Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Reviewed by Eliza DoLots
Order of the Phoenix is the longest of the Harry Potter books, which is saying quite a lot since this woman does like to write. It is also regarded by many as the least enjoyable book. I share that view. I dislike Harry's personality in the book and I think there is too much stuff that doesn't seem important to the story. It's jammed so full of "stuff" that Rowling's normally entertaining writing style is often stifled.
Odd then, that the movie is both the shortest Potter movie yet (138 minutes) and the most enjoyable. A large part of the credit has to go to whomever selected David Yates - largely known in Britain for directing television commercials - to head the Potter juggernaut for this voyage. Yates cuts cleanly through the junk and clutter, giving us a streamlined, easy to follow story and fast paced, exciting action.
It doesn't hurt that the three principals have grown into actors of reasonable range (and in the case of Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, maturity and focus). Gone are the excessive facial expressions that made Rupert Grint's Ronald Weasley virtually unwatchable in the previous film. Also gone are the wide-eyed, stone-faced monotone recitations that revealed the inexperience of the younger members of the ensemble. Emma Watson, as "know it all" Hermione Granger, is perhaps the least improved, but she arguably had the least to improve upon. As early as the first movie, her guileless performance stood apart from the more mechanical, stagey performances of the boys.
Obviously, when taking a book so mammoth down to a movie so short, things are going to be cut. Many Harry Potter fans will bemoan each and every omission as a sin against the author and the audience, but in fact, the story benefits immensely from the trimming.
For those who don't follow the series, the plot is (all of this can be gleaned from the ads, so I don't consider it spoilage): ultra-evil Lord Voldemort has returned from the dead and is gathering an army to destroy the good wizarding world that we love. Unfortunately, the only witness to this rebirth is Harry Potter. The Ministry of Magic, fearing the panic and turmoil that Voldemort's return would mean, decides to play ostrich. They deny Potter's story and use the wizarding press to portray Harry and his staunchest supporter, Albus Dumbledore (Headmaster of Hogwart's School of Wizardry and Magic), as psychopathic liars. To keep an eye (and maybe a leash?) on Dumbledore, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge assigns his chief toady Dolores Jane Umbridge to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry leads a group of students in an underground "defense" class, and ultimately confronts the evil Lord Voldemort deep in the heart of the Ministry of Magic.
For all the trimming that was done, screenwriter Goldenberg didn't shy away from adding elements than enhance the story, making it more believable, more dramatic and more frightening. We get a lovely scene with resident loon, Luna Lovegood, in a wonderful, movie-stealing performance by Evanna Lynch, and Harry and the Thestrals (flying equines with a bad reputation just because they can only be seen by people who've witnessed death) that brings light to both Harry and Luna. They recognize that they, like the Thestrals, are isolated because they are "a bit different."
In the book, when Hermione tries to get herself and Harry away from Umbridge, she does so by offending the Centaurs who live in the forest. This never felt like something very smart and very sensitive Hermione would do. In the movie, she tries to lead Umbridge to Hagrid's full giant brother Gwarp, only to find he has escaped his confinement. The Centaurs just happen across the scene and are already enraged at the Ministry so have a go at Umbridge. This seems much more believable both for Hemione and the Centaurs.
Harry's climactic confrontation with Voldemort includes Voldemort trying to goad Harry into committing murder, something that did not happen in the book. In light of the subsequent book, however, this makes perfect sense and gives us a broader, better picture of Voldemort's goals.
Visually, the movie is lovely. The Dementors are faster and scarier than in Prisoner of Azkaban (And very physical! One throws Harry up against a wall). The Ministry of Magic is beautiful, utilitarian, cold and frantic. Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs in a performance that is more nuanced than the earlier movies) looks imposing, even evil when we first see him talking to Minister Fudge (Robert Hardy) in the halls. The death eaters are more menacing than we saw in Goblet of Fire. They move in a "sandstorm" whirl of smake and imagery that is definitely not in the book, but scary and exciting.
The movie is available in IMAX 3-D, and if offered in your area I do recommend it. The 3-D kicks in for most of the last quarter of the movie and is very nicely done. The final battle between Harry and Voldemort features shards of glass flying through the air
in 3-D, it's amazing!
Without a doubt, the best thing in the movie is Imelda Staunton as Umbridge. This casting initially caused a furor in the Potter community because the character is very clearly described as "froglike" throughout the book. Websites were devoted to naming actresses better suited for the part. But the casting is perfect.
While far from the canon description of Umbridge, Staunton's portrayal is creepy and frightening in a way I doubt a froggish-looking actress could have managed. Looking a bit like Queen Elizabeth out for a spin, she is all pink fluff and girly impishness. That is, until something doesn't go her way. Then she is revealed to be sadistic and ruthless, willing to use "Unforgivable" curses on children simply to get information.
My best description is: if real life and age suddenly caught up with Barbie (© Mattel), still wearing her too stiff pink knits and perfectly coiffed hair, but now on a slightly plump, middle-aged frame. Still bubbling with girlish enthusiasm, but emotionally and morally drained after decades of over achieving work (a model and a veterinarian!) with no personally fulfilling life to go home to. Maybe I'm the only one who can imagine that.
Potter purists will find lots to villify in this movie - largely omissions - but movie fans will find lots to love. And, despite the vilification, the movie absolutely conveys the information you need to take you from where the previous movie ended to where the next movie will begin. So, it does it's job.
When it comes to the book, Order of the Phoenix, I tell people, "you just have to live through it
the reward is the next book." With the movie, I say, "I loved it! I'm sure you will too."
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