Thursday, November 04, 2010

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (film)

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/13/07 w/ Additional Edits.


Directed by David Yates of the TV film The Girl in the Cafe` and screenplay by Michael Goldenberg based on J.K. Rowling's book.  Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix tells the story of Harry Potter battling the recently resurrected Lord Voldemort as Harry and Dumbledore find themselves ostracized by the Ministry of Magic.  With Dumbledore isolating himself from Harry, the boy also finds himself out of favor with most of the wizarding world as the Ministry of Magic hires Dolores Jane Umbridge to make some changes at Hogwarts.  The new changes marks an era of rebellion as Harry, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and other students decide to teach themselves on defensive magic while Harry finds romance with Cho Chang and an unlikely father figure in his godfather Sirius Black. Through it all, Harry has to face more tragedy and his own role into why Voldemort tried to kill as a baby.

Starring young franchise players Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter along with Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, James & Oliver Phelps, Tom Felton, Jamie Waylett, Joshua Herdman, Harry Melling, Chris Rankin, Katie Leung, and in her film debut as Luna Lovegood, Evanna Lynch. The film also includes returning adult cast members Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Bradley, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Emma Thompson, Warwick Davis, Jason Issacs, Robert Hardy, and Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort. Joining the franchise for this dark installment are Helena Bohnam Carter, Natalia Tena, George Harris, Sian Thomas, Jim McManus, and Imelda Staunton as Dolores Jane Umbridge.

After getting into trouble in saving his cousin's life from dementors, Harry Potter is forced to go to court to discuss his possible expulsion from Hogwarts. After being accompanied by the Order of the Phoenix to Grimmauld Place, he meets his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) about what's happening. After meeting his godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and family friend Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), they discuss about Voldemort's plans to build up an army. Following his trial, in which he's acquitted thanks to Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and the testimony of Harry's neighbor Arabella Figg (Kathryn Hunter). Harry returns to Hogwarts but is immediately alienated by everyone who thinks he’s a liar while Dolores Umbridge has been sent by the Ministry of Magic as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and High Inquisitor.

Umbridge's new plans for Hogwarts only causes problems as Harry's claim of Voldemort's return forces him to serve detention in the most punishing ways. Hermione however, is upset over not learning defense lessons as she along with fellow students to organize Dumbledore's Army. Harry reluctantly becomes the teacher as they learn defense spells secretly from Dolores Umbridge. Things go well at first until the visions in Harry's head only troubles him as he wonders why Dumbledore is alienating him. Returning to Grimmauld place, Harry finds comfort in Sirius Black as Harry dreads of returning to Hogwarts. Under Dumbledore's request, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) teaches Harry Occlumency in order to get Voldemort out of his mind that doesn't go well for either.

Following the bad visions in his head and the return of Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) following a failed mission to send envoy to the giants. Dumbledore's Army is suddenly ratted out by one of its participants as plans to expel Harry is thwarted again by Dumbledore. With O.W.L.s exams coming, Harry's mad visions occur as he is forced into another confrontation with Umbridge while getting unlikely help from Hagrid's half-brother giant Grawp (Tony Maudsley) and centaurs. For his mission against the Death Eaters including those from the recent Azkaban breakout, Harry goes on a mission with Ron, Hermione, Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), and Luna Lovegood. It is there Harry would realize his connection to Voldemort and face tragedy.

While the book of Order of the Phoenix remains the longest of the series. It's pretty clear that to fans that it's got to be the one book in terms of its adaptation that has to be the most difficult to translate into film. Yet, David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg do succeed in some cases. However, several subplots didn't make it to the final cut. One involves Ron's Quidditch skills that explores his character development. Another is more to do with the character of Kreacher (voiced by Timothy Bateson) who is seen in the film only twice in brief appearances. Yet, his character is a lot bigger due to the fact that he ends up playing a role involving Harry's mission to the Ministry. Despite those missing subplots, the film is very faithful to the book by going to the core story of Harry’s newfound alienation and his quest to try to fight evil when few are with him.

Much of the credit really goes to screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, who replaces screenwriter Steve Kloves who takes a break from the series. Goldenberg's focus on the film's politics and Harry's alienation is by far the best script of the series. Even as he replaces the character of Dobby with Neville into finding the Room of Requirement. There, it makes sense as well as the way it introduces creatures like the threstals as well as places like the Ministry and Grimmauld Place.

The script, like all the other adapted scripts before, is also flawed. There are plot holes involved with the script on who sent the dementors to Privet Drive. How did Fred and George get the money to do their Weasley Wizard Wheezes tricks?  Yet, there's also some decisions into why aren’t there bigger parts for people like Professor Trelawney, Draco Malfoy, or even Ginny (who is featured in the film a lot but doesn't get many lines)? Why does Harry have to stay in Privet Drive? That along with several sequences that audiences will feel might be rushed. Still, the story is there as well as the characters people love.

It's always the problems of the script though the direction of David Yates is superb. Notably the way he presents the film's political contents like the huge poster of Fudge, the use of the Daily Prophet, and the school feels very totalitarian. It's in the images where the film has an adult feel of sorts but only furthers to drive Harry into alienation. That's a theme that was prominent in not just the book but also the film, Harry's own isolation. Whether it's people not believing him or him just trying to cut himself off from his friends. The heart of the film in terms of its relationship is the relationship Harry has with Sirius. Despite Sirius' flaws as a person who is trapped in his own home, that he hated. Sirius is the one person that Harry often confides to.

It's Yates experience in TV drama that helps with the film's dramatic tone while the action sequences, notably the battle at the Department of Mystery definitely lives up to the imagination of the book. Even the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort is brilliant. It's clear that David Yates has done a fantastic job in what he had to use. Yet, there is rumor that he has a longer version of the film. Let's make sure that those scenes will be on the DVD.

Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, famous for his work with the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, does some amazing work to the film's imagery. Bringing a sharper look to what Michael Seresin brought in the Prisoner of Azkaban. The film has a wonderful natural look in some of the exterior daylight scenes while using some stylish colors of blue, blue-green lights in some scenes as well the darker colors that goes on for the big battle scene. Production designer Stuart Craig and his team of art directors really do a fantastic job with the look of the Ministry of Magic. From the design of the statues in the fountain to the decayed look at Grimmauld Place including the Black family tree (that might feature a clue to who might be R.A.B. in the final book). Even Hogwarts manages to look amazing that includes the Room of Requirement and Umbridge's office. Costume designer Jany Temime definitely works her magic in not just the Goth-like clothing of Bellatrix Lestrange but also the pink clothes of Dolores Umbridge which will now, make probably everyone hate that color.

Visual effects supervisor Tim Burke and his team do great work with the film's creature designs that included a new make over for the dementors that look way more menacing as is the centaurs. The character of Kreacher looks very different in the way Dobby looked in The Chamber of Secrets. The threstals look amazing as is the character of Grawp who definitely looks like a baby giant and more innocent that he seems in the original book. Editor Mark Day definitely creates some magic with the editing in the sequence-to-sequence cut as well as the use of scenes from older film to convey Harry's madness. Sound editor James Mather along with sound designers James Boyle and Arthur Kennedy definitely create a tense atmosphere with the way the Death Eaters arrive and fly to the spells being thrown back and forth.

Composer Nicholas Hooper who continues to use the themes of John Williams, brings a very bombastic score that conveys the film's political tone as well as some of its dramatic elements. The sprawling arrangements and melodic tone really adds to the magic. The film also includes some stuff that is played on the radio that could be possibly stuff from some wizard-rock bands.

Finally, we have the film's sprawling cast. Younger actors with people like Devon Murray as Seamus Finnigan, Alfred Enoch as Dean Thomas, Shefali Chowdhury as Parvati Patil, Afshan Azad as Padma Patil, Harry Melling as Dudley Dursley, William Melling (who is playing a variation of the Creevey brothers) as Nigel, Joshua Herdman as Crabbe, and Jamie Waylett as Goyle are good. In the flashback scenes, we see some fine but very brief performances from Alec Hopkins as the young Snape, Robbie Jarvis as the young James Potter, and James Walter as the young Sirius Black. Sian Thomas as Amelia Bones, Tony Maudsley, and Kathryn Hunter have nice, brief appearances in their roles including Jim McManus in a cameo as the barman at the Hog's Head who is Dumbledore's brother Aberforth.

Other performances like Chris Rankin as Percy Weasley isn't really worth mentioning since he doesn’t have a line nor does Richard Leaf as Dawlish (who is a favorite of Pottercast's John Noe). Even the adult Dursleys in Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon and Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia don't have much to due, which is a shame in a way since Shaw's character is a bit bigger in the book.

Noted actors like Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney, and Warwick Davis as Professor Flitwick don't really have a lot of scenes which is kind of sad. Notably Thompson, whose character is very important to the book in relation to its ending. Robbie Coltrane only appears in two scenes in the film's second half, which might upset Hagrid fans but it's only because of what he's doing for the plot. David Bradley gets a lot of great screen time as Mr. Filch where he pretty much has a lot of hilarious scenes. Natalia Tena and George Harris are wonderful additions to the film's franchise as they play two loveable characters though aren't in the film as much. Especially Tena, who is very funny as Tonks while Harris as Kingsley Shacklebot has a great one-liner about Dumbledore's escape.

Jason Issacs is great in his role as Lucius Malfoy with his devilish presence while Helena Bohnam Carter rules as the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange with all of her demented persona and catcalls. Julie Walters is wonderful as Mrs. Weasley as she tries to play the lost maternal figure for Harry while Mark Williams is excellent as Mr. Weasley. Robert Hardy is in excellent form as Minister Cornelius Fudge, who used to play this warm character to Harry in previous series, has now becomes this power-hungry leader in denial. Alan Rickman is great as usual as Severus Snape in his scenes with Harry during the Occlumency lessons where we see Snape in a darker way concerning Harry's father. Michael Gambon, who was criticized for his eccentric performance as Dumbledore in previous films, finally brings that wise, powerful persona to the fullest. Gambon definitely gives Dumbledore the sense of someone who cares about Harry while trying to deal with the tension against the Ministry over Voldemort's return.

Ralph Fiennes, who made his appearance as Lord Voldemort in the last film, is just as menacing and as evil as it could be. Fiennes is perfect as Lord Voldemort in how he tries to control Harry's mind.  Gary Oldman is phenomenal as Sirius Black, Harry's godfather who helps deal with Harry's troubled emotions while showing him some secrets about his family as well as stories about Harry's father.  It's Oldman finally getting the chance to play a fraternal figure as he would also be the source for the things that Harry would have to face later in his life.

The film's best performance without a doubt really goes to Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. Never in a single performance where a character that people love to hate comes to life in a way that would make her a lot less likeable. Staunton brings that annoying, girlish glee that people know of Umbridge that will get on audiences nerve that is very comical while being this completely awful thing that rhymes with witch. Staunton is perfect in playing Umbridge as she deserves full praise, even making the color of pink revolting. Tom Felton, who is great as Draco Malfoy, only has a few lines which sucks since his character is a bit bigger, even with the upcoming story in The Half-Blood Prince.

Katie Leung is good as Harry's crush Cho Chang who falls for Harry but feeling guilty over the death of boyfriend Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattison via flashback). Bonnie Wright is great as Ginny Weasley. Though she doesn't get many lines, she does prove to be a powerful witch and ally to Harry while hardcore fans will get to notices the look she has about Harry when Cho is involved. Matthew Lewis is amazing as Neville Longbottom, who started out as a loveable klutz who couldn't perform spells, that now becomes this young powerful wizard who is driven by the tragedy over what happened to his parents in the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange. James and Oliver Phelps are always great as Fred and George Weasley in how they sell their products to being the comic relief in the film as they leave Hogwarts with a bang. In her film debut as Luna Lovegood, Evanna Lynch is just awesome as the spacey, loopy Luna with her light sense of humor and eccentric persona that just makes her loveable while being a kick-butt witch.

Rupert Grint, who was often the comic relief in the series, shows more serious chops as Ron Weasley by being one of the few who supports Harry. Grint does get a few funny lines but acts more serious in just being a supporting role. Emma Watson is also good as the more serious Hermione Granger while she does get the chance to be funny with some one-liners and acting rebellious. Daniel Radcliffe, who always gets better with each film, finally pushes the limits into what the Harry Potter can do. While not giving in to the raging screams of Harry in the book version of OOTP, he does reveal the angst and troubles that people go through at 15. It's Radcliffe that really shines as he shows more of his physical capabilities as well as his emotional scenes in relation to where his character is going and such. It's just jaw-dropping to see that he’s getting better.

While it's not the best Harry Potter film of the series (that honor goes to Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of The Prisoner of Azkaban), Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is still a magnificent film in the franchise. With great, standout performances from Daniel Radcliffe as the title character plus Evanna Lynch, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, and Imelda Staunton. The film has something to offer for Potter fans and those new to the series.  In the end, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is one of the series finest films.



(C) thevoid99 2010

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