Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Michael Goldenberg (Novel: J.K. Rowling)
Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Melling, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Kathryn Hunter, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville, Ralph Fiennes, Natalia Tena, Brendan Gleeson, George Harris, Gary Oldman, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Bonnie Wright, Robert Hardy, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Katie Leung, Mathew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane
PG-13 (For sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images)
Returning to the legendary wizarding school, the fifth film of the Harry Potter series has arrived and it is the series’ shortest. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may be the shortest film, but it’s adapted from the longest book, so some things are unfortunately missing.
The three leads in the series, who began around the age of 12, are each approaching their twentieth years and will likely do so before the final film is finally released in 2010. However, they still bear a great deal of their youthful qualities this time despite taking on some of their most adult subjects.
Daniel Radcliffe returns as Harry Potter, the boy wizard who is dealing with having heard nothing from his friends or anyone all summer. As Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) later inform him, they have been forbidden from communicating because of the dangers they are all facing. The head of the Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) has denied Voldemort’s return despite incontrovertible evidence from The Goblet of Fire.
Accusations of lying pursue him all the way to the Wizengamot, a court who must decide if he should be banned from attending Hogwarts for his use of magic in front of his muggle cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). The problem is, the squib who lives in the neighborhood witnessed the dementor attack that nearly killed the both of them and Harry is freed to go to Hogwarts where he must deal with the suspicion that he is a liar and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).
All of Harry’s previous, non-insane, non-dead teachers are also featured in the film as is his godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). They are members of a secret organization known as the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore called them back into action to combat Voldemort while avoiding the accusatory stares of the Minster of Magic.
Staunton turns in the film’s most inventive performance. Although this is generally true of the series when a new teacher emerges against the backdrop of old faces, it has never been more appropriate than in her case. The character of Umbridge in the novel is thoroughly villainous, almost rivaling Voldemort in her sheer willingness to do anything to get what she wants. The quill she assigns Harry to use in detention easily establishes her as a vile woman.
The film’s big problem is its screenplay. Steve Kloves, who penned the first four films, is conspicuously absent as screenwriter and his presence is missed. A number of significant events in the book, especially surrounding the house elf Kreacher (Timothy Bateson) and the Weasley defector Percy (Chris Rankin), are eliminated. Several rooms of the Hall of Mysteries have disappeared, and the connection the audience should feel towards the individual members of the Order is virtually non-existent. Michael Goldenberg’s hatchet job on the script is the biggest disservice the series has yet to achieve.
Order of the Phoenix is still a better film than Chris Columbus’ first outing Sorcerer’s Stone, but it isn’t so by much. Director David Yates, who is obviously familiar with the source material, doesn’t direct the film as if he is. The movie has a dark side, but not nearly as succinct or oppressing as that created by the series’ best helmer thus far Alfonso Cuaron (who directed Prisoner of Azkaban). While the movie is tight from the beginning and clips along at a breezy pace, we are forced to admire the scenery and action from a distance and the internal struggles of the characters seem almost to have been ignored.
Yates is scheduled to return as the series’ sixth director and the helmer of the final installment hasn’t been announced. But unless Kloves returns to the franchise to finish it out, I’m afraid more disappointing results can be expected as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix feels the most haphazard and lost of any of the films thus far.
July 21, 2007