Click here 2 stars

Flash and fire
signifying
way too little
in "Order of Phoenix'

Daniel Radcliffe
Warner Brothers Pictures photograph
by Murray Close

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter


"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Reviewed by John Orr

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The movie version of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is a triumph of visual design over substance and intelligence, a cave-in of intellect wherein the short-term, easy tactical victory is chosen over the long-range, strategic needs of story.

But it is a beautiful film to look at in almost every way. Good heavens, Daniel Radcliffe has actually gotten, perhaps, too good-looking to play the gawky Harry Potter. Hogwarts is fascinating, with more made of the lively framed art and moving staircases than in previous films, and it’s fun, even though at variance with the books (and the earlier HP films), how the evil Death Eaters apparate from dark streaks of smoke, and the good guys apparate from blazes of white light.

The Ministry of Magic, with its busy crowd of bureaucrat wizards and witches bustling about and arriving via floo powder in fireplaces, and the dusty stacks of prophecy globes, has been impressively realized. While the exterior of

Emma Watson
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

Staunton, Thompson, Smith
Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith

Evanna Lynch
Evanna Lynch

Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter
Warner Brothers Pictures photographs
Sirius Black’s family manse was mishandled to the point of embarrassment, the interior is great – dark, oppressive, depressing, as it should be.

And Jany Temime deserves all the flowers and accolades that can be thrown at her feet for the way she dressed the evil Dolores Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton. The sight of her pink suit could be used at hospitals as a stomach pump.

Staunton is fairly the equal of Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter and James and Oliver Phelps in bringing alive the creations of Joanne (no middle initial) Rowlings.

That list should also include Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw, but only for the first four movies; in this film, for which director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg have apparently convinced themselves that they are both way smarter than Rowling, Vernon and Petunia Dursley have been transformed into slatterns, for reasons that escape me.

On the other Dursley hand, Harry Melling has his best outing ever as Dudley, at least for his scenes before the dementor attack. But then he is brought home to the worst Dursley home scene yet put to film, in which he becomes, essentially, a cartoon.

Really, Yates should go back to directing TV shows. It is a nightmare that he is also the director for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” At least for that film he has the services of Steve Kloves, who was screenwriter for the first four Harry Potter films.

Goldenberg, on the other hand, should never write anything ever again for public consumption, except for notes of apology for his script for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

It’s all about choices.

Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore more than once has made the point to the young and earnest Harry Potter that it is his choices have made him a Gryffindor, that have made him a good person, that make him different than the evil Voldemort, despite the powers they share.

And filmmakers always have to make choices when translating a book into film. After all, by the standard Hollywood page-per-minute formula, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” would have to run for 14 and a half hours.

So, some condensing, some telescoping of events must take place.

It was fine that Yates and Goldberg trimmed the scene with all the Order of the Phoenix people in the Dursley’s house. Yet, it’s a bit silly that they had all the witches and wizards stand in formation in front of Number 4, Privet Drive and then all magically snap their brooms into their hands from off screen; but then flat-out stupid that the broom-riders flew up the Thames about five feet off the water, in full view of and nearly colliding with a tour ferry.

It was like watching one of Roger Moore’s James Bond films. Even filmic logic escapes Yates in the first scene with the Thestrals. Should the audience see them, as can Harry, or not see them, as if Ron and Hermione? He chooses to do both – not showing them, then showing them.

The film’s worst crime is in not taking us at all to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. That chapter is certainly among the very best Rowling has written through the first six books of her series and is Shakespearian in its brilliant combination of pathos and humor.

Gone completely is Neville Longbottom’s visit to his parents, who had been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange. Instead, we have to watch poor Neville (played well by Matthew Lewis) stare at their photograph for a long time (yawn), then tell Harry about it in a lame bit of dialogue.

Still, there are some terrifically entertaining bits in the movie, notably in the performances of the adult actors.

Rickman is stunningly funny in one of his shortest scenes ever in the series, when he is being audited by the evil Umbridge. And he is quite good in the rest of his scenes, wherein he is certainly harsh and creepy to Harry, but a bit of concern for Harry still shows. Very delicate, really.

Staunton’s little laugh as Umbridge echoed in a lot of filmgoer minds after the credits rolled. She is excellent in the role.

And Bonham Carter is brilliant as Lestrange. She glories in Lestrange’s madness, giving it a fuller palette of emotions than I would have thought possible in so short a screen time. When we first see her she is still weak from the dementors of Azakaban, but still a light of madness glows somewhere deep in her eyes, and we watch her transit from weakness to screaming power once again. Later she manages a girlish giggle that almost makes Lestrange seem pitiable, before moving once again to full, hateful evil.

Lestrange’s best lines of dialogue, though, for some reason were given to Fiennes as Voldemort.

Fiennes is excellent as Voldemort, although the big battle with Dumbledore toward the end of the film was an opportunity muffed by the filmmakers.

It was actually boring at its beginning. The two wizards throw light back and forth. Yawn.

It gets better, but not by much.

Michael Gambon is slightly better in this than in “The Goblet of Fire,” but he still lacks Dumbledore’s self-assured strength and bearing. It’s just not there.

One of the several odd choices made by the filmmakers was to have Cho Chang rat out Dumbledore’s Army, instead of her girlfriend Marietta Edgecombe. It’s the sort of combining of characters that corporate bookkeepers like, but it’s hard to see how it saved anybody much money.

In the film, Yates and Goldberg — again, thinking themselves smarter than Rowling — show Cho leading Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad to the Room of Requirement.

Harry, of course, is pretty unhappy with Cho at that, especially because he had just shared his first kiss with her.

But then we learn that Umbridge had given Veritaserum to Cho, which would make it possible for Harry to later forgive her — which would undercut the tension that has to exist between them later, as in the books, before he forgets about Cho altogether and moves on to his later love.

And why did Veritaserum apparently only work on Cho, when apparently it was given to every student at the school, which is also ridiculous?

Ask Yates and Goldberg.

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?

The visuals are fun enough for a big screen, but overall this is not worth movie-theater prices. Rent the DVD.

See cast, credit and other details about "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" at Internet Movie Data Base.


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