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2006 films

Harry Potter
Harry Potter and
the Order of the Phoenix

a review by Tom Condon, OP (St. Martin)

It’s been a big summer for Harry Potter fans, with the opening of the fifth movie in the series and the publication of the seventh and final book in the series.  There are two more movies to come, and then what?  Will this be the end of Harry?  Time will tell.

In the meantime, we have Order of the Phoenix to enjoy.  The thing that makes J. K. Rowling’s characters so interesting is that they age from book to book and film to film.  It’s hard to remember Harry as the 11 year-old he was when we first met him several years ago.  Now he’s well into adolescence, all but leaving behind childish things.  Order of the Phoenix is a darker film than any in the past.  It begins with Harry being bullied by his Muggle cousin and his thuggish friends, and ends in a life-and-death battle with the evil Lord Voldemort.  In between, Harry is almost expelled from Hogwarts, is troubled by nightmares, has his first kiss, and is tormented by a new teacher, Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, in a wonderful performance).  There’s not a game of Quidditch in the whole movie!

The Ministry of Magic refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned.  It sends Umbridge to Hogwarts to bring the school back in line with the “truth” and discredit Dumbledore and Harry.  Umbridge is every student’s worst nightmare.  All sweetness and smiles, with a girlish giggle, dressed in pink (in stark contrast to the black worn by everyone else at Hogwarts) Umbridge is really a sadistic woman who tolerates no disagreement.  She delights in assuming gradual power over both students and faculty and becomes a sentimental despot.

With Harry’s allies Dumbledore, strangely distant and Sirius Black far away in London, Harry feels increasingly isolated.  With the exception of his loyal friends, Ron and Hermione, Harry is branded a self-serving liar.  Finally, he begins to gain the trust of a group of students who band together to learn Harry’s defense skills, since Umbridge refuses to teach them.

The climactic battle between Harry and his friends and Voldemort and his cohorts (including Helena Bonham Carter in a brief but chilling performance) is thrilling.  It’s beautifully staged in the cavernous halls of the Ministry of Magic by first time director, David Yates.  Harry lives to see another day, but loses someone very close to him.  It’s an emotionally wrenching moment.  In scenes like this, it’s evident that young Daniel Radcliffe has grown tremendously as an actor, bringing great emotional depth to Harry.  Radcliffe really gives the sense of a teenager feeling that he must carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. 

Credit is also due to screenwriter Michael Goldenberg for condensing the 870 page novel into a taut, cohesive 2 hour, 20 minute film.

As always, there are lessons to be learned from Harry Potter, especially in this case the power of love, friendship, and courage.  And Rowling’s masterful ability to create an enchanted universe ranks up there with Tolkein and L. Frank Baum.  There’s little doubt that the adventures of Rowling’s young wizard will be treasured for generations to come.

Other than the fact that I missed John Williams’ score (with the exception of a few notes of the main theme at the beginning), this is the strongest of the Harry Potter films so far.  With its exceptional cast of veterans, along with young actors who have grown up before our eyes, there’s not a false note in the film. 

As for me, I’ve managed to keep one book ahead of the movies, so it’s back to the bookstore for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince before it hits the screen in November, 2008.  Then on to the final volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in bookstores now, and scheduled to open theatrically in 2010.  So, plan ahead.

Tom Condon, OP         

The film contains some scenes of peril, moderate fantasy violence and scary imagery, which may preclude very young viewers. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The MPAA rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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