Helmed by a new director with the least experience of any of the directors in the series yet (David Yates, whose resume is largely made up of Brit TV shows) and adapted by a new writer, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" isn't without some flaws, but it is appealing in that it manages to offer a more streamlined tale (it is the shortest of the films at not much over 2 hours) without feeling as if too much of the story has been left out or compressed.
"Phoenix" opens with Harry getting bullied once again by cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). Having just about enough, Harry nearly casts a spell before something else starts up a storm above them. Running for cover, Harry casts a spell to save both Dudley and himself. However, this goes against the rule that wizards under a certain age cannot use magic in front of humans, and Harry is put on trial, facing possible expulsion from Hogwarts.
Although he's saved during trial in front of the Ministry of Magic (which looks sort of like a leftover set from one of the "Matrix" sequels) by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), things get progressively worse for the young wizard. The Ministry does not believe Harry's claims that the dark wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned, and set about defaming Harry in the wizard press. They also send Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts to set in place one new rule after another in an attempt to eventually take control of the school.
Harry, realizing that dark forces are gathering, brings Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and other students together in order to train in secret. Harry soon realizes that the adults in his life, such as godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) are also preparing for the worst.
The latest in the series does benefit from a cast that contains some of the finest Brit actors, not to mention the fact that the three leads - Watson, Grint and Radcliffe - have improved their acting since the last film. Radcliffe, who was previously the worst thing about these films, is much improved. Imelda Staunton also makes a wonderfully unlikable villain, going about her evil business with a smile. Alan Rickman is also once again a highlight as Professor Snape, especially in one moving sequence when Harry accidentially finds out that Snape was bullied by someone very dear from Harry's past.
The movie's faults mainly consist with the finale, which seems a little too rushed - especially Harry's confrontation with Voldemort, which is resolved in a way that seemed somewhat simplistic. Voldemort also continues to be a somewhat unintimidating villain in these pictures, as well - Rickman is more intimidating as Snape. There are also a few characters (such as Hagrid) that pop in for a minute before exiting stage left. Harry's first kiss with fellow student Cho Chang (Katie Leung)
Still, for being the shortest of the pictures, it does feel as if the director David Yates and writer Michael Goldenberg have done a fine job compressing the incredibly lengthy novel. Yates also does an excellent job crafting a few major scenes, such as one towards the end where the characters race around a hall of seemingly infinite glass globes containing prophecies. The shelves begin to collapse, sending what appear to be tens of thousands of these globes crashing down upon the characters. It's a stunning, tense sequence, and one of the film's best.
"Order of the Phoenix" does feel at times as if it's a lot of build-up to the next picture, but so have all of the other films, to some degree. While "Order of the Phoenix" does have some flaws, there's a lot to like here, as well - the three leads have finally gotten better, and the tighter, fast-paced adventure does remain coherent, despite being the most compressed of the adaptations.
VIDEO: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is generally a very solid effort from Warner Brothers, with fine sharpness and detail throughout most of the movie, aside from a few scenes that appeared somewhat softer than the rest. Aside from some slight edge enhancement in a handful of scenes and a few moments of very minor artifacting, the picture looked smooth and clean. Colors were vibrant and rich, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack remained just as enjoyable as those of the prior films, with the surrounds kicking into overdrive to deliver effects and ambience during the film's most intense sequences. There are stretches where the audio remained forward-heavy, but the rear speakers did come in when appropriate. Audio quality was excellent, with punchy, deep bass and warm, natural-sounding speech.
EXTRAS: The extras are somewhat buried on the second disc. The main extra on the second disc is the ability to download a digital copy to view on your PC (Sorry, Mac/IPod users.) To access the featurettes, I had to go into the DVD-ROM features, then click return to film, then go back to the menu and finally, I was able to get to the extras menu. The extras include: "What a Difference a Good Edit Makes", which is a short featurette with the director and editor discussing editing and various post-production elements (music, sound, FX.) The featurette ends with an interactive editing feature where users can put together their version of a scene. "Trailing Tonks" is a set tour with actress Natalia Tena. 10 minutes of deleted scenes are also included, as are DVD-ROM features (weblinks) and a featurette on the clues within the films so far.
Final Thoughts:While "Order of the Phoenix" does have some flaws, there's a lot to like here, as well - the three leads have finally gotten better, and the tighter, fast-paced adventure does remain coherent, despite being the most compressed of the adaptations. The DVD presentation doesn't offer much in the way of extras, but audio/video quality are quite good. Recommended. A less expensive edition with the first disc only is also available.
The Film B