taken control of the media and schools. This is not the fun magical world from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The book was released in the summer of 2003, when the problems with the Bush administration were just starting to heat up. The parallels between Bush and the fearful Ministry of Magic are endless.
The best addition to the cast has to be Evanna Lynch, who beat over 15,000 girls for the role of the wonderfully weird Luna Lovegood. Imelda Staunton made me want to scream. She did such a great job as Dolores Umbridge. Everyone has encountered that gleefully smug authority figure at some point in their lives. And the regular cast transformed into their characters so long ago that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the real actors and the characters.
Phoenix is a visually stunning, multi-layered fantasy adventure that can’t be missed. In a summer of disappointments, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix leaves you happy but wanting more. Sure it has some flaws, but there is much to love. The best two hour version of Order of the Phoenix wouldn’t look much better than this version.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10