Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (from here on in Phoenix) – the fifth cinematic instalment of the Harry Potter saga – sees the tone turn dark and the action ramp up. The film opens with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) stuck back at the Dursley residence (the family who bear him little love) cut off from friends and the wizarding world as he awaits the imminent war he believes is coming. If we think back to the prior film (Goblet of Fire) we will remember that only weeks before Harry has had a fellow student murdered in front of him and made a narrow escape from ultimate bad guy, the self-styled Lord Voldemort. Yes, things are tense and young Harry is intensely angst-ridden as only a teenager can be.
The opening action sequence sees Harry face down two dementors – scary flying wraiths who have (not so) randomly appeared in the squeaky clean muggle suburb of Little Whinging – in the process saving his oversized bully of a cousin, Dudley (aka ‘Big D’), from having his soul sucked out. This results in Harry facing trial by the Wizengamot (Wizard court) and so the adventure continues.
Following the same basic plot structure of the other books/movies in the series, Phoenix encompasses the covert rallying of troops on both sides of the impending war – including the paranoid Ministry of Magic exerting direct control over the safe bastion of Hogwarts School, and the underground student resistance movement that the ‘golden trio’ forms to fight back – the rise and fall of Harry’s first romance with fellow schoolmate & quidditch competitor Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Voldemort’s slow infiltration of Harry’s mind, and a midnight showdown at the Ministry of Magic culminating in a climactic confrontation between Voldemort and arch-rival Professor Albus Dumbledore. And unlike many children’s films this one comes away with casualties.
Arguably though, the darker tone of this film proceeds more from Harry’s personal framework and self discovery than from the action – though this provides some spooky moments too. Harry exudes an ever growing teen angst as he struggles with the heightening tension all around him. And who can blame him?! The media has painted him as an outright liar resulting in public persecution and mistrust; somehow Voldemort seems to have infiltrated Harry’s mind making him doubt his very sense of self; Professor Dumbledore, one of Harry’s chief pillars of strength, appears to be pointedly ignoring him in the midst of all these troubles; and he discovers that his father is not the saint he believed him to be, when he stumbles into a memory of his dad bullying a young Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). It is this last event that probably rocks Harry’s inner world the most as he finds himself identifying with the bullied outcast schoolboy Snape – with whom he also shares a strong and mutual dislike. Having grown up an orphan (‘cared’ for by unsympathetic relatives) Harry has built up an image of his dead parents as everything good and right – and for the most part this has been confirmed by those (in the Wizarding world) who knew them. Only Professor Snape had decried his Father as arrogant and attention seeking, a point of view that Harry has heretofore vehemently denied. When he sees that Snape is at least to some degree telling the truth, the framework of Harry’s inner world weakens significantly. If his dad wasn’t the noble person that he believed then perhaps Harry is not the kind of person he so desperately longs to be either.
David Yates is the fourth director in five Potter films so far and, like Chris Columbus, is set to have a director’s credit on his second Potter film (Half-Blood Prince is currently in production due out sometime in 2008). Yates has worked mostly on English TV (The Bill amongst other shows) with this being his biggest project to date. Despite this relative inexperience he does a creditable job of condensing what is generally agreed to be the most unwieldy of Rowling’s Harry Potter novels; judiciously cutting subplots and honing in on the crux points of the book. He manages to own the work, creating a unique aesthetic tone somewhere between the dark sensual styling of Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and the tongue in cheek humour of Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Yates’ film generates a palpable sense of impending doom and breathes fresh life into the action sequences – even if he does use artistic license to significantly rework the rules of Rowling’s Potterverse to suit his aesthetic needs (see the use of ‘wandless’ magic by the adults).
The director also manages to do a good job of bringing forward the minor characters that begin to take on more significant roles as the story develops through its final instalments. Some of this is done by way of action swapping necessitated by the truncation process. For example: in Phoenix the book the mysterious “Room of Requirement” is revealed to Harry by Dobby the house elf whereas Yates gives that role to Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) who accidentally stumbles across it. Another example is where Harry’s short lived love interest, Cho Chang, betrays them all to Professor Umbridge where in the book that dubious honour belongs to her friend Marietta. Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) also comes more to the fore in Phoenix standing firmly in the ranks of Harry’s second string group of friends, ready to step into the limelight in the next film.
Phoenix sees the return of all the principle cast and the addition of several new characters. Keeping suit with the Potter films to date the new adult parts in Phoenix are filled by seasoned and respected actors including: Imelda Staunton (Peter’s Friends; Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility) as distasteful Ministry appointed teacher Dolores Umbridge, and Helena Bonham-Carter (A Room with a View; Fight Club) as masochistic Deatheater Bellatrix Lestrange. Gone, however, is screenplay writer Steve Cloves – who has worked on all the previous Potter films – replaced by another relative novice Michael Goldenberg.
There are two poignant pieces of dialogue with Harry that stick out as speaking directly to the film’s key themes. One: odd new character Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) – a fellow student who, amongst a bunch of dreamy, whacky nonsense, often sees and speaks plainly what others do, or will, not – shows great insight when she comments that, if she was Voldemort, she would want to see Harry feeling cut off and alone as that way he’d be less of a threat. Two: when Harry is struggling with the idea that his connection with Voldemort makes him intrinsically evil, his Godfather Sirius (Gary Oldman) reassures him it is his decisions and actions that show what kind of person you are rather than any inherent personal trait. Sirius also addresses Harry’s black and white conception of the world, telling him it is not made up of just good people and Death Eaters but that humans are much more complex being capable of the best and the worst in different circumstances and contexts. And these are the major themes that work themselves out through the film’s various action sequences. Harry possesses something Voldemort never has; friends that love him, support him, and give him a reason to keep fighting even in the face of seemingly unbeatable odds.
Overall Phoenix is a worthy continuation of the Harry Potter saga, bringing all the effects driven action and adventure that the franchise is known for while taking the story and character development a few steps forward.
Compared with the DVD releases for the first films this one seems somewhat lighter in special features, however it does still come with a whole disc devoted to them. Included are the obligatory Additional Scenes (which were understandably not included in the main feature), a 25min featurette entitled Trailing Tonks in which Natalie Tena (who play vivacious young Auror, Nymphadora Tonks) takes us on a guided tour of the studio and ‘interviews’ various cast and crew mates, as well as a clever little interactive piece called The Magic of Editing which allows the viewer to make minor changes to a small scene so as to see the impact of editing on the filmmaking process. The biggest, and probably the most interesting special is a 40+ min featurette entitled The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter in which the major developing themes and storylines of the Harry Potter saga are summarised and discussed by various Potter fanatics (Harry Potter commentary book authors!) and some of the more involved members of the cast and crew. This featurette will be of particular interest to those who are not familiar with the books and would like some help filling in some of the plot gaps.
DVD Info + Special Features
» Region 4 PAL
» 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio (16:9)
» Dolby Digital 5.1
» Languages: English, Hebrew, or Turkish
» Optional subtitles: English, Arabic, Hebrew, Icelandic, or Turkish
» 2-disc Widescreen Edition
» Additional Scenes
» The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter featurette
» Trailing Tonks featurette
» Harry Potter: The Magic of Editing featurette
» DVD-rom enhanced features
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell.
Rating: M – Violence and Fantasy Horror
Duration: 132 mins
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Director: David Yates (2007)
Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Katie Leung, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch and co.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: Available Now.