Thursday, April 15, 2010

Archive: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007)

It's amazing how much the "Harry Potter" film franchise has evolved. Starting back in 2001 as a tale about a boy wizard and his magic, it has grown into something much more mature. Especially magnificent is the fact that these films have spanned over the course of 6 years, and so the general fan base has aged along with the films. With this fifth installment, "The Order of the Phoenix," we finally get a sense that we're on the brink of something really big and foreboding. This is what the series, especially the third and fourth films, have been leading up to. On July 21st, the 7th and final book will be released, and Harry Potter fans everywhere will finally find out his fate. In the world of the movies, however, it's just the beginning of the end with the darkest and gloomiest installment yet.

"The Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Chamber of Secrets" were under the much lighter direction of Chris Columbus. It was then passed onto Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, who made the smart and stylish transition into the series' darker tones. Director Mike Newell was next and did an admirable job on "The Goblet of Fire." And now, British director David Yates, who has only worked with TV projects, has taken on "The Order of the Phoenix" and has even signed up for "The Half-Blood Prince." This director holds true to the series' new look with gloomy atmospheres in place of colorful wonderment.

Ironically, this movie is the shortest of the entire bunch, and yet it's the longest novel. This is because it's the first installment not adapted by screenwriter Steve Kloves who will be returning for the next one. Michael Goldenburg fills the gap and does a fine job doing so by slimming down the expansive novel into something that's fitting for the screen. It's a surprisingly compact package clocking in at just under two-and-a-half hours, and it feels extremely streamlined. It's faced-paced and moves along briskly, which is better than trying to stuff everything in. Although there's noticeably a lot missing from the rich book, it's still entirely faithful without feeling at all overstuffed. It will be satisfying to those reading the novels but may be confusing to those following just the movies.

Daniel Radcliffe just keeps getting better playing our favorite Harry Potter. He was only 11 in "The Sorcerer's Stone," and now almost 18, the progress he's made is astounding. As he stated himself in an interview, only now is he able to fully show this teen wizard's full range of emotions and truly convey his deeply-rooted troubles. Not only him, but his costars, as well, have matured notably throughout the years. Rupert Grint returns as Ron Weasley along with Emma Watson as Hermoine Granger, but the two of them have a lot less to work with this time around. The actual social aspect has been disappointingly downplayed to make room for the rest of the plot elements. There are no warm feelings on the return to Hogwarts because it's time to get down to business; everyone is colder and more distanced from each other. There is Harry's highly-publicized first kiss scene, however, which shows that there is indeed still some spark amidst everything else going on.

There are many familiar faces like Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), and Sirius Black (Gary Oldman); all of them are of course played by renowned British actors. All of these characters make their return, even though some of their appearances are frustratingly brief. There's also a new student, "Loony" Luna Lovegood, who is just as bizarre as she was in the book. As fans very well know, with each new entry there comes a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and this time it's Professor Dolores Umbridge who is certainly one nasty cup of poisonous sugar.

Played very well by Imelda Staunton, she masks her evil hostility with her fuzzy pink clothes, unctuous smile, and piercingly annoying giggle. She continually posts educational decrees up on the wall, preventing Hogwarts students from doing anything. Her method of detention is awfully cruel, and she doesn't even let the students practice magic in the classroom and has them studying theory instead to prepare for their OWL exams. This terrible woman even replaces Dumbledore as Headmaster at one point. It's all from the help of the Ministry of Magic, headed by Cornelius Fudge, who is trying to suppress the supposed rumor that the Dark Lord has returned.

Well, it's no rumor. Harry Potter knows this for a fact, and it's his responsibility to get others to believe him. He is full of rage and anger and doesn't understand why, and he is having unsettlingly recurring nightmares. There are those ready to help him, however, and that's where the plot begins to thicken. There's a secret organization called The Order of the Phoenix compiled of friendly wizards and witches working to prepare for and defend against the truth. Lord Voldemort, played by a sinister slit-nosed Ralph Fiennes, is certainly back and is building an army of Death Eaters. With a Defense Against the Dark Arts class that just isn't cutting it, a group of Hogwarts students is planning to fight back and has created secret meetings under the name of Dumbledore's Army. With the inspiration and help of Harry Potter, they learn complicated spells and zap each other around a hidden Room of Requirement in order to prepare themselves for the worst.

Helping with the storytelling are the always wondrous special effects. Although not as breathtaking as in previous installments with the magical Tri-Wizard Tournament from "The Goblet of Fire" or the terrifying basilisk from "The Chamber of Secrets," there are still some dazzling sequences involving a broom ride across the London landscape and a deadly battle with magic during the movie's climactic end.

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is actually not sufficient enough to be a stand-alone movie experience mainly because it's a build-up to a magical war between good and evil that we never get to see, or at least not yet. We're in the middle of it all, and this is a time when Harry Potter and his friends must face a grim, adult world. There's more to prepare for than just their exams, and they must learn to protect themselves. Although Harry, Ron, and Hermoine interact differently than before, they're teenagers now and with all they've been through, they're closer than ever. I'm afraid to say that things are only going to get darker from here, and fans are aware that this is the natural progression. We've been with these characters from the very start, and it has been really something. This is the most extraordinary movie franchise of our time, and here is yet another worthy installment to behold.

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