Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Fifth Time Out is Not the Charm

When a much-anticipated installment in a series is finally released, the fan-base usually winds up spread thinly across the very broad spectrum spanning from those who would love the film even if it were done with finger puppets and flannelgraphs, and those who are devastated that the film did not live up to its written source. To take the nearly nine hundred pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and try to make it into a film experience which can stand on its own tripod and still serve as a bridge between two other works is a monumental task—and on that note alone I should temper my harsher criticisms.

Much like the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies, whose middle films left audiences feeling somewhat disoriented as to beginnings and endings, Phoenix is a film that, should it be the first movie in the series that I watched, I would probably be scratching my head as to what the hype was all about.

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix

Several key aspects of a great film are lacking. First and foremost, there is no real main character or set of characters—it is almost as if the actors had cast lots, and the highest rollers got the most screen time whether it made sense or not. Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), my personal favorite for his excellent comedic timing and solid character, has precious little screen time; Emma Watson (Hermione) shares the same fate.

There are numerous aspects, however, that still make Phoenix a fine film, if not the best of the five so far. Director David Yates draws out fine (if not quite award-winning) performances from all of his actors. Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith (as Professors Snape and McGonagall) in particular keep the foundation of the series stable as the students grow and change appropriately. As has been the case since the books began morphing into films, the CGI features mature at rates exceeding those of the pubescent starsa technical feature which will keep even the disappointed fans coming back to see the final two films.

Unfortunately, there were just too many things lacking in Yates’ endeavors for me to race out of the theater and delve back into the books in order to refresh myself as the days draw closer to the final release. First, Yates fails to settle on one major plotline, and instead attempts to weave together several miniplots into a cohesive whole. The result reminds me of the yearly Christmas sweaters the Weasleys receive from their mum—a necessity, sure, but an embarrassing one.

Also lacking was the sense of chemistry among Watson, Radcliffe, and Grint. Not that one wouldn’t expect the three to become absolutely sick of each other after working so closely for so long—but I think it’s starting to show as they rapidly (very rapidly) approach adulthood. The close-knit, mystery-solving trio seems to have lost its chemistry (or perhaps their interest), and as a result, the movie feels somehow devoid of the series’ usual emotional and intellectual captivation on the audience’s part.

In many ways, the film almost plays more like an exercise in contract stipulationswho gets how much screen time and so forth—than a piece of narrative art. Most of the characters we have spent hours investing ourselves in over the course of the series are virtual cameos in Phoenix. Malfoy, Crabb and Goyle, Hagrid, Professor Trelawney, and the Weasely family all have drastically limited screen time.

I suppose the most striking absence for me is the sense of fun and fantasy found in Rowling’s books—even as they’ve grown darker. While the audience laughed out loud and cheered several times, I think the film could have been stronger, more entertaining, and less bleak, and still remained very true to the original story. In the end, the screen time was just spread too thin, and much of the brilliant fun of the fantasy is exchanged for the bleak and dreary. I mean, really, how can we nix Nearly Headless Nick? And Quidditch—what is a Harry Potter story without Quidditch?!? Director David Yates’ priorities seem a little left of center, favoring the freakish Bellatrix Lestrange (played wildly by Helena Bonham Carter) over the myriad other engaging characters Rowling has provided.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is rated PG-13 “for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.” No kidding, here (no pun intended). There are numerous sequences with Deatheaters and such that don’t need to be popping up in your pre-teen’s nightmares. Save this one for a little later!

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jenn attended a promotional screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.