Warner Bros. // 2007 // 139 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // December 4th, 2007
"Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now: students. If they can do it, why not us?" -- Harry
After Alfonso Cuarón's artful Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Mike Newell's thrilling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, expectations were high for David Yates' rendition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Like the fifth book in the series, this fifth film settles just a little below some of the others, coming close to, but not quite achieving, the greatness of the two most recent installments. Ironically, while the main problem with book five was its tedious pacing, movie five's minor failures lie in the opposite direction: the plot moves so quickly and so much from the book is left out that non-fans may feel confused, while fans will certainly be missing some of the book's great and important moments.
SPOILER ALERT!!! Major plot points through the end of the fifth movie lie ahead (but I won't reveal anything from books six or seven).
As Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix begins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, The Tailor of Panama) fears expulsion from Hogwarts after illegally using magic to fight off a pack of Dementors invading his family's Muggle neighborhood. In this and other worries-that-must-not-be-named, he feels more alone than ever; Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, The Good Shepherd) is avoiding him, the Ministry of Magic is trying hard to expel him, the Daily Prophet is portraying him as a liar, and his friends and allies are caught up in the heroic Order of the Phoenix, which he has not been allowed to join. Though he feels alone, he does have unwelcome company from Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, The Constant Gardener), who has been trying to invade his mind through his dreams, hoping to gain access to a secret weapon housed in the Ministry's Department of Mysteries.
A new enemy, in the form of a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, gives Harry a reason to get out of his own head and rejoin his friends; Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, Freedom Writers) may act all sweetness-and-light, but this Ministry toady has big, sinister plans for the students at Hogwarts. When Umbridge purposely prevents them from learning any defensive magic in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) convince Harry to lead a secret class, to train a group of students that decide to refer to themselves as Dumbledore's Army. They'll all need that training, too, when Voldemort forces a confrontation in the Department of Mysteries and a climactic battle of students versus Death Eaters ensues.
In language, there is a term grammarians use called "hypercorrection." Hypercorrection happens when a person becomes so fixated on not making one common grammatical mistake, on being "correct" in this particular way, that she goes too far in her self-correction, making a related mistake on the other end of that rule's spectrum. It's like the "and me" rule: people get told so firmly that it's really bad to say "Kate and me are going to see a movie" that they try to never say "_______ and me." Instead, they end up saying "Come see a movie with Kate and I," which is equally incorrect -- just in a way fewer people detect. I think that maybe the makers of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contracted some kind of filmmakers' strain of hypercorrection during pre-production. Faced with the longest book in the Harry Potter series, they must have been chided over and over again not to make something that dragged on for four hours. Perhaps they became so afraid of making a slow-paced film that would feel painfully long to the average moviegoer that they hypercorrected, making an almost-amazing film that teeters on the edge of being fatally short. Like the "and I" mistake, this problem of brevity might not have registered as a problem at all with many moviegoers, but to highly Harry-Potter-educated fans, it was a damaging error.
I admit that at 139 minutes, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not what most people would call "short." But considering that it is by far the longest of the books (870 pages) and the shortest of the movies, it's easy to see how a whole lot gets cut in the journey from page to screen. There are certainly missing moments that I didn't mourn much. We don't really need the drama of Hermione and Ron becoming prefects while Harry does not, nor does the absence of Ron as Gryffindor's Quidditch team's keeper leave a particularly painful hole in the film (I'm never too upset when Quidditch gets left out, though). [Vague book spoiler in this next sentence] But I certainly noticed and cared when the film left out all of the St. Mungo's hospital sequence, what the kids find while cleaning Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher's betrayal. The latter two are crucial to later books and the St. Mungo's section gave Neville a real backstory, not just the few throwaway lines about his parents that appear in the film. Also gone is the very poignant encounter between Harry and the ghost Nearly Headless Nick when our hero is having trouble accepting that Sirius is really gone. Other than what is blatantly left out, there are also parts of the book that get abbreviated beyond recognition. The prophecy that precipitates the film's dramatic climax is barely explained at all, including the fact that Prof. Trelawney (Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee) was the one who made it. Without that fact, she just seems like a dithering, useless fool and we can't understand why Dumbledore would have ever hired her or why he protects her now. But perhaps the worst damage done by the film's shortness is to the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore (and no, I don't mean that kind of relationship, even though Dumbledore's was the best outing ever and I was very excited about it). In the book, Dumbledore has a long, moving speech about why he's been avoiding Harry all year and how he cares about Harry so much that he detrimentally tries to avoid causing him pain. It's a great scene with a great character that forms a long and important chapter at the end of the book. In the movie, it becomes a 75-second scene with vague explanations and almost no emotional resonance. Dumbledore offers a murky explanation for his behavior -- "I thought by distancing myself from you, as I have done all year, you'd be less tempted, and therefore you might be more protected" -- and when he tells Harry flatly, "I care too much about you," and Yates cuts immediately to the next scene, how can we believe him? An extra 20 minutes of screen time could have solved all of these problems, and whatever the reason for not extending the film (bad creative choices, budget limitations, studio greed at the thought of packing more screenings into each theater day), the final product really does suffer.
Despite all that gets left on the cutting-room floor -- or, more accurately, doesn't even make it that far -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ultimately succeeds by marvelously executing the parts of the book it does choose to include. Chief among these successes are three new characters who play a major role in this story: Dolores Umbridge, Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Though Staunton is certainly not big and ugly enough to match J.K. Rowling's description of Umbridge and Mary Grandpré's illustrations, she perfectly captures the sickly sweet surface that thinly covers Umbridge's sadism and ambition. Just watch her facial expressions when Harry starts writing his "I must not tell lies" lines with her "special quill." As she waits for him to notice its "special" qualities -- that it cuts his hand and uses his own blood as ink -- her face registers a disturbing mixture of for-his-own-good regret and barely contained excitement about inflicting pain. Creating a dangerous control freak with a dark side rather than an all-out moustache-twirling villain, Staunton still allows her character to be loathsome enough for a triumphant payoff when she is finally defeated, accentuated by one of the best lines in the film. As the centaurs carry her off, she implores Harry, "Tell them I mean no harm!" and Harry retorts, "I'm sorry, professor. I must not tell lies."
Faced with a very different challenge in creating her character, Evanna Lynch makes something truly magical of "Loony" Lovegood. Though she was always a fun character in the books, I never felt any emotional connection with her until she was embodied by the perfect Evanna Lynch, a fan who seems to have secured the role through her sheer confidence that no one else could play Luna better. I dare say she was right, as Lynch imbues Luna's oddity with pathos and wisdom. We see this transformation at many points in the film, but particularly in her final scene with Harry. The students who make fun of her have stolen many of her belongings, and Luna is putting up signs to try to get them back. Despite how pitiable her position is, she takes it all in confident stride, and instead is able to unobtrusively comfort Harry about the loss of his godfather, saying simply and unpretentiously, "Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect." Even when Lynch has to recite lines like "keeps away the Nargles," she manages to convey a sense of eccentricity without making fun of her character. It's this fundamental respect for Luna that powers Lynch's performance, which really is the best in the film.
Though she gets nowhere near as much screen time as the other two, Helena Bonham Carter does wonders with twisted Bellatrix Lestrange. As the actress herself points out, Lestrange is a bit of a sadist (this film is just full of them), and the childish glee she expresses after killing Sirius is appropriately upsetting. Plus, she just really looks the part of a once-beautiful, now-deranged evil witch.
And speaking of Sirius (Gary Oldman, Batman Begins), the film also does a better job than the book of making us really care about this character and invest in Harry's relationship with him. Gary Oldman spends most of the film standing back from the action and winking at his godson, but he sure does it charmingly. The two real scenes between them -- in the train station and in the "family tree" room of Grimmauld Place -- are truly touching, with Oldman's strong acting augmented by Radcliffe's (which is pretty impressive, these days), a moving score, and evocative cinematography. Sirius's Freudian slip when he misidentifies Harry as the boy's father, James (he shouts, "Nice one, James!"), is a detail that didn't originate in the book, but that adds a bittersweet little tinge to the death scene that takes place just after. When Sirius gets hit with the killing curse and slips "beyond the veil," we really do feel the loss in the film, and not just on Harry's behalf. Though I've singled out four performances to praise here, I really can't stress enough that the whole cast does a top-notch job in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
It's not just the acting that impresses, either, but all of the cinematic aspects. Visually, the sets and the special effects are particularly stunning. Although fans would have loved to have seen St. Mungo's and the other rooms inside the Department of Mysteries, the Ministry of Magic's Atrium, the Hall of Prophecies (which was entirely computer generated), and the arena for the final wizard battle were all appropriately grand and detailed.
Other smaller-scale sets work well, too, especially Umbridge's hideous pink office with her hideous pink commemorative cat plates adorning the hideous pink stone walls. Though Grawp the giant doesn't come across too well, the rest of the special effects in the film are very impressive. Fred and George's fireworks-laden exit is incredibly fun to watch and the final wizard battle is pretty frightening. Even though the wispy cloud-apparating effect is not something described in the book, it functions well on screen to energize a wand fight that might otherwise just look like people in cloaks pointing little sticks at each other. All of these sumptuous images hold up well on this DVD edition of the film. The appropriately rich colors in the lavish Ministry of Magic, for example, are balanced out in those same scenes by a subtly cold lighting scheme that hints at the government's sinister side. Although this installment of the series is particularly dark (literally), the many deep blacks hold up nicely in this transfer. The audio track is equally rewarding, with a well-rendered, lovely score by composer Nicholas Hooper, which particularly impresses in the Umbridge montages. I also really loved some of the subtle details in sound design in the film, my favorite being the difference in sound effects between Dumbledore's wand and Voldemort's in their final battle. While Voldemort's wand makes a harsh electrical sound when he uses it, Dumbledore's graceful thrusts are accompanied by little snippets of quiet bird calls, thus emphasizing Voldemort's magic as being somewhat mechanical and unnatural, whereas Dumbledore's is more organic and evokes elements of the natural world. I must also concede that while Yates' relentless pace in cinematography and editing does do real damage to the story, it is also sleekly effective in many scenes. When Hermione mentions that Cho, Harry's love interest, "couldn't take her eyes off [Harry]," we get just the briefest glimpse of disappointment on Ginny's face as the characters walk past the camera that says in half a second all that we really need. The montages of Umbridge policing the school while the D.A. trains in the Room of Requirement are fun and efficient, as are the Daily Prophet pages that work to transition us from scene to scene while simultaneously showing us the media climate that plagues Harry throughout the fifth book. Incidentally, if you pause your DVD to look more closely at some of the peripheral headlines and advertisements in the paper, you might get quite a laugh. [Very minor book six spoiler in this sentence] I particularly enjoyed the "Fambus Station Wagon" ad for a long broom that the whole family can ride, and the "Meeting with Muggle Prime Minister Scheduled for Next Month" headline that foreshadows the opening of the next book.
Lastly, on the subject of the film's successes, I must say that Yates and the screenwriters really do justice to many of the book's most important themes. The Order of the Phoenix is, in some ways, the most political of the series, with a misguided administration that lies to its citizens and uses the media to spin events to their advantage (no doubt Rowling meant some of this material to resonate with politics out here in the real world, eh?). Yates does a good job creating that atmosphere of political intrigue; it's not Syriana, of course, but it is pretty sophisticated for a "kids'" series. More emotionally satisfying than the politics is the go-it-alone or seek allies debate that is so common in ongoing (super)hero series. But I think the message here is more complicated than just "you're more powerful with friends." What is so compelling about the Harry Potter series is a theme that this film evokes particularly well -- the idea that to triumph over evil, one must not just be against evil, but must truly believe in good. The thing that makes Harry more powerful than Voldemort is that he has meaningful connections to the world: people he wants to save and reasons to go on living. Power, in the end, is a rather hollow motivator, and Harry has more to lose and more to gain in this epic struggle. That crucial theme, represented in the books with a focus on "love," has a bit of a different spin in this film, but is no less inspiring, particularly in the perfect ending lines:
Harry: "Even though we've got a fight ahead of us, we've got one thing
Voldemort doesn't have."
Harry: "Something worth fighting for."
Despite the aforementioned excellent transfer of the film, Warner Bros. doesn't do much to justify the inflated price of this Two-Disc Special Edition. Compared to the extras on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this bonus disc is pretty sparse, with only four offerings. The additional scenes add up to 11 minutes, a sizable chunk of which is B-roll footage of Trelawney unintentionally playing with her food while Umbridge is making her speech at the welcome feast. We also see a bit of the Gryffindors goofing around in their common room, Malfoy throwing snowballs, and Filch extinguishing Umbridge's head. Umbridge gets a few extra lines in the Forbidden Forest about "the greater good," and some very minor extensions of the Harry and Dumbledore conversation appear. All in all, there's nothing too spectacular here, even for a hardcore fan. "Trailing Tonks" is a kind of shrill, underwhelming tour of the production compound led by Natalia Tena, who plays Tonks. We don't really see much of the sets and shooting at all, but instead visit various departments (graphics, animals, props, choreography) and Tena's trailer. Tracing Tena's journey around the compound on a Marauder's Map is a nice touch, though. "Hidden Secrets" is a 45-minute featurette worth watching about the themes and plot twists of the Harry Potter story, narrated by Jason Isaacs, who plays Lucius Malfoy. A welcome difference between this featurette and most like it is that instead of just using interviews with cast and crew members, the producers also round up several authors of scholarly and semi-scholarly books that dissect the Harry Potter series. The result is that we get really interesting analysis of things like "narrative misdirection" in the story, rather than just surface-level publicity comments about the characters and the plot. One problem with "Hidden Secrets," though, is that its framing as a tool to "follow the clues" and discover "hidden secrets" about how the series will end feels rather moot now that the series has ended and we know where the clues did lead. Lastly, "The Magic of Editing" presents a five-minute introduction to editing techniques and then provides an interactive editing studio where the viewer can combine different angles and soundtracks to create different versions of a scene in the Room of Requirement. As a film studies grad student, I personally didn't learn too much about "the magic of editing" from this extra, but I do think it would be a really great educational tool for someone who had never studied or thought much about how editing works -- particularly for kids.
When Dumbledore escapes arrest in a flash of blinding light midway through the film, auror Kingsley Shacklebolt comments to a sputtering Cornelius Fudge: "You may not like him, Minster, but you can't deny: Dumbledore's got style." Although I feel a lot of frustration with David Yates for what is left out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I can't deny that he's got style.
Like Hermione's O.W.L. scores, David Yates' installment of the Harry Potter Series receives top marks in all but one category.
Review content copyright © 2007 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (For the Hearing Impaired)
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
* Digital Copy of the Film (PC only)
* Official Film Site
* Official Book Site
* Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Review
* Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review
* Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review
* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Review