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HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brenand Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters
Director:  David Yates
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  139 Minutes
Release Date:  December 11, 2007

“You’re a fool, Harry Potter…and you will lose everything.”

Film **1/2

The battle draws closer with each passing year.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the longest book in the series by J. K. Rowling, but oddly enough, the shortest film so far.  In other words, the turkey is still largely there, but don’t go sniffing around too much for the trimmings.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ended on a dour exclamation point…for Harry (Radcliffe), it was the knowledge that the evil Lord Voldemort (Fiennes) had successfully returned, with the death of a Hogwarts classmate left as a black calling card.  Now, in his fifth year at the school, Harry must prepare for the inevitable confrontation, even though the Ministry of Magic and many of Harry’s own chums refuse to acknowledge the Dark Lord is back. 

But Harry has Ron Weasley (Grint) and Hermione Granger (Watson) by his side…stalwart to the end.  And he will need them, because a Ministry lackey named Dolores Umbridge (Staunton) has arrived at the school, and plans to make an example of Harry as a fraud and a liar.

Thankfully, the ever resilient headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Gambon) believes in Harry, and even allows him into the secret of the Order of the Phoenix…an organization preparing to stop Voldemort, no matter what the cost.  Included is his still-on-the-lam uncle Sirius Black (Oldman), the last real remnant of Harry’s family who had met their fate at Voldemort’s hands when Harry was just a baby.

When Umbridge takes over the Defense Against the Dark Arts class, a part of the curriculum that would seem more important than ever, she seems determined not to give her students any practical knowledge that would actually save their necks in the wizarding world.  Once again, it’s up to Harry and his friends…breaking school rules and taking matters into their own hands.  An army is about to rise.

One could easily consider what was and wasn’t cut from the book in the film, but for me, as the stories got darker and the stakes got higher, the movies seem to be suffering the worst from it all.  Where’s the magic?  Where’s the sense of wonder?  Where’s the world of fantasy that the former movies enveloped us in for a couple of hours or more? 

While the tale of good versus evil plays well on the page, I’m concerned that what made the films such escapist fare is being lost in the process.  Order of the Phoenix isn’t a bad film, but it left me feeling a bit detached and dissatisfied.  I love all of Rowling’s books, but the movies may be struggling a bit to carry the weight.

The cast continues to be great across the board, starting with the three young stars Radcliffe, Grint and Watson.  Their age is starting to show, and it won’t get any better with two movies to go, but they still realize their characters fully, with integrity and humanity, and continue to earn our emotional investment.  Ralph Fiennes is a wickedly good addition as Voldemort, and the parade of British stars including Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and others serve the stories well.  Helena Bonham Carter’s introduction to the mix as Bellatrix Lastrange is also a promising touch.

Knowing how the stories continue, I’m still looking forward to what will happen next in the world of Harry Potter on the big screen.  At the same time, I have to proceed with some trepidation.  Order of the Phoenix is the beginnings of some dark times for Harry and his friends…will the movies be able to carry them whilst reminding us of the magic of Rowling’s original vision?  Or will they feel more and more like a Dementor’s kiss?

Time will tell.  I’m still wild about Harry…and I still believe he has a trick or two up the sleeve of his Gryffindor robe to show us.

Video ***1/2

This is a mostly dark movie, and Warner’s anamorphic transfer delivers quite nicely.  There are some instances of unavoidable grain and murkiness, but for the most part, images and colors hold up well and render sharply and clearly.

Audio ****

These discs continue to deliver magic in the audio department…from the ambient outdoors of Hogwarts to the full out battle at the Ministry, the 5.1 mix delivers plenty of dynamic range, multiple smooth crossover effects, and clean dialogue and music beds.  You even get a special code to make a one-time digital copy of the movie with your PC.

Features ***

The two disc set includes additional scenes, a look at the secrets in the movies that may lend a clue to the ultimate outcome, a set tour with Natalia Tena (Tonks), a look at editing with the director and editor Mark Day, plus some bonus content for your DVD ROM.

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix delivers J. K. Rowling’s darker installment with a fair amount of faithfulness…at least in tone, if not in overall presentation.  The increasing bleakness may be threatening the entertainment value of the movie franchise, so we may just have to wait and see what the last two pictures have in store.

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