Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
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 distinctive 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 1080p 2.40:1 transfer encoded via the VC-1 codec looks outstanding when viewed via my 720p LCD projector. This film is a bit grainy by modern standards, and the transfer represents it well, eschewing excessive filtering and providing excellent detail and color depth. 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.
The English 5.1 soundtrack is available in both a Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD format. I am not currently capable of decoding Dolby True HD via my receiver, so could not fully evaluate the lossless track. The Dolby Digital Plus and the down-sampled True HD track are overall quite pleasing with a much more aggressive use of the sound field than the earliest entries in the series. Fidelity and dynamic range are outstanding. 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 Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 tracks are also available. Additional set-up options let you toggle menu audio cues on or off and employ a zoom and pan feature activated by the HD DVD remote's "A" button.
In-Movie Experience (IME) runs the length of the film. Turning IME on activates a separate VC-1 video stream with picture in picture commentary from various actors who played characters from the film in "Dumbledore's Army". Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Alfie Enoch (Dean) appear individually. Others were paired simultaneously including James (Fred) and Oliver (George) Phelps; Katie Leung (Cho) and Matthew Lewis (Neville); and Bonnie Wright (Ginny) and Evanna Lynch (Luna). Their comments normally consist of interesting behind the scenes information, and only occasionally devolve to simple plot synopses. The IME track also includes pop-up text bits with trivia about the actors. When turned on, an IME icon appears in the upper left corner of the screen. At certain times during the film, this logo will change into a glowing orb indicating that a behind the scenes "Focus Point" featurette related to the current scene in the film is available. If the viewer presses "enter" on their remote, the film will branch off to show the featurette. After it completes, the viewer is returned to the point in the film where they left off. The focus point featurettes are presented in a window surrounded by a graphical "frame" in 16:9 enhanced MPEG-2 SD video. Viewers are able to skip over gaps in the IME commentary by using the left and right directional buttons on their remote. All of the video comments and focus point branching cues are accessible this way, but I believe it will skip over some of the pop-up trivia bits.
Trailing Tonks runs nineteen minutes and 22 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced MPEG-2 SD video. Actress Natalie Tena, who plays Tonks in the film, gives a personalized tour of the Harry Potter set. She takes her camera around the production site for looks at various departments including Hair and Make-up, Sound, Catering, and Animal Training. She also takes viewers on visits showing off her trailer, cast members playing a pick-up cricket game, bikes used for on-set transportation, props, models, graphics, special effects, fight training/wand choreography, and the creature model shop. Finally, she visits the sets for the Room of Requirement, Grimmaud Place, and The Ministry of Magic. It is all a bit twee and kid-oriented, but it is a lot more interesting than a standard electronic press kit featurette.
Focus Points is a collection of the same set of 27 featurettes available through branching while watching the IME track. I will not list their individual titles since some of them contain mild spoilers for those who have not seen the film. If "Play All" is selected, they run a total of one hour and two minutes. They cover topics including how certain special effects were accomplished, the ins and outs of some of the more elaborate sets, wand fight choreography, Rubert Grint's affinity for "corpsing" (ruining takes due to giggle fits), and creation of new characters both virtual and real. When viewed independently of the IME, they are shown in 16:9 enhanced MPEG-2 SD video without the graphical frame applied to them.
Pick Your Favorite Scenes is an interface that allows the viewer to mark and save their favorite scenes from the movie in lists. If connected to the internet and registered at Warner's HD DVD site, viewers can also share and compare their list with other fans.
Harry Potter: The Magic of Editing runs five minutes and 20 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced MPEG-2 SD video. 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 DVD titles I have seen.
Web-Enabled Features consist of:
- [*]Live Community Screening – Allows the viewer to schedule and/or participate in a screening with other HD DVD viewing friends who are connected to the internet and registered at Warner Home Video's HD DVD site, inclusive of live chat while viewing.[*]Pick Your Favorite Scenes – Was already discussed above[*]Mobile Downloads: Wallpaper and Ringtones - Allows muggles without access to fireplace networks or owl-mail to browse and purchase graphics and ringtones for their cell phones.
- [*]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 double-sided HD DVD/DVD Combo disc comes in a standard sized translucent red case with a shiny foil-enhanced exterior insert. In-case inserts consist of instructions on how to negotiate some of the special features including the web-enhanced material and the IME, and some generic Warner HD DVD information and disclaimer cards.
Comparison with SD DVD
The SD DVD release of the film featured a transfer with rare but noticeable bursts of digital compression noise that are completely absent from the HD DVD presentation. The HD DVD also improves on the SD DVD in other more subtle ways inclusive of improved detail and apparent depth. The Dolby Digital Plus and (downsampled) Dolby True HD tracks exhibit an easily audible improvement in fidelity, particularly in the case of the film's orchestral score. The IME, the "Focus Point" featurettes, and the online features are not available on the Two Disc Special edition SD DVD. The Two Disc Special Edition SD DVD includes a largely promotional 44 minute featurette called The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter that is not available on the HD DVD.
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 movie is presented in an exceptional film-like 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that addresses all flaws apparent in the SD DVD edition while surpassing it in every way. The IME and "Focus Point" featurettes offer substantial behind the scenes information of the variety that previous DVDs in the Harry Potter film series have lacked.