The filmmakers behind Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix have done something a little risky. Here, in the fifth installment of the wildly popular series, they’ve not only shied away from the light, airy world created by Christopher Columbus in the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but they’ve also ignored any type of pre-film summary. When the lights go down in the theatre, the film starts. Just like that. There’s no “previously, in Harry Potter…” synopsis of everything that’s gone before. And good on them, I say. By this point in the series, if you’re just joining in, there’s just too much back story to try and deal with. Go rent the other four if you need to catch up… we’ll wait.
Okay, so let’s just take it for granted the audience knows what’s been happening. Honestly, this film probably has one of the best read and devoted audiences in the world, matched only by followers of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and they know going in what’s going to happen… at least the major plot points – and that’s where the film will differ from the book and why hundreds of thousands are excited to see it.
In the film, which runs an extremely quick 138 minutes, Harry and company once again have to fight he-who-shall-not-be-named and do so while combating an ostrich-like government that insists on sticking its metaphorical head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge the return of the evil one. In doing so, the government steps up and introduces a new headmistress at Hogwarts, the school of wizardry Harry and his friends attend. Now… it would be too easy to read into this as a dig at the American system of Education and the No Child Left Behind act, but I’m not going to do that. That’s not what the film is about. Instead, it covers the precarious age between adult and child, between doing what’s right and following the rules and between knowledge and comprehension. When all is said and done, Harry has grown as a character. He is on his way to adulthood with an understanding of the things he’s learned in the previous four films. And that’s a very good thing.
A lot of people might complain about this film, that it’s too dark and has lost much of the whimsy of earlier installments. Good.
As a reader of the books, and a follower of the films, these are dark times the characters are facing and to continue the “Christmas carol” style lightness Columbus intoned in the first two films I think would do a disservice to what is happening to the kids and their world. David Yates, who will also be directing the next film (due November 2008), respects the characters and story enough to modify it to fit into the framework of what he’s trying to accomplish. Working with first time Potter writer Michael Goldenberg, the two have crafted a dark, exciting tale to entertain anyone watching. The effects are top notch as well, showing us fantastic creatures so realistic we almost expect to see them in zoos. But we’ve come to expect that from Hollywood. It’s the performances where a film is really sold and the performances here are wonderful.
As for the three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (Harry, Hermione, and Ron, respectively), they have all settled easily into their roles and have all confirmed they will be back for the next two go-rounds. But it is the supporting cast where these films really shine. Filling out secondary roles with the cream of British theatre and cinema, like Gary Oldman, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis and Ralph Fiennes, everyone else must rise to their level, and they do. These films are a pleasure to watch from any standpoint.
Go and enjoy yourself… just remember, if you don’t know what’s happening, it’s your fault for not keeping up. These filmmakers are just doing their jobs the best way they know how.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)