The choice of celebrated UK TV director David Yates to take on the fifth in the Harry Potter series proved a wise one for producer David Heyman and Warner Bros. Yates ramps up the adrenalin and menace while adding new layers of emotional anguish befitting the adolescent years now reached by the teenage protagonists. 20 minutes shorter than the previous film and a good deal tighter on plot and action, The Order Of The Pheonix delivers the goods, and will set the worldwide box office alight when it opens on July 11.
Yates, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and editor Mark Day, who cut Yates' best TV work State Of Play and Sex Traffic, bring a visceral visual edge to the Potter saga, lacing the adventure hokum with flash-cut dreams and chilling hallucinations more reminiscent of The Ring or The Grudge than a PG-13-rated family movie. Indeed, as Rowling's stories themselves become more frightening and violent, the films can only mirror that intensity, making parents understandably wary of letting smaller children see them.
Still that won't stop the army of fans who have grown up with the books and earlier films flock to the thrilling fifth episode. After The Goblet Of Fire's stunning $892m take in 2006, there is nothing to suggest that The Order Of The Phoenix won't rival that, especially with its mid-summer dates around the world. The film certainly possesses a narrative urgency, sense of humour and visual majesty sorely lacking in its summer 2007 predecessors Spider-man 3, Pirates 3, Shrek The Third and Fantastic Four 2.
As if to mark out his territory from the traditional storytelling of Mike Newell in film #4, Yates starts his film with a distinctly contemporary flourish. Shooting with handheld camera in a dull suburban modern setting, Yates first shows us Harry being taunted by a bunch of aggressive youths straight out of a gritty BBC teen drama. Harry, clearly no longer a child, flies into a rage at the gang, led by his cousin Dudley, but the exchange is ended by a sudden and ominous storm which sends the cousins running for cover in an under-road tunnel. Only when two Dementors arrive to kill Harry does the magic begin. Thereafter, Yates settles into a calmer rhythm as we leave the real world for the alternate magical dimension.
Having defeated the Dementors, Harry (Radcliffe) is summarily expelled from Hogwarts for practicing magic in front of a Muggle, and he is summoned to a kangaroo court engineered by the Minister Of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Hardy). First, he flies to London where he is reunited with Sirius (Oldman) and his friends Ron Weasley (Grint) and Hermione Granger (Watson) at the Black family house which is now the headquarters for the Order Of The Phoenix, an old order designed to battle the dark arts which has been reactivated to combat the return of Voldemort (Fiennes).
Acquitted at his trial thanks to the arguments of Professor Dumbledore (Gambon), Harry ventures back to Hogwarts where he feels isolated and vilified by the student body who believe the lies that the Ministry is spreading about him. He is beset by nightmares and gruesome images which apparently foretell real events, and in his waking life has to deal with the sweetly sadistic Dolores Umbridge (Staunton), the school's new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher and a plant from the Ministry who tells them that they are forbidden from practicing any magic to combat evil.
Taking matters into his own hands with support from Ron and Hermione, he forms a secret group of students, dubbed Dumbledore's Army, whom he teaches how to defend themselves in the event of an upcoming war. Among the group is Cho Cheng (Leung), girlfriend of the late Cedric Diggory and object of Harry's affections.
The film ends in a rousing battle of good and evil at the Ministry itself where Harry and his band are lured by Voldemort, and where Sirius meets his death.
This is altogether darker territory than previous instalments. With Voldemort back, the world is faced with a war of good versus evil which will leave many dead. Several of the children in this film are indeed familiar with death - Neville Longbottom's parents, we discover, were brutally tortured before being killed, Luna Lovegood's mother died when she was nine, Harry loses Sirius in this film and is constantly facing threats on his own life from Voldemort. Yates creates a mood in The Order Of The Phoenix which is immediately more serious and pregnant with danger than the previous films (remember Chris Columbus' sunny series openers'). What sets this film apart from other summer fantasies is that Harry Potter is facing real threat of death and he might not make it. We won't know whether he survives until July 21 when the final novel in the series is published. Knowing JK Rowling's tendencies to date, we are in for some more bereavements.
Particularly amusing here is the character of Umbridge, brought to life with delicious relish by Imelda Staunton. Dressed in a vast wardrobe of different styles, all in bold and shocking pink, the award-winning actress illustrates wittily how the hand of totalitarian tyranny can be disguised in a sugar coating.
Shorn of his childlike mop of hair, Radcliffe effectively transitions Harry from goody-two-shoes to inwardly conflicted young adult. He spends much of the film brooding, snapping and shouting and it is to his credit that the character remains sympathetic without becoming boorish.
The production itself, of course, is nothing short of monumental, from the gigantic sets to the always impressive Hogwarts and top-notch special effects. In the blistering finale pitching wizard versus wizard (and Voldemort versus Dumbledore), Yates keeps the action fast and furious, largely avoiding any echoes from similar confrontations in the Star Wars films.
Based on the novel by JK Rowling
Director of photography
Helena Bonham Carter