At approximately 139 minutes, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is a compact, sharply-edited adaptation of J K Rowling's 5th installment of the series, the longest at 870 pages. This also makes the cinematic version the shortest thus far.
Despite its brevity, and the blotting of multiple strands of thoughts (especially insights into characters' minds, and thus maturity), of ideas and of sub-plots from the pages, the film is by no means myopic; it pulls off the book. It also raises the bar as far as the standards of direction in this cinematic series stand, no mean feat for director Yates as this was his first extremely high-profile project.
Yates has made flesh and blood of what was ink on paper, the enduring story of "The Boy Who Lived", the unluckiest lucky boy. He has certainly not erred where his predecessors have (though Alfonso Cuaron, director of Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
, may be excused), sucking the souls of the books in the process of adapting them, much like the dementors try and do to Harry (Radcliffe) and his cousin Dudley Dursley as this film opens.
Harry, in blatant violation of the rules of the Ministry Of Magic, uses magic to ward off the dementors and save their lives. He promptly receives an owl from the Ministry, informing him of his expulsion from the Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. He can only contest this expulsion at a token court hearing at the Ministry.
Little does Harry know that the Ministry, like Professor Dumbledore, has been keeping him under close scrutiny while he suffers an existence of disquiet at the Dursleys.
Dumbledore (Gambon) and his trustworthy army, the "Order Of The Phoenix", are trying to shield Harry from the grave dangers that await due to the return of the Dark Lord (Fiennes). The Ministry, in vehement denial of the Dark Lord's revival (but truly frightened of the anarchy looming ahead), views Harry as nothing but a liar, an attention-seeker with a vivid imagination. They wish to punish him at the first opportunity.
While the charges against Harry are dropped at the Ministry hearing and he returns for his fifth year at Hogwarts, his persecution (the main theme of the film, and this book) at the Ministry's hands has only just begun.
This witch-hunt, if you will, takes the sinister shape of Dolores Umbridge, Hogwarts' new Defense Against Dark Arts teacher. She has been placed there for two purposes, to silence Harry (symbolised by the horrifically cruel detentions she puts him through, whereby he writes and rewrites "I must not tell lies" into his flesh with his own blood) and to besiege Hogwarts under Ministry "decree" as much as possible.
Coping with Umbridge is a testing enough task for Harry and his friends. But there are other serious demands being placed on him. He battles the very public smear campaign launched against him by the Ministry. He rebels against Umbridge and the Ministry by secretly teaching his friends and peers Defense Against Dark Arts through a secret society.
He slowly realizes, through painful nightmares, that he can enter the mind of the Dark Lord, but also that the Dark Lord can control his mind at will. And he endures this miserable life without the patronage of Dumbledore. He is more alone, he sadly acknowledges at one point in the film, than he has ever been in his life.
The film culminates rather spectacularly, wherein the titans clash ? Dumbledore versus the Dark Lord ? in the atrium of the Ministry Of Magic. And as stunning as the montage of Harry Potter And the Order Of The Phoenix may be ? the sets are awe-inspiring, the special effects (the "Order" fly on their broomsticks against the backdrop of night-time London in one magnificent shot) are sufficiently creative and thrilling - it is the characters that are pure magic. Which is simply another way of saying that the cast, the lifeblood of the story, deliver here.
If Harry (Radcliffe, with his unruly mane uncharacteristically tamed into a good-looking crew-cut here, is simply wow), Ron (Grint) and Hermione's (Watson) troubles are growing, so are the actors playing each of these parts, and they are gaining stature as actors as well. Their physical development translates well onscreen, adding a much needed dose of seriousness to the proceedings. These are adolescents, not children, facing very adult crises.
The rest of the cast performs in competitive harmony, too, especially Staunton as Umbridge. Hideously dressed in pinks, smiling crazily permanently, she could have been a lampoon of her book-self, but Staunton is dead-on ? she is more of a vamp here than the Dark Lord is a villain.
On the flip side, never mind the books; Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix works well if you have only seen the films based on book four and three, too. If you have not, the significance of it all will be lost on you. It is thus advised ? venture into the theater only if you have done your homework. Else, you will be left feeling that it's all quite, to borrow a word from the series, "ridikkulus".