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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 12/11/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/4/2007

My wife is a huge Harry Potter fan and after we watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which she'd already seen in the theater), she turned to me excitedly and asked, "What did you think?" My immediate response was, "I didn't like it." She seemed surprised by this response, and frankly, I was too, as I knew that the film was very well-made. It's a good thing that I gave myself a few days to mull over Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before beginning this review, for as the movie had a chance to sink in, I realized that it wasn't the movie that I didn't like, but rather, the feeling with which it left me. This is a dark and somber movie, and it goes far beyond any "children's entertainment".

As with all of the Harry Potter stories, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens at the end of summer, just before Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is due to return to Hogwart's. When we first see Harry, he's minding his own business, when suddenly he and his moronic cousin Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling) are attacked by a pair of Dementors -- ghastly wraith-like creatures. Harry uses a spell to ward off the creatures, but not before they immobilize Dudley. Upon returning home, Harry gets a letter from the Ministry of Magic informing him that he's been expelled from Hogwarts for using magic outside of school. Harry is distraught by this, but things change when Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) arrives with a group of wizards to assist Harry. They take him to the home of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), where Harry is reunited with his best friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Harry learns that he's being protected by The Order of the Phoenix, a group which formed years ago to fight Lord Valdemort (Ralph Fiennes).

When Harry returns to Hogwarts, he finds that the school isn't the warm environment to which he's accustomed. Harry's assertions that Valdemort has returned have divided the wizard & witch community and many don't believe him, including Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy), the director of The Ministry of Magic. It also doesn't help that the press accuses Harry of being a liar. In order to crack down on any insubordination at Hogwart's, The Ministry assigns the persnickety Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to the school. Harry is convinced that dark forces are acting against him, but Umbridge is cracking down on the students and staff. Thus, Harry convinces a group of students to form "Dumbledore's Army" and train for a battle against the Dark Lord and his minions.

Nearly every time someone discusses the Harry Potter books, there's a mention of the fact that the novels become more serious and bleak as the series plays to its conclusion. This is certainly evident in the movies as well, and it's an understatement to say that the ending of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was depressing. And yet, that movie had some fun moments when Harry was competing for the Goblet.

The same can't be said for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as this movie offers very few "bright" spots. Gone is the happy and awe-struck Harry Potter from the earlier movies. From the opening shot of this film, Harry is being besieged by some sort of malevolent force, be it his cousin, Umbridge, or Valdemort. Harry is always on the defensive, as his honor and actions are being questioned by nearly everyone. In fact, Harry even feels distanced from Ron and Hermione. Daniel Radcliffe has clearly put himself through some sort of physical fitness program and this only gives Harry a harder edge.

The fact that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is permeated with a sense of hopelessness shouldn't imply that it's a bad movie. In fact, director David Yates has crafted a very good film which toys with the viewers emotions throughout. First of all, as noted above, we have the fact that Harry is always fighting his way uphill throughout the movie. Then we have Dolores Umbridge, who is a great villain and Staunton's portrayal is nothing short of brilliant. Umbridge insults, belittles, and threatens everyone around her all the while maintaining her cheerful attitude and rictus grin. The finale is very well done and I especially like the way in which Yates shot the battle. (However, I’m no Star Wars proponent, but a great deal of this had a Darth Vader vs. Obi Wan feel to it.)

As if my earlier comments didn’t communicate this, allow me to reiterate it: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a powerful film. This is a serious movie which explores the life of a boy who was once seen as a hero and is now seen as potential liar and terrorist. Those who loved the whimsy of the first two Harry Potter films may be turned off by this movie, and if you’re like me and dislike stories where no one believes the main character, there will be a lot to make you uncomfortable here. But, there’s no denying the fact that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a good movie and the feelings that it creates are simply a testimony to how the viewer is drawn into the story.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix flies onto DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The movie has come to DVD in three separate releases -- full-frame, widescreen, and a 2-disc widescreen version. For the purposes of this review, the 2-disc version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Allow me to immediately say that the transfer here is much better than the muddy and dark look of the Goblet of Fire DVD. The image here is sharp and clear, showing essentially no grain and no defects from the source material. There are still plenty of dark scenes in this film, but the action is always visible. Outside of these scenes, the colors look fine. However, there are some shots which show a definite lack of detail and there were a few moments where I noted pixellation around Harry’s face. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Overall, the track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, but there were scenes where the dialogue was somewhat muffled and I had to turn on the subtitles to make sure that I didn‘t miss anything. To get an example of the power of this track, simply skip to the scene where Harry arrives at the House of Black. The bass was some of the best that I’ve heard. In addition, we get some very nice stereo effects and an abundance of surround sound effects during the action scenes.

All of the extras are found on Disc 2. The DVD contains 9 "Additional Scenes" (10 minutes). There is nothing new here, just snippets which were cut from scenes in the finished film -- one scene in which just goes on and on. We do get some more Emma Thompson though. "Trailing Tonks" (19 minutes) follows actress Natalia Tena through a day on the set, from hair & makeup to sound to the cafeteria to her trailer to a cricket match to props to production design to special effects to the set where the film is being shot. This is sort of interesting, but why did they pick such a minor character to host it? "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" (44 minutes) narrated by Jason Isaacs. Was this a TV special? This is an overview of the first four films, exploring particular characters, storylines, and themes and how they tie into Order of the Phoenix. In "Harry Potter: The Magic of Editing" (5 minutes) David Yates and editor Mark Day explain how film editing works, and the viewer has the chance to edit a scene.

Warner Home Video has also brought Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to Blu-ray Disc. The disc has a 1080p HD VC-1 transfer which runs at 20 Mbps and the film is letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image looks very good and smoothes out the textural problems found on the DVD. Gone are the pixellating and lack of detail. Simply look at the opening shot to see the amount of depth on this transfer. The colors are very good and the dark scenes are actually a big brighter here. The action scenes and special effects yielded no distortion or video noise. The audio here is a Linear PCM 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and 4.6 Mbps. (Much better than Warner’s usual Dolby Digital track.) The track provides crystal clear audio and the muffled dialogue is nowhere to be found here. The stereo effects show a nice amount of detail and dynamic range and the score sounds great. Surround sound effects are abundant, but I didn’t find the bass to be as strong as the DVD. The extras here mirror those found on the 2-disc DVD with one addition. “Focus Points” (63 minutes) are a series of 28 brief behind-the-scenes featurettes which examine a particular part of the film’s production. These can be viewed from a menu, or they can be branched from the movie.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long