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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:
David Yates


Description: In 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.
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Harry 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 (Pan’s Labyrinth, 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).

However, 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 . . .)
 


 



 

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