HARRY POTTER AND
THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert
Grint, Emma Watson, Imelda Staunton, George Harris, Helena Bonham Carter,
Natalia Tena, Kathryn Hunter, Evanna Lynch, Gary Oldman, Harry Melling, Richard
Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Sian Thomas, Jason Boyd, Richard Macklin, Charles Hughes,
Susie Shinner, Auror Dawlish, Nick Shim, Ralph Fiennes, Apple Brook, James
Walters, James Utechin, Alec Hopkins, Jason Piper
2007, 138 Minutes, Directed by:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry returns for his fifth year of
study at Hogwarts and discovers that much of the wizarding community is in
denial about the teenager's recent encounter with the evil Lord Voldemort,
preferring to turn a blind eye to the news that Voldemort has returned. Fearing
that Hogwarts' venerable Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is lying about
Voldemort's return in order to undermine his power and take his job, the
Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, appoints a new Defense Against the Dark
Arts teacher to keep watch over Dumbledore and the Hogwarts students. But
Professor Dolores Umbridge's Ministry-approved course of defensive magic leaves
the young wizards woefully unprepared to defend themselves against the dark
forces threatening them and the entire wizarding community, so at the prompting
of his friends Hermione and Ron, Harry takes matters into his own hands. Meeting
secretly with a small group of students who name themselves "Dumbledore's Army,"
Harry teaches them how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, preparing the
courageous young wizards for the extraordinary battle that lies ahead.
Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a good entry in the Harry Potter movie
franchise. Problem is, one expected more than simply “good” when it comes to
this particular series. One expects “great”. You see, a funny thing happened with the Harry Potter
movies. As opposed to most movie franchises, almost each new entry actually
improved on the previous one. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets actually proved to be
better than the first film in the series; and the third installment
the 2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban —
nudged the series into a “darker”, less kiddie friendly territory. While
Azkaban is probably still the best film in the series,
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
consistently built on Azkaban’s legacy and was a worthy entry.
Order of the Phoenix is
still “dark”, but it doesn’t let audiences’ imaginations soar as the previous two films
did. Maybe it is because an aura of familiarity hangs over
the proceedings (Harry has yet another climactic magical battle with Voldemort,
but we are spared the regular Quidditch match). Perhaps the fault lies with new
director Yates’ workman-like approach. Action scenes are often staged awkwardly
while the set designs and special effects often have a humdrum and flat feeling
about them. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak’s colour palettes occasionally seem
uninspired and dull. Production designer Stuart Craig has contributed
quite a few imaginative sets to this film as he did to all the Potter
movies he has worked on (he was production designer on all of them). However
at times director Yates seems unclear how to utilize these sets properly, and
one if left to wonder what a more visionary director such as Guillermo del Toro
Hellboy) could have accomplished with the same
material at hand.
"Good, but not great. Fans expecting more than simply 'good'
would be disappointed .
Director Yates’ talents seem
more suited to small-scale dramas than big-budgeted special effects blockbusters
(there would be no point in seeking out Order of the Phoenix in IMAX
theatres, to be honest). The acting —
especially the children’s —
has much improved from previous installments, even Rupert Grint’s constant
mugging as Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley is kept to a thankful minimum. The
newcomers also acquit themselves admirably. Particular mention should be made of
Imelda Staunton, who joins the cast as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts
teacher, the ruthless Dolores Umbridge. Dolores Umbridge is a great new
villainess, a camp version of Nurse Ratched, all fake smiles and giggles while
adorned in a kitschy pink.
Pink is the new black as they
say. Actress Staunton creates such a memorable
if over-the-top character
— that she practically steals the movie right out from
underneath everybody else she is in a scene with. Evanna Lynch who makes her
acting debut in the role of Luna Lovegood also gives her character the right
amount of required looniness and offbeat wisdom to be mentioned here.
Unfortunately, with a few minor
exceptions, most of the actors are criminally underutilized as they bravely do
the best they can with the small amount of screen time they do have at their disposal
(blink and you’ll miss Emma Thomson, for instance).
Part of the problem is the
film’s “short” running time. Ironically, while Harry Potter and the Order of
the Phoenix is the longest Potter book yet to be adapted to the big
screen, it has the shortest running time of all the films. While the book it is
based on weighs in at a whopping 870 pages, it runs for a “mere” 138 minutes.
(In comparison, Philosopher’s Stone was 300 pages/152 minutes; Chamber
of Secrets 352 pages/161 minutes; Prisoner of Azkaban 448 pages/141
minutes and Goblet of Fire 752 pages/157 minutes.)
The relatively crisp running
time may be welcome in a summer in which audiences had to slog it through
enormously long blockbusters such as Pirates 3 and
Spider-man 3; however, at times one cannot help
but want the film to spend more time on the plot and its characters. Readers
familiar with the next book in the series will know for instance that the
loyalties and allegiances of a minor character will play a key role, but this
particular character is almost given short shrift in Order of the Phoenix.
Much of the film’s faults can
be ascribed to British TV director David Yates’ relative inexperience. Yates has
some big shoes to fill, particularly those of Alfonso Cuarón, the
Children of Men director whose Prisoner of
Azkaban is still the best entry in the series. Yates has been signed on to
also direct Half-blood Prince for next year and while I’m sure he will do
a decent job at it, a franchise this lengthy perhaps requires a more capable
hand at the reins to keep things fresh and interesting (guess I’m starting a
“del Toro for Deathly Hallows” campaign here).
don’t take the above negative comments wrong: Harry Potter and the Order of
the Phoenix is definitely still worth your time. Even though it took a bit
longer than usual in this particular entry’s case, the Potter universe is
still an immersive one and this critic quickly found himself lost in onscreen
events. Unlike many other movie franchises Harry Potter has thus far not worn
out its welcome and is still wonderfully entertaining. Parents with smaller
children should beware though: some earlier scenes featuring so-called
“Dementors” are pretty intense and scary.
Of course, if you’re new to the
whole Potter thing then a visit to your local video shop is recommended
to check out previous installments; otherwise, you’d be pretty much lost as this
film’s events follow immediately on those in Goblet of Fire. (It is
obviously recommended that you kick off with the books instead as the books are
always better as they say).
Good, but not great. Fans expecting more
than simply “good” would be disappointed though. Still, that probably
won’t matter as they will have the last Harry Potter book to console them
in the weeks to come . . .
(Note: at almost
eighteen Daniel Radcliffe is really beginning to look too old to pass as the
fifteen-year-old he is supposed to be portraying. In 2010’s Deathly Hallows
he’ll a 21-year-old playing a 17-year-old. Better than the thirtysomethingers
who played in teens in Grease though. Incidentally Radcliffe should make a cool Peter Parker
one day . . .)