2007; Director: David Yates; Writer: Michael Goldenberg
With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Ralph Fiennes
Warner Home Video
Available Dec. 11, List Price $34.99
It seems ages ago, but before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out in 2001, Hollywood thought that little kids couldn't sit still for long movies something about the young ones' short attention spans and tiny bladders. The fear of children's boredom was one reason cartoon features rarely ran as much as 90 mins. But the first film from the J.K. Rowling books, directed by Chris Columbus, took 2-1/2hrs. to amble through its story, and took in nearly a billion dollars at the box office. That, and the huge numbers amassed by The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which came out a month later and had a nearly-3hr. running time, settled things. Since then, even animated films from Pixar and Ghibli have scraped the 2hr, mark.
The first Harry Potter film was a financial success, and heaven knows it kept the tots enthralled, but it wasn't much of a movie. Subsequent installments, by different directors, have been superior; the film franchise can now be mentioned in the same breath as, if not quite at the exalted level of, the Tolkien trilogy. The Potter series' CGI action scenes will never match Peter Jackson's those magic wands look like puny light sabers but the central conflict of Harry and the demonic Voldemort, which is at the core of this fifth (and shortest) episode, has a majestic poignance that trumps any special effects.
In Order of the Phoenix, named after the secret society of rebels who began fighting Voldemort back when they were at Hogwarts, Harry starts his own student group, Dumbledore's Army, which in the extras Radcliffe describes as "a guerrilla revolutionary organization." The adults that glittering array of British acting royalty still have meaty roles dozens, with Staunton taking center stage this time as Dolores Umbridge, a steely commissar cocooned in soft pinks; director Yates describes Umbridge as "a genetic splice between Doris Day and Freddy Krueger." But the spotlight is on the young stars, who have grown into their roles over the seven years and five films especially Radcliffe, who has justified the faith the producers put in him, back when he was the age of Rowling's target readers.
By Phoenix, Harry is both a wizard Luke Skywalker (boy-man on a mission) and a melancholy Hamlet (a teen prince, all too aware of the forces roiling against him, and within him). He must face down Voldemort the way other boys confront puberty as a threat and a thrill that run seismic changes and hormonal rage through his body. Precociously wise, Harry also seems prematurely tired, a wizened wizard at 15. And Radcliffe measures up to his character; his bold shadings reveal Harry as both a tortured adolescent and an epic hero ready to do battle. Phoenix is satisfying in itself and, after all the evasive action of the first four Potters, as the first of what promises to be the Voldemort trilogy.
On the Two-Disc Special Edition the only one I've seen lately that does not have a commentary track the main extra is a 44min. cheat sheet called "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" (written and produced by Richard Brehm, directed by Mike Meadows). We're remined of the elements that bind the epic's villain to its hero: how Voldemort transferred some of his powers when he left that lightning bolt mark on child Harry's forehead; how the boy's wand is the twin to Voldemort's; how You Know Who was brought back to life with a drop of Harry's blood. This will not be news to the series' prepubescent scholars, but for dabblers "The Hidden Secrets" serves as a spiffy refresher course.
The 10 mins. of deleted scenes are mainly a showcase for Emma Thompson's comedy stylings; she has more screen time in this Salon des Refuses than she does in the finished movie. There's also behind-the-scenes video blog, "Trailing Tonks," led by Natalia Tena, who plays the sexy witch Nymphadora Tonks. After seeing Tena's mesmerizing performance in the London play Gone to Earth, I voted Tena as Best New Face of 2004 and have been waiting ever since for her to get a great part in movies. Hasn't happened yet, but here at least we get to spend 20 mins. with this beguiling star of the future.