Harry's still got it: 'Phoenix' one hot movie

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Warner Bros.

2 hours, 18 minutes

With the arrival of the fifth in the "Harry Potter" series, two things are becoming obvious: 1) the series and its actors are maturing right along with the characters in the story; and 2) the producers are in a serious race against time.

An adaptation of a book like "Order of the Phoenix" rightly could have been two full-length movies. The longest book in the series, "Phoenix" was so full of stories it was inevitable that some of it would get cut, but it's too bad the stuff that got lost was so rich. On the other hand, if the biggest complaint one has about a movie is that you wish it was an hour longer, then I guess it couldn't have been too bad.

In fact, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" rates as my second favorite film in the series so far. My favorite, "The Prisoner of Azkaban," is dark and creepy, a suitably gothic emergence for the series from the realm of "kiddie" films. "Phoenix" is dark, as well, but not as.

The story begins, as do they all, with Harry biding his time in the oh-so-tedious muggle world of his aunt and uncle. This time, however, we truly begin to feel Harry's frustration. In previous films, you were sad for Harry that he was so put upon by his family, but the whole thing seemed sort of fairy-tale-esque and, after all, he's just a kid and kids don't always get what they want.

Now, Harry truly begins to resemble the young man he's becoming and his frustration is palpable. He's angry and sad and cut off from his friends and true family. His loutish cousin Dudley is no help and, just when Harry seems unable to continue to control himself, the impossible happens. Dementors, the ghoulish ghostly guards of Azkaban, appear suddenly and attack the boys, forcing Harry to use magic in their defense.

Unfortunately for him, underage use of magic outside the school grounds results in an automatic dismissal from Hogwarts. What follows is a descending spiral of bureaucracy, dark magic and teen angst, resulting in some of the most chilling and exciting adventures that Harry and his friends have experienced so far.

"Order of the Phoenix" is different from other films in the series in several ways, the most obvious of which is that it seems to be making serious social commentary. In the greater wizarding world, author J.K. Rowling has drawn a neat and tidy parallel to the current state of the media, where facts can be manipulated by the powers that be in order to control the population.

In this case, Harry and Professor Dumbledore's dire warning that the evil Voldemort has returned is treated as rubbish. The Ministry of Magic refuses to believe that the dark lord has re-emerged and, conveniently, the wizarding paper, The Daily Prophet, follows suit, painting our heroes as crackpots and worse.

David Yates, the director, uses the journalism theme to great effect. One of my favorite parts of the film, from an artist's point of view, are the transitions, where much of the exposition is handled via beautifully designed, ever-moving newspaper pages.

More relevant, at least to me, is Rowling's condemnation of the current state of education. "Phoenix" seems almost as though it were a love letter to hard-working teachers. The Ministry of Magic, concerned about the outlandish claims being made by its headmaster, has decided to take a more active role in the education of its youth.

Enter one of the most frightening villains of the series, Dolores Umbridge, a nightmare in pink. The Ministry has sent her to Hogwarts to make sure standards are being upheld, that curriculum is consistent and all students can pass their transitional exams. Imelda Staunton is brilliant in the role her office, with its rows of kitten-collector-plates is much scarier than anything Voldemort could ever come up with.

There are a few problems with the film. The end feels a little rushed and certain characters, having been given necessarily short-shrift throughout the series, fail to pack the emotional punch they should.

Also, though I realize Harry is the star, I always wish there was more for Ron and Hermione to do. Hopefully, as their relationship blossoms, the films will give them a little more focus.

There are two films left, and the cast has thankfully committed to finishing it out. There was some question as to whether they would get too old to play the characters, but it appears that issue has been solved.

"Order of the Phoenix" is a great opener to what will be Harry's, and the series', entry into adulthood. Grade: A-

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is rated PG-13 for frightening scenes and adult themes.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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