Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Two-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman, Evanna Lynch, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix follows the travails of young wizard Harry Potter (Radcliffe) during his fifth year of study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Following the events of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in which he witnessed the return of Lord Voldemort (Fiennes), the evil wizard who killed his parents when he was an infant, Harry finds himself an outcast. He is beset not just by the agents of Lord Voldemort, including a group of soul-sucking dementors that attack Harry and his cousin as the film opens, but also by the Ministry of Magic, the wizarding world government agency which is denying all reports that Voldemort has returned and publicly smearing those who claim otherwise. The only wizards who are willing to acknowledge the truth are the members of The Order of the Phoenix, including Harry's headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (Gambon) and his godfather Sirius Black (Oldman), but even they are marginalized by the Ministry. Black, a wrongly accused wanted fugitive, is blamed in the media for most of the mischief caused by Voldemort. Once Harry returns to school, he initially finds few allies beyond his close friends Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), and the obtuse but strangely perceptive Luna Lovegood (Lynch). Worse yet, officious and sadistic Dolores Umbridge (Staunton) has been appointed as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dumbledore seems strangely reluctant to even communicate with Harry, and Harry is experiencing terrible visions suggesting a too close for comfort relationship between himself and Voldemort.
The darkest, longest, and, in many ways weakest entry in the series of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books is given an effective movie treatment by director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg. Out of necessity, large chunks of the book, including entire subplots have been excised in order to make a film of manageable length. While this results in the jettisoning of significant character development for Ron and Hermione, it also manages to address the book's chief weakness: its meandering and uneven pace. The sense of encroaching darkness and paranoia from the book, which was its most novel and successful characteristic, is maintained, with the focus staying squarely on Harry's emotional journey throughout the film's two hour plus running time.
Of the new series characters, Imelda Staunton is given the most screen time as the nightmare professor/grand inquisitor Dolores Umbridge, and she tears into her part with relish. Her ability to rationalize as necessary for the "greater good" behavior ranging from the magic-free teaching of defensive magic, to the banning of almost all student activities, to increasingly extreme forms of torture for purposes of either punishment or interrogation is both chilling and perversely comic. Her intensely pink wardrobe and make-up choices almost accomplish half the performance, but she never goes so over the top as to undercut the sense of menace necessary for the character to work. Good casting decisions and performances also help series newcomers Natalia Tena as Order of the Phoenix member Nymphadora Tonks and Evanna Lynch as spacey Hogwarts student Luna Lovegood to embody their characters effectively in relatively few scenes compared to the book. In the particular case of Luna, by dialing down her weirdness and allowing the actress to embody it quietly rather than play it for laughs, she becomes a much more interesting and poignant character than she was in the book. On the opposite side of the acting restraint spectrum is Helena Bonham Carter, who appears to have been indulged and/or encouraged to act over the top bat-poop crazy as Bellatrix Lestrange.
While the production design philosophy provides a sense of continuity with the other films in the series, Director Yates has a unique and skillful compositional and editorial sense that makes the film stand out as unique from its predecessors. The score by Nicholas Hooper in particular departs significantly from that of its predecessors, alerting viewers that they are in a darker and more dangerous world than that suggested particularly by the John Williams themes from the first three films, of which only the ubiquitous signature Hedwig theme is used. Only the slightly jaunty underscore used for Professor Umbridge goes for a lighter tone, and even that gets modulated as the film progresses and her sadistic nature is exposed. As with the previous films in the series, the digital effects vary widely in quality from seamless to seemingly unfinished. The 100% CGI creatures encountered in the Forbidden Forest are particularly unconvincing by the standards of recent big budget effects films, but this is a mild disappointment at worst.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.40:1 transfer looks a bit dodgy in an early scene where a camera pan across a grassy field results in a ton of digital compression artifacts, but it improves a great deal after that. Black levels and shadow detail are extremely well rendered, which is very important given that several key sequences take place in very dark conditions. The climactic scenes in the corridors of the Ministry of Magic manage impressive shadow depth while still rendering the brightly illuminated tips of magic wands without excessive blooming. Edge ringing was not significant, and compression is usually middling to good, with a few key problem shots such as the one noted above.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was overall quite pleasing with a much more aggressive use of the sound field than the earliest entries in the series. The extended chase and battle scenes from the film's climax are filled with lots of nifty directional effects and LFE "whomp". Alternate French, and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also available.
When the first disc spins up, the viewer is greeted by a series of skippable promotional clips presented in 4:3 video and letterboxed when appropriate. They include a one minute and 23 second clip for the Harry Potter Interactive DVD Game, a 32 second clip for LEGO Batman: The Video Game, a one minute and 49 second clip for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Video Game, a one minute and sixteen second theatrical teaser for Get Smart, a one minute and eighteen second theatrical teaser for 10,000 BC, and a two minute and five second theatrical trailer for I Am Legend.
Other than the promos, all of the special features are contained on the second disc.
Deleted Scenes includes nine deleted or extended scenes running a total of ten minutes and 29 seconds presented in 16:9 enhanced video with DD 2.0 sound. Although not viewable separately, each clip is given its own chapter stop. They are as follows:
- [*]Trelawney sneezing, choking, and making a mess during the introductory feast in the great hall[*]Neville sticking up for Harry in the Gryffindor Commons[*]Pan across Gryffindor Commons with a lonely Harry seated by the fire[*]Extended sequence of Umbridge antagonizing Trelawney[*]Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle bullying a small student while Umbridge and Filch watch[*]Smoking hair gag w/Filch and Umbridge after Fred and George's fireworks prank[*]Extended scene with Umbridge, Harry and Hermione in the Forbidden Forest[*]Harry enters Dumbledore's office before their final conversation from the film[*]Harry packing to leave Hogwarts, and Ron checking to see if he is OK
The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter runs 43 minutes and 49 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Unfortunately, despite its length, this is exactly as interesting as a standard electronic press kit featurette. Narrated by Jason Isaacs, the stated intent is to look at all the films in the series for clues about what may come next. While some of the recaps of events from previous films may help those who have forgotten or not seen them, the real purpose of this program is clearly to promote the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Some of the speculation on where the series is going and what is important is interesting in light of the fact that the final book in the series has since been published and proved or disproved the points made, but most of the comments are thimble-deep observations along the lines of "Things are rarely what they seem", and "Harry has the capacity for good and evil and is defined by his choices". After an introductory segment, the program is divided into four additional segments with chapter stops and onscreen titles as follows: Things Are Not as They Seem, Choice, Pride and Prejudice, and Battle for Harry. Narrated by Jason Isaacs (who plays Lucius Malfoy in the films), on-camera interview participants include, Producer David Heyman, "What Will Harry Do?" Author Janet Scott Batchler, "Harry Potter Lexicon" Author Steve Vander Ark, "Unlocking Harry Potter" Author John Granger, and several actors from the film, mostly in costume and on set, including Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Imelda Staunton, David Yates, Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, James and Oliver Phelps, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, and Natalia Tena.
Harry Potter: The Magic of Editing runs five minutes and 20 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. David Yates and Editor Mark Day discuss the importance of editing as well as their approach to it, inclusive of some illustrative examples from the film. This is then followed by an interactive feature where the viewer can choose from various takes/angles and soundtracks in different combinations for one scene. Unfortunately, the interface is not very well explained and there is not as much flexibility as in similar editing features from other titles I have seen.
On the DVD-ROM front, the second disc includes an Interactual interface that allows the viewer to access content from the film's web site, including the trailer which is identified as a "Harry Potter Sneak Peak". Aside from the movie-themed interface, I was only able to identify two pieces of DVD-ROM content that appeared to be native to the disc itself. The first is an interactive Hogwarts Timeline that chronologically tracks important milestones in the five Harry Potter films to date with an appealing graphical interface. The second is a digital download of the film. Selecting the digital download option brings up a screen asking the viewer for their password, which is included in an insert with the disc's packaging. Two separate copies of the film are then downloaded to the location designated by the user. The first is a medium resolution copy that takes up about 953 MB of disc space. The second is a lower resolution copy for portable devices that takes up about 589 MB of disc space. Both are in WMV format and have Digital Rights Management copy protection. The only portable device I have that plays WMV files is my Motorola RAZR V3xx cell phone, but I could not get it to play the copy-protected file. Both files played flawlessly on my PC when I spot-checked them and are presented at the film's original theatrical aspect ratio.
The DVDs comes in a standard sized Amaray-style case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs. The hard case is enclosed in a cardboard slipcase that reproduces the regular cover art with shiny foil enhancements. Inserts consist of a digital download password sheet and a mini catalog of assorted Harry Potter-related merchandise.
First time series Director David Yates and Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg lose a good deal of depth in adapting the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, but also improve on the source material in terms of pacing and focus. The film is presented in a good transfer marred only by occasional compression issues with very good audio. Even though the films are skewing older in their sensibilities as the series progresses, the extra features remain largely targeted towards younger viewers. Unless you are an absolute completist, you may want to save a few dollars and stick with the single disc movie-only edition.