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Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg, Adapted from from novel: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by J.K. Rowling
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint,
Running time: 138 minutes Released: 07/11/07
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.
"No other franchise in movie history -- from "James Bond" to "Star Wars" -- has managed to retain its inspiration so well after this many episodes."
Coming as it does in the middle of a so-far extremely disappointing Hollywood summer of blockbuster sequels (from "Spider-Man 3" to "Ocean's 13"), the fifth Harry Potter movie -- "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" -- seems like an oasis in the desert.
Once again, the series has produced a winner: an intriguingly complex, visually dazzling, multilayered fantasy-adventure of the first order. Addicts of the J. K. Rowling books will eat it up and even non-fans will find it engrossing and entertaining.

In fact, the quality control Warner Bros. has been able to retain over this blue-chip cycle remains without precedent. No other franchise in movie history -- from "James Bond" to "Star Wars" -- has managed to retain its inspiration so well after this many episodes.
Yet, as good as it is in so many ways, there's no getting around the fact that this briefest Harry (14 minutes shorter than Part I, 23 minutes shorter than II) and first directed by an unknown filmmaker (David Yates) may be the least substantial of the bunch. Unlike its predecessors, it doesn't stand alone, or leave us with a huge sense of narrative satisfaction. The whole movie is a setup for an epic battle that doesn't come, and so little new ground is broken that it often feels like a remake. It's a measure of the filmmakers' skill -- and Rowling's storytelling verve -- that we don't really notice until the smoke clears and the lights come on that very little has happened that advances Harry's mythic odyssey in a significant way.

The story finds the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) recovering from the trauma of Part IV, suffering strange psychological visions and plagued by the fact that the leaders of the Ministry of Magic do not believe his story, or that the Dark Lord has returned.
Indeed, in line with this strange policy of denial, they've installed Hogwarts with a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor (Imelda Staunton) whose goal seems to be to teach the new generation of wizards nothing useful, thus softening them up for Voldemort's return.

In stages, this unlikely villainess -- who dresses in pink and acts like a caricature of a proper English lady of the '50s -- seizes control of the school from Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and turns the place into a nightmare of academic repression. Someone had to rebel and that duty gradually falls to Harry, who finds a way to secretly mobilize his fellow students and a special sanctuary to train them in the defensive skills they'll be needing for a showdown with the gathering forces of evil.

Meanwhile, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is out to acquire a vital prophecy, while the Order of the Phoenix (Harry's adult supporters) is out to stop him and there are subplots galore: everything from a Shrek-like giant for comedy relief to a mass escape from Azkaban Prison.

It's a lot of activity for the shortest chapter of the series and new director Yates (whose background is in British TV) is adept at squeezing what was some 780 pages of novel into the leanest of the movie adaptations. The film shines: the dialogue is witty and acerbic; the visual effects are imaginative and always serve the story line; and the production values are so immaculate -- and the attention-to-detail so thorough -- that "Harry V" is thrilling on the level of the sheer cinema craftsmanship.

The script also is not a bit afraid to be demanding, and assumes a degree of intelligence in its audience that is frankly amazing for a child-driven phenomenon in an era when Hollywood is increasingly dumbing down its stories to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the global market.

As usual, one of the film's chief pleasures is the showcase it offers to its ensemble of distinguished supporting actors: a virtual who's who of the British theater (Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, etc.) to which the uniquely dastardly Staunton makes a delightful addition.

And, of course, the movie also offers us the privilege of checking in with our old friends, the three principals (Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint), who seem to have overcome the teenage awkwardness and hormonal surges that engulfed them in Part IV and emerge here as likable and rather sober young adults.

Rowling's seventh and last Harry Potter novel debuted on July 21st and the movie press has been full of speculation of how the disclosure of Harry's fate and the secrets of his journey could kill the suspense that has sustained the series since its 2001 inception. That might be, but a foregone conclusion sure didn't hurt "The Lord of the Rings," and if Harry VI and VII -- due in 2008 and 2010, respectively -- can sustain their legacy of excellence, this extraordinary franchise could finish the decade as the purest, and perhaps even greatest, of all movie cycles.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX 2007 Warner Bros. Pictures International
All Rights Reserved

Review 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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