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With: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Evanna Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Warwick Davis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Katie Leung, Matthew Lewis, Natalia Tena, Tom Felton, Harry Melling, Richard Griffiths, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, David Bradley, Jason Boyd, Richard Macklin, Kathryn Hunter, Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville, Robert Pattinson, George Harris, Peter Cartwright, Bridgette Millar, Mark Williams, Timothy Bateson, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Nicholas Blane, Robert Hardy, Chris Rankin, Sian Thomas, Jamie Waylett, Josh Herdman, Devon Murray, William Melling, Apple Brook, Alfie Enoch, Afshan Azad, Shefali Chowdhury, Sam Beazley, John Atterbury
Written by: Michael Goldenberg, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Directed by: David Yates
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Running Time: 138
Date: 06/28/2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Entrusted to Chris Columbus, the first two Harry Potter films were rather stately, closely adhering to the books and putting forth the minimum amount necessary to ensure a clean, rousing adventure. Then director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) took the reins for the lean-and-mean third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and injected personality into the series for the first time. Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) continued in that vein for the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), bringing his own professional storytelling skill to the series and making it more human. Sadly, the newest film has been entrusted to a newcomer, David Yates, with only television experience, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has reverted back to being merely serviceable.

By far the best thing about the new film is Daniel Radcliffe's Harry; after all his troubles over the years, he's become wounded and angry, walking around sullen and defiant, like a nerdy, magical James Dean. Yates photographs him with an almost homoerotic physicality, emphasizing his new, taut neck muscles and narrowed eyes. Luna Lovegood (newcomer Evanna Lynch) is another fascinating character. She's blond, breathy and spacey, but weirdly wise. Only she and Harry can see a certain breed of flying magical creature because only they have "seen death." And Alan Rickman, back as Professor Severus Snape in only a handful of scenes, manages to steal great portions of the movie with his carefully metered, acid line readings, like a cloaked version of Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly.

Sadly, that's about it. Screenwriter Michael Goldberg replaces the talented Steve Kloves as the official Harry Potter screenwriter, and he doesn't have Kloves' balance. Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) joins the series as conservative Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge, sent by the Ministry of Magic to cover up the threat of Voldemort and to keep things status quo. But her brand of matronly evil offers few surprises. Helena Bonham Carter also turns up as the murderess Bellatrix Lestrange; she looks great but does little more than cackle. The rest of the sprawling cast (Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Fiona Shaw, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Warwick Davis, etc.) is either relegated to only a few minutes of screen time, or woefully underwritten characters. Harry's much-hyped new love and first kiss, Cho Chang (Katie Leung), is nothing more than a placeholder, and the fireworks don't ignite.

Moreover, Yates seems uncomfortable with scenes involving too many people, and he's not much better at special effects scenes. He shoots most of the spectacular money moments cloaked in darkness, as if to cover up shoddy CG work. One scene set in an endless room filled with crystal balls sitting on shelves could have been dazzling, but Yates undercuts the infinite quality of the room by cutting to overhead shots, showing the very definite floor. However, while these flaws keep the movie from being great, they don't stop it from doing what it was designed to do. It's a cut-rate Harry Potter, but not necessarily a bad one. Fans able to fill in the blank spaces left out by Goldberg and Yates will thrill to the latest chapter of this increasingly grown-up series.

There are at least half a dozen different versions of Warner Home Video's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but I received the very basic one-disc, widescreen edition. It comes with lots of ads for video games and trailers for Get Smart, 10,000 BC and I Am Legend at startup. Otherwise, the basic disc includes no extras, save for three audio mixes, four subtitle options and scene selections.

In 2011, Warner Home Video released a super-deluxe Blu-Ray Ultimate Edition, with a cool cover. It comes with a little hardcover book and character, character cards, and two discs. The first disc has the movie and an interactive, "in-movie" experience. The second contains a new documentary, and lots of other stuff.

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