SPOILER ALERT! THAR BE SPOILERS HERE!!!
I was once like you my friends, a non-believer, a skeptic, a nay sayer if you will. I knew OF this Harry Potter boy, knew of his exploits, but did not care at all about learning more, reading the books, or seeing the movie that was going to be produced. I was put off by the crazy amount of coverage a children's book was getting, various products in the stores. It was an innocent time, may of the year 2000, a time of change for me. For graduation, my best friend of 12 years bought me the first gift he had ever given me outside of a birthday. Before he gave it to me, he made me promise that I would use it for it's intended purpose, and not just put it on a shelf or give it to someone else. The gift was a book. That book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Less than two months later, he and I were in line for a midnight release of the fourth book. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Last week, the fifth movie based on the fifth book of the 7 part series was released, and it is a welcome addition to the existing movies and books, and the best amalgamation of the books/movies so far. The first two movies are very literal translations of the books they are based on, with the 3rd being the best stand alone film. I didn't much care for the 4th in the series, Goblet of Fire, neither the book or the movie, a low point in the series, but had great expectations for the Order of the Phoenix's turn to be put on the big screen, and I was not disappointed.
I won't even begin to give the back story to this universe, being 5/7th of the way in already. The latest chapter for the silver screen finds Harry being called a liar by the majority of the wizarding world, most everyone not believing him when he says that Lord Voldemort has returned from beyond. If having almost everyone think you are a liar and an attention whore isn't enough, Harry's friends and family have kept their plans a secret, and he is jaded. They have reformed the Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards out to prevent Voldemort from taking power, but are hesitant to let Harry join them. On top of that, he nearly gets thrown out of school for protecting himself against Dementors, the Ministry of Magic is interfering at life at Hogwarts, he wishes he could both help and be with his God-father, Sirius Black, and Harry's biggest pillar of support, Albus Dumbledore, is ignoring him completely. It will be Harry's hardest year at school, both physically and mentally.
The movie does an excellent job of portraying the main plot points of the book, specifically Harry's alienation from his friends and the rest of the community, the Ministry's attempt to take over Hogwarts with Delores Umbridge, and showcasing how powerful Voldemort is truly becoming. Harry goes through a lot in a little time here, from being completely alienated, having his first girlfriend, being put into a leadership role, and finding out why he survived the night his parents were killed. While Prisoner of Azkaban showed the passage of time and the progression of the movie through small scenes with changing weather and seasons, Order of the Phoenix uses some classic movie cliches such as montages and spinning newspapers. As cliche as these are, they are well done, and make this more of a movie than a movie adaptation.
The toughest part of making this into a movie is turning the 870 page book into a movie children and adults could sit through, and more importantly, enjoy. Some plot points were changed, such as the Cho storyline and Graup, some minimized like the O.W.L. exams and Occlumency, and some removed completely like Quidditch and the Quibbler, but all the changes and exemptions worked EXTREMELY well. The "Weasly is our king" story can easily be started with the next movie for example, and St Mungo's and the additional Ministry and Grimmauld Place scenes would be a lovely addition to the DVD, but did not effect the final plot of the movie. Some other nice additions not found in the book are some of Ginny's reactions, and everything about Luna Lovegood was absolutely perfect. Luna was easily my favorite part of this movie.
The fanboy in me had a very hard time finding fault like in Azkaban (Lupin so easily could have explained the map, and no explanation about James Potter and pals), and Goblet (the final test was JUST a hedge maze, and Voldemort talked for only 10 seconds) but there were a few things to nitpick about. Little things showed up, like Dumbledore not having any glasses, but they were few and far between. My biggest "complaint" is about the scene in the Ministry around the stone archway. Only existing fans of the books/movies would truly understand what happened when Bellatrix yelled what she yelled, especially because what she said was hardly understandable. The only reason I knew what she said was because of the green light that came on screen upon her yelling the spell. I knew what she said, but what I actually heard was "acblagraaaa!!!!" Barely audible. A small thing that could have made a much bigger impact. In fact, I am split on whether I liked or disliked that scene because of the change made to what takes place on/in/around the stone archway.
This was an incredibly well done movie, and more than made up for the literal take on things from Goblet of Fire. Order of the Phoenix takes its place as my second favorite Potter movie after Prisoner of Azkaban. It is very mature (as it needs to be considering the subject matter) and the art direction is on par with Azkaban, and other films like Pan's Labyrinth and 300. I still say that the Harry Potter series would be better served in a TV series or made for TV mini series, but if David Yates directs Half-Blood Prince (my favorite of the books so far) as well as he handled Order of the Phoenix, then I will be first in line to see the next movie in late 2008. Ok, who am I kidding, I was going to be the first one there anyway...
4.5 starts (out of 5)
Images courtesy IMDB.com and Warner Bros. Pictures