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Matt's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review

Updated on April 28, 2011

There’s hardly a franchise in existence that is without flaw, especially once you go beyond 3 films.  That Harry Potter made it to the fifth film before stumbling, says a lot.  While Order of the Phoenix was an entertaining film, the filmmakers completely missed the mark on the adaptation, cutting down the story and streamlining it into a set of action set-pieces and flashy montages.  The fifth Harry Potter film is little more than a jumbled mess of action sequences with next to no exposition or character development to be found.

Observations

- Adaptation – it’s a challenging prospect to adapt an 870 page book for the big screen. I can only imagine how they must have agonized over what to keep and what to cut. Noises were made, when Goblet of Fire was in production about possibly cutting that one and all future Potter novels into 2-part films. Of course, this idea did not come to fruition until Deathly Hallows. As it stood, they did, with this story, exactly what I said they did. They kept the major action set-pieces and included the bare minimum of exposition required to get the characters from one flashy sequence to the next.

It would take pages to describe everything they cut, so I won’t do that, and what they cut is not important anyway. What’s important is, Harry Potter is first and foremost a coming of age story. It’s about growing up, and all the challenges that come with becoming an adult. In this book alone, Harry faces death, heartbreak, disillusionment of authority figures, and betrayal. The coming-of-age aspect, while ever-present in the novel, is almost completely lost in the film. I think, given what they cut, and the changes they made to the characterization, shows a certain lack of understanding on the part of the filmmakers for the material they were trying to adapt.

- This movie is too short – all too often I read negative reviews of films and the reviewer will say “it was too long”. Well, I’m here to tell you, right here, right now, that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not nearly long enough! I think we can safely assume that about 80% of Harry Potter fans have read the novels – that’s a conservative estimate – and that being the case, I doubt many of them would have minded a 3 hour runtime. Order of the Phoenix is the longest book of the 7, and it’s the shortest film – what’s wrong with this picture? I imagine the adaptation still would have been tight if they had chosen to make the film longer, but maybe they would have had enough time for the actors to do some actual acting along the way.

- The pacing in this film is so fast, blink and you could miss the whole thing. Modern viewers with 2-second attention spans will love it just because it moves along so quick. I, for one, look at this film and wonder if the filmmakers actually cared about telling this story. Frankly, I get the impression that they liked this book for its extravagant action sequences, but took no joy in the story itself.

Performances

- The trio ought to be congratulated for putting forth what performances they did over the course of the film. Half of the movie felt like an extended montage rather than a real film. Under such circumstances, I can see it being difficult to put your best foot forward. The filmmakers didn’t give the actors the chance to stretch their legs acting-wise. Perhaps the most telling scene is at the end when one of the characters is killed, the filmmakers used a gimmick to show Harry’s anguish, rather than allowing Radcliff to act the scene out properly – they also cut an important conversation between Harry and Dumbledore down to a 20 second clip. I was disappointed, because I had wanted to see how Radcliff would cope with material like that.

- Gary Oldman will make an impression no matter how little screen time you give him – and the smarter filmmaker gives him as much screen time as possible, and their film is better for it. Though he’s only in a couple of scenes, Oldman’s screen presence does wonders for the movies. His performance as Sirius Black stands as perhaps the most emotionally effective in Order of the Phoenix. Most importantly, he once again nails the spirit of the character, what more could we, as fans, ask for?

Music, Cinematography, and Special Effects

- I’d rate the music in this installment as merely adequate. Of course, John Williams is a tough act to follow, but this score failed to make much of an impression on me. It does its job well enough, stays in the background for the most part, and fails to come up with any particularly memorable cues that weren’t from the Williams scores.

- The cinematography is excellent, give the devil his due, this is a well-shot film with some new locations like The Ministry of Magic that were exciting to see on screen at last.

- The special effects were also awesome. The main action set-piece of the film is a wizard’s duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort, which I thought was very effectively done.

The Bottom Line

If spectacle was all I was after, I would have been happy with this installment.  Alas I was looking for something a little more substantive than that.  The filmmakers almost completely missed the mark on this film, the story from the book is utterly butchered and it’s edited so tightly that there is no breathing room at all.  I won’t deny it was fun to see in the theater, it was a flashy film, I liked Dumbledore’s Army and the wizards duel at the end, but all that amounts to precious little because the story was lost.  In fact, the poor adaptation of this installment, has led to continuity issues with later films – like Dobby’s return, the mirror, the locket, even a big chunk of Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore.  I won’t recommend that anyone skip this film, but the film merely scratched the surface, to get the full story, you have to read the novel.  I cannot, however, in good conscience recommend Order of the Phoenix.  5.5/10

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