Both the worst book to film adaptation to date as well as twenty minutes too short.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his fifth year. Joined by his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), Harry finds himself the target of the Ministry of Magic for daring to proclaim to the world that Lord Voldemorte (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. A secret group called the Order of the Phoenix knows the truth and is working against You-Know-Who, but when the Ministry accuses Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) of using the Voldemorte rumor to undermine the Ministry for his own gains, the wicked Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is installed at Hogwarts to “restore order” to the school, mostly in the form of capital punishment. Can Harry and the entire fifth year class survive knowing that Hogwarts may no longer be safe against He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?
The effects keep getting better as the story keeps getting darker for Harry Potter and company. But unlike the previous film, The Goblet of Fire, which was expertly edited from the book that inspired it with only small changes to the story, too much seems to be missing from the final cut of The Order of the Phoenix. While it’s true that I am comparing the book to the film, the problem is that I would have no clue about too many very important things if hadn’t read the books.
There are three particular problems in the film that stand out in my mind. The first is the character of Cho Chang, whom Harry started seeing after her boyfriend was killed at the end of the last film; rather than deal with the relationship, an abrupt change from the original story and the logical follow through is presented to gloss over the entire affair (nor is it ever addressed again for the rest of the film). The second is the entire pacing of the film; instead of transitioning from scene to scene to show the passing of time throughout the school year, Phoenix is edited like a highlight reel from a miniseries rather than a complete story, skipping carelessly from this to that with little thought as to when. Finally, in an apparent effort to craft the most special-effects filled ending of the series to date, the carefully thought-out logic to how and why magic works in the Potter universe is thrown out; characters move at super speed one moment and ridiculously slow to act the next, a door kills people who step though it for no apparent reason, and the good guys are either not paying attention or are using the kids for bait for no logical reason.
True, this is nitpicking, but outside of the James Bond series, film franchises aren’t usually as richly imagined that go on for seven (planned) installments, and considering that each film spends $150 million minimum, it’s a lot to gamble on. Perhaps the current director or editor wasn’t sure what to do with the sudden doubling of the cast, or perhaps changes were made to the adapted screenplay as the film progressed. Whatever the case, the DVD apparently includes an extra footage and cut scenes, which is even more interesting considering that this was the shortest Potter film on record.
Make no mistake; this Harry Potter film is still a good movie. The inclusion of “Looney” Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) was an especially welcome change to the traditional group dynamic, and Lynch stole practically every scene she was in. Only true fans of the books will notice many of these shortcomings, but I must hope that this was a fluke or misstep, not a sign of things to come. With two more films in the works and the final fate of all J.K. Rawlings beloved characters already in print, it would be sad to see such a great beginning squandered for the sake of a few flashy effects rather than the story that was previously the star. And yes, I’ll cast my vote here to let Guillermo Del Toro direct the final Harry Potter film!
(a three skull recommendation out of four)