HPANA's review of 'Order of the Phoenix'

Published July 11, 2007 at 13:15 PM
by Geri
from HPANA

HPANA staff members myself and Jeff (webmaster) were lucky enough to view the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie while in Los Angeles this past weekend, once at the premiere and again on Monday night on IMAX 3D. Our reviews, plus HPANA forum member HalfBloodCountess's, who saw the movie at the International Cinema Expo in Amsterdam, are now posted below.

---------My review of the film, without spoilers:---------

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is darker and more grown-up than the previous installments in the Potter franchise. It is also the one book in the series that a Harry Potter fan either loved or hated which, I believe will reflect their feelings with this movie.

The opening scenes carry you into a less magical place where you realize that not all is well with our hero. Our first encounter with characters show a more rotund Dudley with a particularly jarring speech impediment (in my view) and continues for the next 10 minutes visually drawing us into Harry’s world.

Harry’s emotional state in this movie is raw and each scene in the movie shows us how mature each of the child actors have grown.

Imelda Staunton (Prof. Umbridge) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) are welcomed additions to the franchise and portray their characters with such zeal that it’s a pity that they aren’t on the screen more, especially in Ms. Carter’s case. Other adult actors in the series, Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Alan Rickman (Prof. Snape), Emma Thompson (Prof. Trelawney) and Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall) have limited screen time but in the case of Alan Rickman he makes his character stand out with limited words that you cannot wait to see him in the forefront of the next movie.

The addition of Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood brings a breath of fresh air to the series as she is the one person who understands what Harry is feeling and you immediately welcome her presence in the film, even if her airy lilt can be sometimes annoying.

The battle in the Ministry of Magic is brilliantly done but goes by too fast that you are left wondering what exactly you saw and the need to review the film again is a necessity. Viewing the movie in IMAX 3D is a must for all fans as it is amazing.

New composer, Nicholas Hooper does a magnificent job with the score and admirable takes over the reins from John Williams and Patrick Doyle even if Hedwig’s Theme is scarce. Mr. Hooper shows that he understands how crucially important music can be for a film and will undoubtedly continue to work with Mr. Yates.

David Yates has brought to the screen an adaptation worthy of the other Harry Potter movies but one where an avid reader of the series notices the lacking of certain storylines and follow-up that let the viewer down, especially in explaining certain plot twists that are never answered. We never see certain scenes in the film that do play a crucial role in the book (in a fans mind) – so one has to ask – will it even play a part in the last book?

Overall, even with the unanswered questions this film is full of enjoyment, it has all the components for fans as it’s dark, funny and a joy to watch. Some fans will put it at the top of their lists as the best in the series to date.

Order of the Phoenix is not a stand-alone movie and could have been longer as it leaves the viewer wanting more, which of course they will get when Half-Blood Prince is released later next year.

---------Jeff's review, with some spoilers:---------

As incredibly rich as JK Rowling's Harry Potter books are, it's no surprise that the first few film adaptations by Warner Bros. were equally good. What is surprising is how faithful the producers, cast and crew continue to be to the source material, trying their hardest to ensure high quality movies time after time -- knowing some of the most devoted and demanding fans of any book series in history are watching their every move.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, fifth out of the gate, is a bit of an enigma. The movie is based on the longest book in the series, which poses a serious problem that has plagued the films from the beginning: How much can be cut, and at what cost?

Aside from the author herself, producer David Heyman probably knows more about the series than anyone else, which has helped legitimize his answer to that nagging question: He believes he's staying true to the spirit of the books while managing to pare down each story to its bare essentials and still create enjoyable adaptations for the silver screen. (He has succeeded thus far.)

Under newcomer David Yates' direction, Daniel Radcliffe in Order of the Phoenix shows an emotional depth that is incredibly genuine and dramatic. Yates, who will also begin filming Half-Blood Prince in September, sets a desolate tone within the first 60 seconds, slicing right through to Harry's gut wrenching predicament: He's been cut off from his friends all summer, incessantly tormented by his cousin Dudley Dursley, even while trying to deal with the death of schoolmate Cedric Diggory and the reality that his arch nemesis Lord Voldemort has returned to power.

The Ministry of Magic, under Cornelius Fudge's oppressive control, officially disagrees and paints Harry as a fraud and a liar. After he is almost killed by Dementors in Little Whinging and temporarily expelled from Hogwarts for using magic to save his and Dudley's lives, he returns to school under a cloud of suspicion and doubt, especially the watchful eye of new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Dolores Umbridge. An undersecretary for the Ministry and one of Fudge's closest allies, Umbridge slowly takes over Hogwarts in an attempt to quell rumors that the Dark Lord has indeed returned, as well as monitor Headmaster Albus Dumbledore for fear that he's after Fudge's job.

As other students begin believing Harry's assertion that Voldemort is back, they implore him to teach them practical defensive magic and not just the theory that Umbridge's "Ministry-approved" course feeds them. "Dumbledore's Army" is born -- a tongue-in-cheek poke at Umbridge's and Fudge's paranoia -- and the group begins secret practice sessions.

While this film is the darkest to date, there are plenty of laughs to help lighten the mood and move the story forward in graceful emotional arches. There are more than a few winks at plot twists that either had to be extremely condensed or are coming in future films. Imelda Staunton's portrayal of Umbridge is so delightfully sinister, she can best be described as a wickedly evil Mary Poppins and it's easily the standout performance of the entire movie. JK Rowling is often asked to provide insight and consultation on the films. For Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, she provided a complete family tree illustrating Sirius Black's heritage and told the creators not to remove Black's house elf Kreacher because he'll be back in the seventh and final book -- which some fans interpreted as a hint about that character's continued significance.

Does that mean the many cuts in Order of the Phoenix were so unimportant that Rowling didn't attempt to save them? This film focuses on not much more than Lord Voldemort's return to power and Harry's development into a reluctant leader. Some will say this is a "transitional" movie.

The IMAX 3D version is a wonder to behold, though the film should be seen in regular format as well. Only a 20-minute action sequence near the end is presented in 3D, but the effect sends chills -- and fears of epileptic seizure -- down the viewer's spine. The final fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort is literally ground shaking.

---------Below is a review of the film by HalfBloodCountess (a member of our forums) with spoilers:---------

I was privileged to attend a screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by Warner Bros at the International Cinema Expo in Amsterdam on Thursday June 28th.

I was quite pleased with the film. It definitely has a better ‘book feel’ than the previous one. Granted, Goblet of Fire may please some people better because of the many adventurous action-packed scenes, but Order of the Phoenix has rather a different kind of story to tell. And it’s told satisfactorily. The film follows the two main story lines. First the Ministry’s denial about Lord Voldemort’s return and their frantic attempts to keep the Wizarding World, and Hogwarts in particular, under their control, which –as we know- results in Harry’s isolation and the rebellion of Dumbledore’s Army. The second story line tells us about Harry’s mental connection with Lord Voldemort and of his visions, which leads to the Occlumency lessons and finally to the confrontation at the Ministry of Magic over the Prophecy made about Harry and Lord Voldemort. The story therefore puts more emphasis on Harry’s personal struggles than it does on magical challenges.

The story is told quite straightforward. Like beads on a thread, many of the book events follow each other until the finale. No doubt in order to stay within reasonable time limits, every such event is compressed as much as possible. This leaves little to no room for the more ingenious plot turns, which characterise J.K. Rowling’s writing. For example, Kreacher’s treachery and his liaison with the Malfoys are left out completely. We’ve seen this before of course, for example the removal of the resourceful escape of Barty Crouch jr. from Azkaban in the Goblet of Fire, but I find myself disappointed each time nonetheless. Having said this, I repeat that this film has a good ‘book feel’. Many dialogues come straight from the book and several book hints are dropped that only fans will recognise and appreciate, like for example Neville holding his Mimbulus mimbletonia or the goat scurrying away in the Hog’s Head.

Certain events are mixed and altered to, or so I imagine, enhance the visual storytelling and save precious screen time at the same time. In some instances I could see sense and reason. For example, it’s Cho who betrays Dumbledore’s Army, though, we later learn, under influence of Veritaserum. This at once shows that Professor Dolores Umbridge isn’t afraid to use illegal methods and explains why Harry’s relationship with Cho cools down so quickly after their sizzling kiss. A nasty snag of course is that the film now falsely shows that Snape provided Umbridge with proper Veritaserum, while in the book he did no such thing (!) Another example is that Harry actually does hand over the Prophecy to Lucius Malfoy, in order to save the lives of his friends. This underlines how strong Harry is in friendship and love, a theme which is laid on thickly and which we get spelled out to us several times in the film. Hardly surprising considering that this is Harry’s crucial power to defeat Lord Voldemort. Furthermore, it makes Lucius Malfoy the one to drop and break the glass sphere, which will make it easier to explain why Lord Voldemort is so furious with Lucius in the next film (should it remain in the script).

But other altered events I find less fortunate. Most importantly the way Dumbledore’s Army find themselves cornered in the Room of Requirement: Umbridge simply blasts her way through one of the walls. Now, that can hardly be smart thinking on the part of the filmmakers, can it? Set aside the question whether or not the Room of Requirement would allow this (being at that moment shaped as a ‘somewhere they can’t find us’), is it now broken beyond repair? Where then will Draco Malfoy fix the Vanishing Cabinet in the Half-Blood Prince? And if the Room will be mended for the next film, well, then Harry should now know exactly how to get into Draco’s repair shop, shouldn’t he?! I’m sure one can ‘magic’ their way around this snag, but it was a bit thoughtless in my view.

Not at all thoughtless, but downright awesome, are the final scenes shot at the Ministry of Magic. The Death Eaters are portrayed well: they are one scary band. Once in fighting mode, they move fast and with deadly precision. It is a real pleasure to see Jason Isaacs’ return as the slippery Lucius Malfoy. May he shine once again in the final film! The counter attack of the Order of the Phoenix seems to match the skills of the Death Eaters. It is funny that the first action of Sirius against Lucius should be to knock him clean off his feet, Muggle style: ‘keep away from my godson!’

A bit in contrast with that magnificent whirl of colours, movement and curses flying around is the arrival and part of Dumbledore. The one man Lord Voldemort ever feared, the one man everyone in the Wizarding World looks up to as an intellectual and magical giant… arrives using the Floo Network. Arrives, not to end the fight with the Death Eaters, causing panic by his mere presence, rounding them up, his face ‘white and furious’, but directly into the Atrium, where Harry already is, to confront Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. Dumbledore’s duel with Lord Voldemort, though entertaining and successful to some degree, is not entirely, I think, credible as the work of the most powerful wizard of the century. If anything, Dumbledore looks old, tired and fighting almost beyond his power, while Lord Voldemort doesn’t look particularly anxious. I really am not happy with the way Sir Michael Gambon portrays, or is directed to portray, the Headmaster in the films. At any rate, we are spared an elaborate scene in the Headmaster’s office where everything is explained. Instead, Harry hears the Prophecy straight from the horse’s mouth: the glass sphere starts ‘playing’ the moment Harry picks it from its shelf. The rest of the explanations are swiftly given when Harry and Dumbledore share a few words towards the end of the film.

I am happy, however, with the performance of Daniel Radcliffe. He has definitely grown as an actor and manages to give more depth to his character. The chemistry between him and Gary Oldman is clearly visible. They both portray their characters as more mature and balanced than they are in the book. Harry may be angry and rebellious, but not as annoyingly and vocally so as in the book. Nor is Sirius the slightly demented, moody godfather. And that makes the pair of them better digestible really.

What can be said of the newcomers? Well, first of all I applaud Evanna Lynch for giving us the perfect Luna Lovegood. Luna is spot on in conduct, appearance and voice even: dreamy, weird, yet endearing and funny. Very much ‘Luna’ is her fight scene in the Ministry of Magic. There she lies on the floor, looking happily and dreamily at the effect of her counter-curse, while bleeding at the mouth after just having been blasted in the face. Also spot on is Imelda Staunton’s Professor Umbridge. The ‘hem, hem’ has been replaced by a similarly irksome girlish giggle in the film and the Umbridge we see is deliciously foul, sugar coated (and too pretty really) on the outside, yet toe-curling on the inside. Look at Snape’s horrified face when Umbridge makes to deliver her speech at the start of the school year! Helena Bonham-Carter appears only briefly, looks more like a Weird Sister than the Bellatrix I pictured myself, but is doing a good job. Natalia Tena and George Harris make a fine Tonks and Shacklebolt: their screen time too is limited. Grawp is there, a digitalised ‘small’ boy giant and a point is made about his fancy for Hermione, so perhaps we shall see more of that. Other successful digital creatures are the Thestrals: they have a great sound to them as well as look and their visibility only to people ‘who have seen death’ is indeed explained. Shining in absence however is Firenze. Sybill Trelawney gets sacked all right, but no further attention is given to her replacement. No sign of Rita Skeeter either, so Hermione’s cunning plan for Harry’s interview in The Quibbler won’t be seen in cinemas.

Of the old faces it was of course a feast to watch Alan Rickman again as Professor Severus Snape. Mr. Rickman, surely you are aware of the huge fan base for your character as well as for yourself? Would it give you a rash to give a few interviews? I’m sure you have plenty to tell that would interest the fans without touching the ‘mystique’ of Snape. Anyway, the Occlumency scenes are done well and funnily too. Snape keeps emerging in Harry’s memories to place snide remarks. At one point we see little Harry standing in front of the Mirror of Erised, looking at his parents, when suddenly Snape appears in the Mirror too: ‘Feeling sentimental, are we, Potter?!’ No Pensieve is used, Harry perceives Snape’s worst memory simply after his ‘Protego’ action. Unfortunately there is always too little Snape in the films. Other old faces, doing well as usual, are Neville (a personal favourite of mine), Ginny (portrayed already as a powerful witch and eyeing Harry and Cho with more than common interest) and of course the Weasley twins (who go out with a blast of fireworks). The adult cast are brilliant but have to give the floor, understandably, to the plot and to the children. But wouldn’t it be nice if some additional scenes with the adult crew were shot for the extras on DVD? Just a suggestion.

I can be short about the sets, costumes, special effect, props etc., because they are all of the usual high standards. I was happy to see that Hogwarts has been kept recognisable in many parts. For example, we still see the same DADA classroom and teacher’s office (though decorated differently), the same front doors, great hall, Hagrid’s hut etc.

To conclude, I was quite pleased with the film. The roller coaster of events might take more than one visit to the cinema to really sink in, even for fervent book readers. But that’s no punishment, now is it?!

Movies » Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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