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Sideshow Dusty Reviews Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Thursday, July 12, 2007

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For those of you who live in a cave….
Voldemort’s back. It’s true, I saw him myself. And this time it’s not just a lot of floating around with a bad attitude. This time he has a talented tailor and a serious hankering for that (fill in the blank) he needs in order to regain his near-omnipotent power of yesteryear.

When the world never seems to be living up to your dreams….

Harry Potter all Grown Up

You’ve seen the other Harry Potter films, right? Let’s for a moment compare this series to, say, The Facts of Life. Remember when Blair, Jo and the girls started dealing with death, disappointment and the depressing reality of losing their innocence? (if you’ve pictured the season where they open the trendy gift store, back up five years). Okay, start there, replace Mrs. G with Dumbledore, add Harry and friends, some hard-core witchcraft and wizardry, a murderous clan of evil-doers and a secret society to protect the world from said murderous clan. Now, add in a heaping handful of state sponsored propaganda and a full-blown effort to cripple the only institution still fit to save the world. You feeling it? Even taking away the fantastical elements, you’re left with a group of adolescents agonizing through a difficult transition to adulthood. You still have doubt, disappointment and fear, in all of its internal and external manifestations. And finally, (only after your stomach is churning and your heart is on the verge of breaking) you have rebellion. This is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

There’s a time you’ve got to go and show your growing now…

Ron, Harry and Hermonine

The story unfolds around Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts. Leading up to this year, a major rift has disrupted the complacent vibe of all things in the world of magic. With obvious allusions toward some of history’s most damaging governmental agendas, this film exposes how the fear of fear itself can be the downfall of a society. Harry and his fellow schoolmates find that they must be the champions of truth, courage and sacrifice in the most crucial of times. Why them? Because only teenagers have the inherent sense to ignore rules and disregard perilous danger. You will squirm in your chair as you watch. You will begin theorizing about your own government’s hidden agendas. And, you will really wish you had a broom, a wand, and a Death-Eater’s butt to kick.

When the Books are what you’re there about…

So I’ve read the book….it’s been a few years, and I’ve forgotten many of the small details that make the books so fantastic – I purposely did not re-read it before seeing the film because I wanted the highest probability of enjoying the film completely. In the past, I’ve been disappointed that so much has been left out of the films. Did my strategy work? Yep, pretty much. This film experience provided a near-complete suspension of disbelief for me. I got what I was expecting, and then some.

So what was I expecting, you ask?

Delores Umbridge

1. Great Casting….

Spend 3 minutes with Delores Umbridge and you will get reacquainted with your angriest, most frustrated adolescent self. Representing the Ministry of Magic’s bureaucratic grasp on Hogwarts, Umbridge’s role was played by Imelda Staunton with saccharine disdain and corrupt ambition. Let me put this a different way. You will HATE her! And for this reason, you will love George and Fred Weasley all the more in Order of the Phoenix. Old stand-bys, including Snape and Hagrid, solidify my opinion that the Harry Potter films feature some of the most wonderfully cast characters since…ever.

2. Respectable Directing and Acting

All of the young actors have improved their performances this time around, with special shout-outs to Daniel Radcliff as Harry and Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom. Gary Oldham expanded the Sirius Black character beyond the desperately innocent man we met in the last film with perfect subtlety. Director David Yates deserves credit for corralling the right combination of technical and human effort in creating The Order of the Phoenix. When you leave a theater feeling sympathetic to the characters and completely wrapped up in their story-line, you know the experience was good.

Ministry of Magic

3. Good Visuals…

These effects were not good. They were freaking great! I’m a sucker for a good creature/make-up design, and Voldemort ranks up there with the creepiest screen villains of all time. Almost all of the CG scenes were flawless, and the overall production design was completely satisfying. I swear, the Ministry of Magic looked exactly as I pictured it. It’s as if the effects are growing up along with the kids at Hogwarts. The scenes with Hagrid’s brother borderline on what I would call ‘Early Potter’ effects, but other than that, I loved every bit of it.

4. Big Magic…

So, I was expecting a little more in this department. It’s not that there wasn’t plenty of it…but many of the scenes with the DA felt rushed, like we were watching through a window. It’s fair to say that few (if any) scenes will give you the rush you felt when Harry found his wand in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Snape and Dumbledore do offer some awesome magic, and the final fight scene makes it very clear that the students have plenty to learn when it comes to real Defense against the Dark Arts. Compare seeing Luke fight Vader for the first time, and then watching Yoda battle Dooku. Yoda = Dumbledore. It’s pretty cool, but again, I wish more time was spent with these scenes. I say nay to magic montages for future Potter films.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

Sure, this film had a few imperfections. I’ll check them off quickly, because these things were not enough to break the stride of the film for me. And for the most part, if I were tasked to condense a 870 page book into a two-hour film, I couldn’t have done it better (I’m barely making it through this review!). That said, I thought the music was cheesy to the point of distraction at times, and I thought a lot of great details and interactions were clipped from the book. I wanted more Order of the Phoenix, more Hagrid, more Snape, more back-story from the Ministry of Magic, and more from the year at Hogwarts in general. There was barely a mention of the passing seasons, and I really think the final two minutes at the train platform were awful. There’s no way to put a bow on the end of this…so why try? We all know what’s coming next, and we all know that it stinks.

Harry Potter

The Facts of Life….

If you’re a Potter fan who has enjoyed any aspect of ANY of the previous films, go see this one! I’d rate it as the best so far in several categories. If you are a book purist, I just don’t know what to tell you. Actually, I do. Enjoy your book, then forget your book and go enjoy the film. The theater experience was great, so don’t wait for the DVD either. Besides, it’s comforting to know that there is a large roomful of people with the same geeky tendencies as yourself. Thanks, Sideshow for the free tickets. I’m putting it out there that I’ll gladly review the Harry Potter game too… if you would just provide the Wii.

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