Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***1/2
Directed by David Yates
Written by Michael Goldenberg, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort
Natalia Tena as Nymphadora Tonks
Brendan Gleeson as Alastor 'Mad- Eye' Moody
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black
David Thewlis as Remus Lupin
Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy
Katie Leung as Cho Chang
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Emma Thompson as Sybil Trelawney
Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid
138 Minutes(Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. )
The endless summer of sequels and prequels and adaptations continues with the fifth Harry Potter film "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." It certainly is Harry Potter month, and not only is this film being released, but on the 21st there is the publication of the final book "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," set for a theatre release in 2010. While this does not hold a candle to the masterful "Harry Potter of the Goblet of Fire," this one does do a great job at adapting the book (which I am re-reading at the moment.) It is a huge challenge to adapt a nearly 900 page book with tiny print into a 138 minute film, and as a result many of the fun little subplots and character returns are either trimmed down or cut completely. But in the end director David Yates did a very good job at continuing the tone of the films, which are getting darker and darker as time goes on-something that also happens in the novel, and there is not much to complain about.
At the end of "Goblet of Fire," the evil Lord Voldemort was successful at restoring himself to his human body, and he is out there somewhere gathering followers of trying to get in contact with his former group-known as the Death Eaters. Harry Potter knows this because he escaped from the Dark Lord, but sadly the only adult to believe him was the headmaster of his school Hogwarts-Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore was able to convince those who trust him that the Dark Lord has returned, but the other wizards and witches are siding with the Minister of Magic, Corenelis Fudge, who claims that Potter and Dumbledore are insane and liars. Fudge is simply scared that the Dark Lord could possibly be back, and will stop at nothing to squash the rumors that he is. Harry is whisked away from his evil aunt and uncle and brought to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, a group of Dumbledore's followers from the last time the Dark Lord was at bay. And before he knows it he is back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the political battle has continued. There is a new teacher, Professor Umbridge, who was assigned to teach directly from the Minister of Magic. She appoints herself higher than the teachers and begins enforcing rules at the school to make sure that Dumbledore is not brainwashing his students to believe that the Dark Lord has returned. And with the entire wizard world dividing itself into two groups, it is easier for Voldemort to gain the support of the various magical creatures around them, including the soul sucking dementors. On the side, Harry and his two best friends Ron and Hermione gather students interested in defending themselves, and with Harry as their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, they plan to rebel against the Ministry and get people to believe that You-Know-Who is back.
Now many of the other reviews I've read for the film complain of the dark tone that these films have become. the first two-helmed by family friendly director Chris Columbus-made them more innocent and more magical. This entire film, as well as the book, is all about political struggle, and the beginning of the great war that continues through the sixth, and will go on in the seventh book. I made a comment of late that was saying that the books aged with the original readers. I was in the fifth grade when I first picked up the first Harry Potter book, and I got a rousing adventure story with a little bit of magic involved. And as I got older they got darker and darker-the characters changed, some died, the themes became a bit more complex. These books are certainly not for kids-not only are they dark but at times they a bit hard to understand. But there is a constant hero that always has to strive to the top of those that want to bring him down, and as Harry gets older the readers get older, and they mature. The magic is not gone from Harry Potter, but it is just not as eminent. It isn't playtime anymore. The look of the film does indeed stress that point, and the whole thing has this blue and grey tint. This is certainly a dreary experience, and I'm glad that they are sticking with a more outside of Hollywood way of doing these films. When Chris Columbus was directing, and when John Williams was the guy doing the score there was just something a bit too flashy and showy about the films, but these more quiet ones that really do stress story and not style are the much better ones.
The acting is all top notch, and the cast is literally a whose-who of great British actors and actresses. While some of them only appear for a little bit, there presences are all known and respected. If you look at the cast list above you will understand why, and all of the actors-in the little role they have-all seem like they are having a great time. When one of them isn't on the screen, you can't lament because there is an even better actor in front of you. The best is easily Imelda Staunton who has the biggest adult role, and is absolutely wonderful as Umbridge. There should also be a law that Alan Rickman is in every movie ever made. I would not mind. The three youths-Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson-are all perfectly decent actors and I really don't think that they will be typecast for the rest of their lives, or seen as Harry, Ron, and Hermione for as long as they live. Like I said a lot does happen in this book, and it is impossible to get every little subplot-which is upsetting for that matter because this is the best in the series in my opinion-but the main highlights are put in which is enough. Even at 138 minutes it seemed very quick, and I would not have minded for another 30 minutes to put some other things in. A cameo by Kenneth Branagh would have just made things perfect, and if you read the book you would understand.
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is also playing in IMAX, which is the format that I saw it. The screen is huge, and the final duel at the Department of Mysteries is presented in IMAX 3-D. Now I liked the 3-D "Polar Express" which is the last time I encountered IMAX 3-D, but here it was just distracting. I was perfectly enjoying the film in the regular format and when the glasses symbol came on the bottom of the screen I was a bit reluctant to put them on. The 3-D took away from the film a bit, and I am interested in seeing the film on a regular screen for a comparison. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is one of the better films of the summer because it does not try to do something extraordinary. It did not go out of the way to be too confusing, the grand battle at the end is done with style-and its quick and deep and epic at the same time. It takes from the great source material and does it well. It is complex, enjoyable, and deals with emotion that many of the summer movies this year have been missing. And it makes me look forward to not only the next book, but the next film.