27 July 2015

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (starring Daniel Radcliffe)

I decided, after the first two Harry Potter films, that I was not going to watch any more at the cinema. However, since I enjoy the books and the films are well-made, I determined that I would - eventually - acquire and see them on DVD. Slowly we’ve been working our way through the series, which I’m currently re-reading too. However, it’s been some years since I read ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, so I had forgotten many of the details when we finally sat down to watch the film last night.

The film starts, as the book does, with a hot summer in England; Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is teased almost to breaking point by his unpleasant cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), and then a freak storm arises. They run to take shelter in a tunnel, only to be attacked by dementors, the life-sucking guards of the wizarding prison of Azkaban. Without pausing to think, Harry uses his wand to produce his ‘patronus’ to ward off the dementor who is about to destroy him, and then saves his cousin’s life too.

The Ministry of Magic then send Harry a letter letting him know that he’s been expelled from Hogwarts School due to use of underage magic. He is devastated, with no idea what he will do… but, unsurprisingly, is rescued by some of his friends and taken to the secret headquarters of a group dedicated to fighting against the return of the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry attends a trial, from which he is acquitted, so is able to go back to school after all.

However, school is no longer the haven it used to be. Harry’s suffering from a lot of anger that’s more than mere teenage angst, and most of the students in the school don’t believe that Voldemort is returning, or indeed anything that Harry tells them. It’s going to be a lonely year… made almost infinitely worse by the sadistic new teacher Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).

The film, in my view, is extremely well done. I’m sure a great deal was missed out - the book is very long, and the film only about two hours - but the storyline holds together with the important facets included. It’s perhaps as well that I haven’t read the book for so long, as I was able to enjoy the film on its own merits. The settings and most of the characters are familiar from the earlier films, of course, even if everyone is a little older, and for the first time there’s a bit of light romance.

It’s an exciting story, ending - as ever - with a fierce battle of good vs evil. I found the fast action in this section to be too confusing, so hid my eyes, listening for more conversation. The special effects that I saw were stunning, but I don’t enjoy that kind of thing, and thought it was perhaps too long a sequence - but necessary for the resolution of the story. My only other slight gripe is that some of the dialogue is rather too fast and not very clear above other sound. However, I don't think we really missed anything.

Other than that it was gripping. Umbrage doesn’t look quite as close to a toad as she’s supposed to, but she’s very well played as an apparently gushing middle-aged woman who represents the ministry, until she is crossed. At that point she becomes immovable and cruel. JK Rowling was evidently pointing an exaggerated finger at educational rules and regulations, and school inspectors when she created Umbridge; she’s certainly not a comic figure, but demonstrates a different kind of implacable evil from that of Voldemort.

The story is an important one in the Harry Potter sequence, showing the start of the reign of terror that will come to a climax in the final book. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as a film, knowing what was coming, both with Umbrage and the loss of someone dear to Harry - and yet, it was gripping, powerful, and, in places, moving.

Although each book stands alone, the films rather build on the previous storylines; there’s no room for back story when they are so abridged. So if you haven’t read the books, and don’t plan to, I would recommend watching the earlier movies before seeing this, particularly ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, which contains events referred to in this film.

Despite the fact that I prefer the book, I liked this very much and would recommend it highly.

Our DVD is a single disc edition, so there are no extras. There are several editions of this film still available, including Widescreen editions, Blu-Rays, and a double disc special with several extras.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

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