August 19, 2007
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
More than 10 years after the publication of the first book in the "Harry Potter" series, there's no doubt that J. K. Rowling's fantasy novels are on the way of becoming classics of the genre due to its imaginative world and its captivating story, which has gone from simple tales of adventure to darker and more complex themes as its main character, the young wizard Harry Potter grows up. The fourth installment of the series, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" began this maturing process, as in that book our hero discovered that fighting against evil, embodied in the figure of Lord Voldemort, wasn't a child's game, as the forces of evil do not hesitate in killing innocents. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", fifth novel in the series, continued and expanded this transformation, and naturally, the movie adaptation followed the same path.
As usual, we find Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) spending the summer at the house of his hateful relatives, the Dursleys, however, something feels different this time, as even when he was the one who discovered that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) had returned, nobody, not even his good friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), had attempted to get in touch with him. Harry suspects something strange is going on, and his suspicion gets confirmed when a group of Dementors attack him and his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), forcing him to use magic to save him. After this event, Harry is informed that he is now expelled from Hogwarts, however, the Order of the Phoenix, a group of elite wizards lead by Harry's former professor Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson), appear at the Dursleys' house to take Harry away. It seems that Harry's fifth year has started a bit earlier this time.
Replacing Steve Kloves as scriptwriter for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is writer Michael Goldenberg, who faces the mammoth challenge of adapting Rowling's longest book to film. As any fan of the series should expect, details from the novel had to be omitted, but it must be said that Goldenberg manages to create a script that despite the omissions remains true to the story's spirit by keeping the core themes and staying faithful to the main plot. One of the key elements of the novel's plot is Harry's angst, and Goldenberg manages to successfully explore this aspect in his screenplay, devoting a great deal of it to the developing of Harry's character (something missing in the previous installment). Sadly, this has the consequence of limiting the screen time of the rest of the characters, as even major character such as Ron and Hermione get reduced screen time in this occasion.
As the new person in the director's seat, David Yates wisely decide to keep a sense of continuity between films and follows the same dark visual style that has been part of the series since the third installment ("Prisoner of Azkaban"), keeping the film in tone with the more mature challenges the characters face now that they have grown up and the evil's presence is stronger. A major theme in the movie is how the life at Hogwarts is affected by the many political conspiracies to hide the fact that Voldemort has returned, and fortunately Yates manages to pay enough attention to this aspect without taking the focus out of the main characters. While Yates does give his film a very fast pace, he manages to make the story easy to understand even to those unfamiliar with the novel and the many details that weren't included in the adaptation.
One of the most noticeable things in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is definitely how much has Daniel Radcliffe improved as an actor, as after many years of being the weakest link in the young trio, he finally shows up a considerable development and a real domain over dramatic scenes. Of course, it helps a lot that the script is almost entirely dedicated to his character, although sadly, this also means that Emma Watson and specially Rupert Grint receive almost zero chance to shine, although both make great performances despite this. The rest of the supporting characters suffer of this same thing as well, although Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson and specially Alan Rickman deliver remarkable acting despite the short screen time they have. However, the highlight of the film is Imelda Staunton's acting as Dolores Umbridge, as she delivers what's simply an unforgettable performance.
As written above, anyone expecting a faithful adaptation of the books will be sorely disappointed. To expect the level of detail Kloves and director Chris Columbus had in the first two films is simply pointless, but that doesn't mean Yates and Goldenberg are not talented, one has consider that since "Prisoner of Azkaban", Rowling's seres has grown bigger and deeper than the first two books. True, it's sad not to see some of the most famous scenes of the series in the movie, but what Yates and Goldenberg have done is still impressive as the movie does exactly what the novel did in a flawless way: it gives depth to the characters and completes their transition from kids to teenagers. In fact, the movie's real problem is that it's a bit too fast paced for its own sake, with the events happening at times too quickly to be noticed. I'm sure nobody would complain if 20 extra minutes were added to help slow the pace a bit.
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" may not be an adaptation as faithful as hardcore fans would want, but in the end the approach the filmmakers have taken since the third chapter has given the series an identity of its own. This fifth installment is a great addition to the series, as it delivers perfectly the intended message: Harry Potter is not a kid anymore, and his biggest challenge awaits ahead.
Buy "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007)