Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
There is little dispute that one of the most influential set of books and by extension films of modern times is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. She has created a world of imagination and wonder, of adventure and danger. The story started as a tale of an eleven year old boy who discovers that he is a powerful wizard. Now, the fifth book, ‘Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix’ has been released on DVD. This is more than just a continuation of the previous films; it takes the story in a completely new direction. For one thing that young boy is now passing his mid teens and the adventures are getting even more dangerous. Now it is difficult enough to become sixteen. Puberty is raging along with his hormones. He starts to notice girls for the first time and suddenly adult in authority seem to be on the other side. For Harry and his friends and fellow students at Hogwarts Academy putting magic into the mix takes teenaged angst to new levels.
Unlike the previous films this one is truly dark. The playful mood of the other films gives way to more mature menace lurking around every corner. Magic is no longer just something fun to do for these students, they have to master it fast in order to stay live and save the world. That is an awful lot to put on Harry and the other teens. This trend started in the forth film, Goblet of Fire and becomes more intense here. The direction is superb; there is not a single moment that is extraneous. For fans of the novel a lot of little sub-plots had to be left out for time constants but the spirit and excitement of the fifth book was not sacrificed one bit. There is a big difference between telling a story in a novel and in a film but the writers for Phoenix made the transition with a flair few can master.
As the film starts out Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is in more of a somber mood than ever. He is still depressed over the death of his classmate, Cedric Diggory, and the fact that his darkest enemy, ‘He who cannot be named’, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has finally regained physical form. When Harry and his muggle (non-magical) cousin Dudley Dursley are attacked by Dementors he is forced to use a very advanced spell to save their lives. This gets him in trouble with the Ministry of Magic. This is only one problem that Harry has to face. Very few in the magical community believed him when he talked about the return of Voldemort and the war he is planning. This has placed Harry in ill favor as a liar with almost all the adults around. This negative image of Harry is made worse by stories in the British wizard tabloid newspaper, The Daily Prophet. The Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) takes action appointing the overly bureaucratic Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as the new ‘Defense Against the Dark Arts’ professor. Instead of teaching the students the magical spells they would need to survive any real conflict she turns Hogwarts into more of a prison state. Her punishments are exceptionally cruel. One have Harry and other defiant students forced to write with a magic quill that cuts the words into their hands. She also rewards students for turning in any of their classmates that might disagree with the new way things are done.
Teen rebellion takes hold and Harry decides to fight back against the Ministry. He forms a secret group of students called ‘Dumbledore's Army’ consisting of 27 of the brightest, most powerful and most loyal students Harry can find. Along with the help of his best friends, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) the students progress to much more advanced spells then they thought possible. Harry begins to have strange dreams concerning his father and Voldemort. He tells the Head Master Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) who comes to the conclusion that Harry’s mind is somehow connected to the Dark Lord. Dumbledore assigns Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) to teach Harry the techniques necessary to close his mind to their enemy. While all this is going on Harry is trying to begin a relationship with fellow Army member Cho Chang (Katie Leung) but things turn bad when under a truth spell she tells Umbridge of the existence of the ‘DA’. During another dream Harry discovers that his godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) is being tortured by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. Harry has to stop Voldemort at any cost. The result is a battle literally between good and evil. On one side is Voldemort’s Death Eaters and on the other Dumbledore’s secret society ‘The Order of the Phoenix’.
The change in mood and focus of this film is demonstrated by the new writer and director behind the scenes. The screenplay was penned by Michael Goldenberg. He does an incredible job of handling the changes necessary for this film. He is writing for an older audience, after all this film is PG-13. The darker mood is done in such a way that the move away from the more child friend story is seamless. He takes the complex world that Rowling created and brings it faithfully to the screen. The director of the film is David Yates who is currently working on the sixth installment of the franchise. He paces this film with amazing skill. Not only does this film have to set a new direction for the story it has to do something that is almost impossible. It has to be a reasonably self contained movie while fitting into the overall story arc of the series. He nails it making this one of the most exciting fantasy films since the gold standard, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. He also does one thing that is rare in a fantasy film; he focuses on the character development instead of special effects. This takes the movie to a much more human level. Yates allows the students to transcend being just magical kids and permits them to start growing into adults. He does away with the cute and funny ghosts that inhabit Hogwarts in favor of real teen issues. Harry and the other students are about to take the magical equivalent to the SATs, the OWL exams. Some of the students, Harry included, are feeling the first pangs of romance. This makes the movie as much about growing up as it is about good and evil.
The young cast is indeed growing up. The boys are becoming handsome young men while the little girls have started their way to beautiful womanhood. Daniel Radcliffe has discarded his boyish hair cut and sunny disposition. In this film he is almost on the edge of depression and with good reason. While he gets his first kiss here he also has to rally others teens against the established authority. Radcliffe is given an opportunity to demonstrate he is a real actor. It is one thing to be a cute child star but he has grown into a professional actor with exceptional talent. Emma Watson has taken Hermione from the know-it-all smart girl in the class to a young woman who is not afraid to express her own mind and feelings. As Ron young actor Rupert Grint is growing nicely in his craft. He still has a slight geek vibe to his character but in this film he allows Ron to start coming out from the shadow of Harry and Hermione. Imelda Staunton is deliciously evil as Unbridge. She is one of the best movie villains ever. Staunton just exudes villainy with every breath. As you watch her you need to see her get what is coming.
Warner Brothers follows the tradition it has set with the other DVD releases of the Potter films. There are a number of ways to get this film on disc. You can opt for the regular Pan & Scan or widescreen versions but for about $5 more on most sites you can get the widescreen special edition. Go for it, it is well worth it. There are also HD-DVD and Blu-ray versions for those out there that have moved up to high definition. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is reference quality. The colors pop off the screen, the contrast is without flaw. The Dolby 5.1 audio is awesome. All of your speakers will get a real workout. The sub woofer shakes the room especially during the battle scenes. What is really great about this DVD release is the extras on the special edition. ‘The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter’ is a retrospective of all the films to date. It helps you look for clues to Harry’s ultimate destiny. The next featurette is ‘Trailing Tonks’. It takes the audience on a day with actress Natalia Tena who plays Phoenix member Nymphadora Tonks. There are also some interactive features such as Yanks showing how important editing is for a film. This is not for the youngest members of the family but it is the best Potter film to date.