Film Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

The fifth book in the Harry Potter series is the longest, yet the fifth film in the series is the shortest (so far). This means that while the film itself is of a very high quality, the adaptation is the loosest and the most choppy of all the films thus far. As a result, any evaluation of this film is going to be mixed. On one hand, David Yates has put together a very solid movie in terms of the level of production and the quality of cinematography and acting. But at the same time, the movie feels rushed, choppy, and not unlike watching a Cliff-Notes version of the book: hitting all the highlights but without any of the substance.

The film begins with the best opening sequence of any of the films thus far in the series. In the scene, Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by dementors in their residential Muggle neighborhood. Yates departs from the book a bit in the way he stages the scene, but with the use of hand-held cameras and dreary lighting he almost creates a better realization of what Rowling intended than the book itself. The opening sequence demonstrates the medium of film at its very best, in which every element works together to convey not only external events but also internal emotions. The camera shot of Harry and Dudley running is superb in the way it places the camera in the position of the dementor without actually showing the dementor at any point in the chase. Yates captures the fear and dread indirectly by showing them running, rather than showing the objects of fear themselves. Unlike a book that tells you what happens, film is able to show you without words. And the more a film shows rather than tells, the higher the level of filmmaking. Yates proves himself a first-rate filmmaker with this scene. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is not so successful, though the filmmaking is still of a high quality throughout.

Virtually all of the problems with this film involve the complexities of translating a book into a movie. Because Yates must chop certain elements of the book out in order to keep the film at a decent length, some plot developments are inserted into the film rather awkwardly. This is most noticeable at the point in the story where Harry and his friends discover the Room of Requirement. In the book, Dobby the house-elf tells them about this room, but Yates has stripped this movie of house-elves entirely (except for Kreacher, at J. K. Rowling’s insistence). As a result, Yates has Neville Longbottom stumble upon the room by accident, which simply doesn’t make sense. In light of the important role played by the Room of Requirement in the final two books, the spontaneous and awkward insertion of it into this fifth film is unfortunate. Not all plot developments stand out like this, but there are some more serious departures from the book that are at least as frustrating.

The film has two major casting successes: Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge and Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. These two actresses steal the show with their spot-on performances. Staunton is deliciously evil in her role as the prissy, self-centered, and imperious pawn of the Minister of Magic. Lynch is delightful in her role as the strange and aloof friend of Harry. Even though Lynch is a newcomer to film, she holds her own against a master of the stage such as Staunton.

All in all, the fifth entry in this series of seven films is a solid contribution by Yates (who will helm the sixth film as well). While I still believe Alfonso Cuaron’s third film in the series is the best all-around movie, Yates is the next best director for these books. I eagerly look forward to seeing what he will do with the sixth book.


Doug said…
I agree with your praise of the opening scene, and what you say on the Room of requirement. But generally have a more positive view of the film's strengths.
(Incidentally, you have the wrong link to the picture of Luna - you need to remove the "i." at the start of the address.)