Warner Bros. // 2007 // 139 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // December 11th, 2007
The rebellion begins.
Hot on the heels of the release of the last literary volume of the Harry Potter series, the film incarnation of the fifth volume, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released in the summer of 2007. So what happened? Well from a box-office perspective, the film made the second-highest total in the franchise at just over $290 million and is the fifth-highest grossing film of 2007 as of this writing, but it's notable for being the first Potter film to be released on HD DVD and Blu-ray. So what are the results?
The fifth book of seven in the series by J.K. Rowling was adapted to the screen by Michael Goldenberg (Contact) and directed by David Yates (Rank). This installment finds Harry still dealing with the death of his friend Cedric Diggory at the Goblet of Fire tournament, but he is also suffering from nightmares that seem to place him into the body of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, Red Dragon) when he looks for or attacks Harry's friends. Upon Harry's return to Hogwarts for his fifth year with his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), the headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, Layer Cake) finds himself increasingly under more fire for his teaching methods, as does Harry, who is accused of using Voldemort's attack on Cedric as a hoax. So the Ministry of Magic decides to place one of their own as the new Teacher for Defense of the Dark Arts, a woman named Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, Freedom Writers), whose manner of teaching seems to fly in the face of Harry's real-life experiences. So Harry helps to train an underground group of students in the means of defense and battle, in preparation for what's to come.
There seemed to have been some concern about how Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix would play out when it was announced who was going to be shaping this into film. First off, Yates was better known for his work directing British television, and considering that directorial names like Chris Columbus (Home Alone), Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), and Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) had come before him, it was a surprising choice. Then Steve Kloves, who produced screenplays for the first four films, did not come in to do work on this one. Then you've got the film which, at 139 minutes, is about 15 minutes less than your average Potter film, which would be a concern if large chunks of the book would be omitted in the process. So we wind up with a series of montages, which I guess is fine. I mean, someone famous once said that even Rocky had a montage. But it seems that newspaper montages seem to be a bit beneath the franchise.
By no means is this a condemnation of the film; I quite liked it. In fact, the thing that Yates does with the story that I enjoyed was that he took a couple of the givens out of the previous films that had become a custom. There always seems to be in one manner or another, scenes where Harry, Ron, and Hermione going back to Hogwarts. So why not skip it and deal with the other stuff first? In between that and omitting a lot of the scenes where you have Harry marveling at some new creature or magic, you are trimming a bit of so-called exposition.
Harry doesn't marvel at anything new here, but it's part of a larger decision to put Harry past that stuff. After Cedric died, Harry really couldn't go back to that, and Radcliffe's performance shows that off in surplus. In the fifth film, Harry is dealing with Cedric's death, looking to Dumbledore for guidance and finding him among the most distant people at Hogwarts, and thinking that his friends probably don't or won't understand what he's been through. When he's thrust into the role of mentoring the other students in combat, Harry's reluctant at first, but then he shows them what they need to survive in larger fights.
Along with that transformation, to see how the kids have progressed and grown into these roles is almost poignant to watch. Neville Longbottom has gone from gawky pudgy kid into a more self-confident adolescent, and that's all due to Matthew Lewis. Aside from Radcliffe, Lewis has the best performance among the kids, as he meets face to face with Azkaban prisoner Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club), his parents' torturer. It really is fascinating to watch the transformation of some of these characters, and considering the changes that are to come, it makes for the definition of anticipation.
Technically, the 2.40:1 widescreen version of the film uses the VC-1 codec and is an absolute stunner. The black levels are among the best that I've seen and they don't fluctuate at all, and the detail that can be discerned from any given shot is amazing. I had seen Goblet of Fire on HD DVD previously, but this blows it out of the water. The PCM soundtrack is also phenomenal, all you need to know from the start is that your subwoofer engages about 25 seconds into the film, and doesn't stop until you press the button with the square on it. Surround use is active and provides an immersive experience, especially the last battle. I think I might have found a new demo disc.
From a supplements point of view, this includes most of the extras from the standard definition set, but differs from the HD DVD, notably a (presumable) TV special hyping the release of the film while examining some of the story and character arcs that have unfolded to that point. "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" includes cast interviews on the fifth film, but also includes various fanzine and Web site individuals discussing the characters and any unfinished questions that were lying around (before the last book was released, of course). Narrated by Jason Isaacs (Lucious Malfoy to those Potter fans), it serves as a pretty good retrospective on the films to date, with an overwhelming sense of how much these kids have grown up through the years. The hidden tricks, characters who aren't as they seem, and other themes of the books are talked about as well. It's somewhat in depth, but as this is the only extra not on the other two versions of the set, completists might want to have it, though it's not worth the time. The "Focus Points" that appear on the HD-DVD's In-Movie Experience are available where you can play each two-to-four minute piece or play them all over an hour. This is more focused on the crew than the cast, examining the production, costume, and set designs, among others, while showing how some of the characters were digitally created. I'm kind of realizing that the In Movie Experience on the HD-DVD seems to probably be a bit bland if that's the case. From there, a walkabout of the set is conducted by Natalia Tena (About a Boy), who plays Nymphadora Tonks, a member of the Order. She shows how things work on the set and introduces some of the crew as they're working, although they seem to be either preoccupied with work or just don't know she's coming. Quite frankly I didn't gain much from this that I didn't already know from the other films. The editing feature with Yates and editor Mark Day is a little bit better, as they discuss the power of editing a scene and their components, and allow you to edit a scene of your own, which is a nice feature. The only other extra is a bunch of deleted and extended scenes, and the only thing of note is that there is some entertaining footage of Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson, Stranger Than Fiction) that could have been better used in the film.
Just a quick quiz for anyone keeping score at home: You've got the standard definition two-disc set, this Blu-ray edition, and an HD DVD edition, none of which appear to have uniform bonus material. Can someone explain to me again why this next-generation format war is good for the customer?
The supplemental material on this title borders on the sucky a little bit, though the audio and video is the best of the bunch. Of all the films in the Harry Potter franchise, I'd probably rank this one as the second-best of the bunch to date, and after hearing what my wife has said about books six and seven, Yates and anyone else involved with the last two films clearly has a tall order to fill. Here's hoping he makes a good thing better.
Much love and respect to those responsible for Harry Potter installment number five, it just would have been nice to see some more bonus material on this title. But if you've got six speakers and a big TV, you need to play this at least once.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Catalan)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Danish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Dutch)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Flemish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Swedish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted and Extended Scenes
* "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" Featurette
* "Trailing Tonks" Behind the Scenes
* "The Magic of Editing" Interactive Featurette
* "Focus Points" Featurettes and Production Diaries
* "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" Featurette
* Official Film Site
* Official Book Site
* Official J.K. Rowling Site
* The Leaky Cauldron
* Review - Sorcerer's Stone
* Review - Chamber of Secrets
* Review - Prisoner of Azkaban
* Review - Goblet of Fire
* Review - Order of the Phoenix