Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry approaches, 15-year-old Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is in full-blown adolescence, complete with regular outbursts of rage, a nearly debilitating crush, and the blooming of a powerful sense of rebellion. It''s been yet another infuriating and boring summer with the despicable Dursleys, this time with minimal contact from Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson) or his Godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). Harry is feeling especially edgy at the lack of news from the magic world, wondering when the freshly revived evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) will strike. In this chapter we are introduced to the Order of the Phoenix and some of the members including Sirius, Mr and Mrs Weasley, Alistair "Mad Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Remus Lupin (one of my most favorite characters in the series) (David Thewlis), Tonks (Natalia Tena), Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Of course, in an effort to protect him, no one wants to give Harry too much information (except Sirius) since they are relatively certain that the Dark Lord is after a prophecy regarding the two enemies which is kept in a special room at the Ministry of Magic. To make matter worse, Hogwarts has a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the form Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) who works for the Ministry of Magic and is determined to bring her own type of "McCarthyism" to the school. Umbridge has a penchant for the most offensive shades of pink, which she incorporates on her walls (which are then covered by decorative plates displaying cats) as well as her fuzzy outfits that encase her from head to toe. Since the Ministry has decided that the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is some ploy cooked up by Dumbledore because he wants control of the Ministry, one of Umbridge's tasks is to discredit the return and impress upon the students that Harry is a liar. Harry quickly learns that the Ministry, by feeding information to the Daily Prophet, has been skewering him all summer long so that even without the assistance of Umbridge, well over half the school already thinks he's a lunatic who makes up scary stories. Faced with being an outcast, persecuted by the media and certain staff, ignored by Dumbledore (for whatever reason), dealing with horrible and unsettling dreams and knowing the Voldemort is gathering his forces and in search of a prophecy to use as a weapon, Harry is easily facing his most difficult year, yet.

This is, by far, my favorite movie of the series. Things are beginning to get serious (no pun) and the darkness is closing in. I've heard references to the fact that this is the darkest movie, yet. Well, it kind of makes sense if you think about it. In the past, Voldemort and his Deatheaters were responsible for numerous murders, which included wizards, muggles and even children and in some cases tortured victims into insanity in order to achieve their goals. Now, the evil Dark Lord has returned to power and is gathering his minions in an effort to seize power in the wizarding, and eventually muggle, world, regardless of who dies. Anyone remotely following the storyline must have realized, by now, that things could not remain all 'sunflowers and cotton-candy.' I mean, Voldemort isn't called evil simply because he likes to put super-glue in everyone's key holes.

Which brings me back to this movie. I really enjoy the fact that things are picking up, lines are beginning to be drawn and characters are becoming more defined. It was nice to see the return of Moody, Sirius and Lupin (again, one of my favorite characters) as well as the introduction of Tonks. Snape was, of course, devilishly unreadable and the rest of the supporting characters were actually able to have bigger impacts with less screen time. The stand out character was, without doubt, Delores Umbridge; such a nasty, vile woman that I absolutely wanted to see suffer in return for the suffering she caused as well as for her annoying "hem hem" throat clearing that, thankfully, wasn't overused in the film. Another character that I cannot neglect to mention is that of Ginny Weasley. There have been minor references to her abilities, in the past, but her character truly begins to show what she is capable of in this film and the director, David Yates, who is also signed to direct the next film, is very good at displaying her talents, as well as some curious looks, without making them the focus of what is being shown on the screen at any given moment.

As for the directing, I have to give Yates credit for being able to include as much as he did from the largest book of the series. While there are certain things that I would have liked to have seen, I understand that only so much could actually make it into the movie. Fortunately, it seems Yates was able to, at least, touch on all of the major points for however briefly. I suppose if I were forced to think of a complaint regarding the movie, it would have to be the length. I had read, several months ago, that the studio was wanting to shave time from the film because longer movies had, recently, been showing a decline in box office receipts. I think they confused "less engrossing stories" with "time," but maybe that's just me. I do know, originally, this movie clocked in at three hours and is now only two hours and eighteen minutes. It's quite possible that Professor Trelawney might see a "director's cut" DVD in our future.

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