Movie Review for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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Review #480 of 365
Movie Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) [PG-13] 138 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $12.00
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 10 July 2007
Time: 11:59 pm
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer
DVD Release Date: 11 December 2007 (click date to purchase)

Soundtrack: Download now from Nicholas Hooper - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: David Yates (The Girl in the Café )
Screenplay by: Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) based on the novel Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Daniel Radcliffe (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Ralph Fiennes (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Gary Oldman (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Emma Watson (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Rupert Grint (Driving Lessons) • James Phelps (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Oliver Phelps (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Michael Gambon (Amazing Grace) • Imelda Staunton (Freedom Writers) • Jason Isaacs (Friends with Money ) • Matthew Lewis (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Evanna Lynch (debut) • Robbie Coltrane (Alex Rider: Stormbreaker) • Alan Rickman (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) • Maggie Smith (Keeping Mum) • Julie Walters (Driving Lessons) • Tom Felton (HP: Goblet of Fire) • Helena Bonham Carter (Corpse Bride )

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If you would like to read the spoiler points for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, please click here.
Please click here to read the Special Comments regarding the IMAX® 3D version of the film.
When you are a Harry Potter fan through the films more than the books (heresy I know), it's easy to forget that the 7th book is coming out shortly, but that we are only on to the 5th film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Therefore, for filmgoers, it's important to remember that this particular film installment is sort of a transition. We left off with a horrendously evil ending with the death of Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattison) at the hands of the finally revealed Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) but with suspicion for both being the actual murderer and a liar being cast on the reputation of our hero, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).
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The Order of the Phoenix picks up, a bit strangely, with Harry back 'home' in the suburbs of London where he's sitting on a swing in a playground worrying about everything yet still sticking up for a kid who's been bullied by his local nemesis and pseudo cousin Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling). A storm brews on the horizon and Harry realizes something's not right. The kids scatter with Harry and Dudley eventually disappearing into a tunnel. Unfortunately, the horrible Dementors, guards of the wizard prison Azkaban, trap them and begin to draw the lives out of them. Fortunately, Harry narrowly saves them by evoking a powerful charm saving both their lives.

"… nearly twice as dark and half as magical has Goblet of Fire."
This act, unfortunately, in the eyes of the Ministry of Magic, is illegal both because he used magic underage and because he performed it in front of a muggle. Harry is subsequently expelled from Hogwarts School for his insolence without questioning. And it is precisely here that the film begins to disappoint. Keeping in mind, this book was 870 pages long, and the film is 18 minutes over 2 hours, it is becoming increasingly hard, I imagine to condense the books into films. By contrast, the first film was based on a book that was only 309 pages long. When a writer has to prepare a screenplay from an entire book it's a worthy challenge in the first place. The distillation down to the most essential elements of an 870-page book while preserving any semblance of the original flavor must be an incredible accomplishment. This is probably where the producers and film studio have made a grave mistake. While J. K. Rowling has continued to make each subsequent book longer and longer herself choosing longer rather than more frequent but shorter books, the filmmakers have not chosen to follow suit with longer and longer films. They reasons, they claim, as everyone in the industry claims is that people, real human beings, cannot tolerate long films. This is a patently ridiculous assertion not really grounded in any real research.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, all three of which received Academy Award® nominations for Best Picture, and all three of which were gigantic smashes at the box office, had running times of 178 minutes, 179 minutes, and 201 minutes respectively. Clearly, one can have brilliant success with movies that approach or even exceed three hours in length. The key is having a brilliantly filmed movie with a captivating story that virtually envelopes you in the experience. True, a six-year old might get antsy. Well, I'm going to go on record of saying there is absolutely no way on this planet I'd recommend the Lord of the Rings Trilogy nor most if any of the Harry Potter films be seen by six year olds. I know that a lot of parents world-wide seem to feel that the Harry Potter series if for little kids. Maybe their imaginations upon reading the books aren't half as scary as the stuff they put on film. But, otherwise, I wouldn't really recommend the books for people under the age of perhaps 13. Regardless, when making a film, the point really should be to make a brilliant film, not to worry about the length. When adapting a book for film, the point should be to adapt it as well as possible and then face what Peter Jackson had to face, editing to around three hours, because studios are still convinced that films over two hours arrive in the cinema with a black spot from the start—not just because they claim we cannot concentrate that long, but also because they cannot cram in as many screenings per day which, of course, is part of the key to their financial success. Of course, he restored huge segments of the originally shot films for DVD release, and no one heard any complaints about the extended versions being simply too long. How can a film be too long? Well, there are films that are 87 minutes that are way too long. A film is too long if the story isn't going anywhere. Not yet having read The Order of the Phoenix because, as a rule, I won't read a book until after seeing the film, I can safely predict however that an 870-page book has lost a lot in translation, and unfortunately, I'm also predicting that this film is the least well-adapted of the series. For the sake of more numerical comparisons here is a data table:

Sorcer's Stone309152
Chamber of Secrets256161
Prisoner of Azkaban448141
Goblet of Fire734157
Order of the Phoenix870138
The time to pages ratio is getting worse and worse as the series progresses, and this presents an even greater challenge to the screenwriter. Based on the results of the Order of Phoenix film itself, it seems that someone should have gotten wise and done one of the following: figured out based on books 4, 5, and 6 what the most essential plot elements would be and focused just on those for the films or made 6 films (parts 1 and 2 of each). The problem with not having done this is that the films are starting to seem wildly disjointed and full of unnecessary stuff that doesn't really fit. Meanwhile, there is insufficient time to develop the relationships of the characters or to let the story unfold. It's an amazing hodge podge of problems that ardent fans will want to overlook, but seriously, this film really isn't as good as it could have been. There comes a time when fans of a series have to take a step back and honestly assess what's happening to their beloved characters and story. To put it another way, try to picture The Order of the Phoenix as one's first introduction to the story. It would be nearly impossible to make heads or tales out of what was going on. It actually takes about 10 minutes to figure out what's going on even if one has just re-watched the Goblet of Fire on DVD. It shouldn't be this way. Elaborating a bit without spoiling the plot (see Spoiler Points for that), there are characters and parts of this story that simply don't add up or fit. Meanwhile, the general pace verges on the frenetic with one exception: the scenes of Harry training the kids to do their magic to defend themselves if Voldemort shows up are nearly interminable and entirely lack luster. I can only imagine, sadly, that in the book they are spectacular as this is really where Harry starts to shine as a leader as well as a great wizard we all knew he would turn out to be. Unfortunately, these scenes give him time for just 2 or 3 snippets of pep talks to the troops and lots of kids standing around waving wands. It's ludicrous. So much time and attention are devoted to the school being taken over by the Ministry of Magic and the installation of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) that the film, quite literally, is nearly more about her than Harry Potter. Sadly, this was not the most compelling nor interesting route to go with the film. It's not called, Dolores Umbridge and the Order of the Phoenix. Turns out the film is nearly twice as dark and half as magical has Goblet of Fire. New director, David Yates, did an admirable job, but not quite the right touches as Mike Newell (director of Goblet) nor Alfonso Cuarón (Prisoner). When history looks back on the franchise, unfortunately, it may not look kindly on the revolving door of directors. The same cannot be said for the LoTR franchise because, of course, one man committed his vision to the project and immersed himself in nothing else for more than six years. While the Harry Potter franchise is arguable more expansive that LoTR, there is much to be said, at least for more continuity in the films if the directors stick around, at least, for a couple of the films in the series. With all due respect, David Yates lacked the filmography of his predecessors. And this, too, may have hurt the film. Before the next two are made, some serious thought ought to be put into the possibility of making three films, at least. Why try to cram so much into decreasing time spans? Why not make truly brilliant films. Fans keep asking why the cast, crew, and films are not seeing Academy Award® nominations. Well, there's not much time for true performances from the actors, the stories are dissected and choppy, and that pretty much leaves awards for special effects—have you seen Transformers? Not that the special effects aren't good, it's just that they are not as cutting edge as the one film each year that focuses on nothing but special effects, so Harry Potter films don't even stand up well in that area. Which doesn't really matter, because it wasn't special effects that drew people to love the books and to turn J. K. Rowling into England's wealthiest woman. It was the magic of her stories. If an eleven-year old is going to have the patience to plow through an 870-page book, she's also going to be able to sit through a three-hour movie. And why not stop, have an intermission, let people stretch, if that's the worry. Let them run and buy more popcorn. Some people were blogging about The Order of the Phoenix being cut in running time due to the horrible failure of Grindhouse this spring. It's hard to comprehend the connection. This is Harry Potter. That was a cool experimental dual film made of two 90-minute films shot by two directors in a style that was popular in the 70s. It's lack of success was due to people in the USA being less eager to embrace art films vs. blockbuster entertainment. Hence why the vast majority of the people in the USA never saw these three of last year's best films: Little Children, Notes on a Scandal, and Pan's Labyrinth. They never played widely outside of the Landmark and other art house cinemas, and despite some great stars and brilliant performances, never reached the main stream. So, while Grindhouse wasn't the most spectacular of films from the average moviegoer point of view, artistically it was at the top of its game and deserved better attention and support. Nonetheless, it has nothing to do with how long or short the new Harry Potter film should or should not be. Again, it should be about making the movie grand. Which, it simply wasn't. It had too much of the wrong stuff, not enough of the right stuff, and serves, probably mostly, as a rickety bridge between Goblet and Half Blood Prince. Fans of the franchise should be vocal in their dissatisfaction with what has happened both in selection of the director and editing the story lest the final two share similar problems.

When it comes to the core three actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, they are really coming into their own and shining as real stars. It is terribly unfortunate that this screenplay afforded them with so little opportunities to light up the screen or really demonstrate their abilities.

"… Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, they are really coming into their own and shining as real stars."
Presumably, they will have careers beyond the HP franchise, but this will be far more difficult if they are not given the opportunity to really show the developments of their characters. No other film franchise ever filmed has had this luxury of showcasing the evolving and developing talents of a cast from their youth into true young adulthood. They are a marvelous group who has survived the awkward pre-teen years spectacularly. Meanwhile the stunt-casting of famous English actors and actresses in subsidiary roles continues to taunt with a particularly odd performance by Helen Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. There's way too little of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and way too much of newcomer Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and her high-pitched, overly melodious voice. Hagrid (Robby Coltrane) is back all too briefly in a part of the storyline that, if one were looking for things to cut, could have been cut completely as ultimately totally unnecessary and inexplicable. Doubtless, it has more relevance in the book.
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Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) also isn't getting quite the screen time he deserves. The final climatic battle in this film is exciting, certainly the highlight of the film, but not as much so as it could have been.

All in all, sadly, it seems that The Order of the Phoenix is the worst, least enjoyable of the five Harry Potter films thus far. It is a dark film. Some critics may be using that word to avoid having to also face the facts and admit it's also not that good. The darkness has nothing to do with whether the film is good or not.

"…The Order of the Phoenix is the…least enjoyable of the five Harry Potter films thus far."
Nevertheless, the film should be seen by fans such that they might be able to express what changes need to be made immediately prior to the commencement of filming on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which is currently (as of 11 July 2007) in pre-production with Steve Kloves back behind the pen—which is a very good thing. Just please give the films the time they need. If they aren't going to be broken into 4 films, at least give them ample running times so the stories can unfold, odd characters don't seem tossed in for good measure, and the actors have time to demonstrate the development of their characters.

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Other Projects Featuring Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Cast Members
Daniel RadcliffeRalph FiennesGary Oldman
Emma WatsonRupert GrintJames Phelps
Oliver PhelpsMichael GambonImelda Staunton
Jason IsaacsAlan RickmanEvanna Lynch
David Yates
Michael Goldenberg (screenplay)
CD Soundtrack
Related Book
Video Games
DVD Collection
The Final Book

Review-lite Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) [max of 150 words]
Nearly twice as dark and half as magical, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix fails to live up to the reputation of the previous films. Largely, this seems due to a new director that doesn't seem to handle the dynamics as well and the screenplay which was based on the longest of the books so far, but given the least amount of screen time. Overall, the three leads: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are coming on strong as real forces in the field, it's too bad the running time has forced them to water things down a bit. The story, overall, lacks the climatic punch, as well, of its predecessors. Still, it's a better than average film. Ardent fans will have to decide how much compromises sacrificed the true impact of the novel.

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