Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a significant chapter in the Harry Potter movie series in several ways. It begins the second half of the film series. It’s the first movie directed by David Yates, who’s directed every Harry Potter franchise movie since, including the Fantastic Beast movies. It also marks the point where the series gets significantly darker going forward. On a strange side-note, one that I won’t even try to figure out, Warner Bros reported that they lost $167 million on the movie, despite it grossing $942 million worldwide on a budget somewhere between $150 million and $200 million. It’s an often referenced example of Hollywood Accounting. Yeah, I’m confused.
Anyway, this is actually the first Harry Potter movie I ever saw. The story behind it is that I was at a friend’s house for a video game night, but a couple hours in, some people decided to watch the new Harry Potter movie instead. This was in the summer of 2007. Even though at the time I had little interest in the franchise, I went anyway. I was confused watching it, knowing none of the backstory or the lore beyond what little I remembered about reading the first quarter of the first book years before, but I thought it was ok.
First off, adapting The Order of the Phoenix into a single movie would prove a daunting task, as its book is the longest in the series. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg described this task as searching for “the best equivalent way to tell the story. My job was to stay true to the spirit of the book, rather than to the letter.” Rowling gave them permission to take whatever liberties they needed to translate the book into a good movie. They decided to focus mostly on Harry’s emotional journey, and a lot of the smaller elements would be referenced by visuals in the background, to give the feel that the rest of the story was taking place just off-screen.
One major part of the book that they hated cutting was Quidditch. Ron trying out for the team was a major character growth moment for him, but “The truth is that any movie made of this book, whoever made it, that had included the Quidditch subplot would have been a lesser film.” This removal disappointed Rupert Grint a lot, who had been “quite looking forward to the Quidditch stuff.”
A number of other major subplots were significantly cut. Harry seeing a flashback of his father bullying Snape was seriously cut down. A visit to a mental hospital showing Neville Longbottom’s parents who had been driven completely mad by Bellatrix Lestrange’s torturing was completely cut, and you really only hear a couple of passing references to what happened to his parents. Rita Skeeter’s redeeming moment when she publishes an interview from Harry’s perspective after the Daily Prophet spends most of the story smearing Harry and Dumbledore was completely cut. All of these subplots are touched on from a dramatic standpoint, but they’re explored in much more detail in the book.
This also happens to be the most political of the books, and those elements do make it onto the screen. There’ a new teacher at Hogwarts, installed by the Ministry of Magic, who uses authoritarian tactics to keep everyone in line. There’s propaganda through the Daily Prophet, the largest wizarding newspaper in England. There’s the minister of magic falsely blaming Serius Black for all the disappearances at the hand of Voldemort and his followers. Again, all of these are explored further in the book, but in this case, the movie does a great job at giving us the basics and exploring how everything affects Harry’s mental state.
But probably the most significant cut of them all would be the OWLs. The OWLs are a series of Year 5 exams, in which you cannot advance further in certain subjects without at least meeting expectations. They’re referenced, but beyond their initial introduction, and a scene where the year 5 students are writing one of the OWLs, before they’re interrupted by the Weasley twins’ legendary school drop-out showcase, they’re barely mentioned. That cut actually works in the movie’s favour, as that was probably my least favourite element of the book. You spend at least 80 pages worth talking about how important the OWLs are. Harry worries a lot about how his Potions test is going to go, even though he’s much better at potions than he realizes. Despite all of that focus, you don’t find out by the end of the book how they went. You only find out near the beginning of book 6. That was probably my biggest complaint about the fifth book.
In relation to that, there’s a sub-plot about Harry wanting to become an Auror (basically the police of the wizarding world). In order to become an auror, he needs to exceed expectation on at least 5 OWLs, including Defense Against The Dark Arts, Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration and Potions.
Most of the cast remains the same as the previous movie. The only new cast members worth mentioning is Helena Bonham Carter (Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit) as Bellatrix Lestrange and Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. Bellatrix is one of Voldemort’s most loyal followers, a bit of a crazed killer, and Serius Black’s cousin. Carter is brilliant in the role, showing a lot of energy, a sadistic side with a touch of insanity, and she’s clearly enjoying it. It’s yet another pitch perfect casting choice in a series that is full of them. Staunton as Umbridge is also a perfect casting. She might seem kind and sweet upon first glance, and very much likes her cute cat pictures, but it doesn’t take long to learn that she’s rotten and corrupt to the core. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role for either of these characters.
Anyway, as I said way back when I reviewed all of the books, The Order of the Phoenix is my least favourite of the books. It’s overly long, there’s way too much whining and complaining, and it focuses way too much on the OWL subplot without resolving it until the next book. With all that said, the book still has its strong points. This movie on the other hand is my favourite in the series. It drastically cuts down on the whining and complaining, without removing it entirely. It thankfully references the OWLs enough that you know they’re a big deal, without letting it overshadow the dark, political nature of the story. It instead gives us a brilliant montage of Harry teaching other students his defense against the dark arts skills, which also doubles as a showcase of his skills. It’s a fun montage that perfectly captures a large subplot of the book in a relatively short amount of time.
This movie also features the first major battle in the Potter series. In the book, every student besides Potter is injured, some of them seriously. This movie reduces most of those injuries to cuts and bruises, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Showing the injured students could have been too much for some people, and it would have distracted from the story. What the movie gives us is a brilliantly paced and choreographed fight scene that takes a few liberties with Harry Potter lore, but it actually works better from a visual standpoint.
Nicolas Hopper takes over the soundtrack duties, and he also composes The Half-Blood Prince. His soundtrack in this movie finds a great balance between darker themes in the more dramatic moments, with bouncy, fun themes with the more entertaining parts of the movie. The music during the Battle of the Ministry of Magic is fast and intense, without being overbearing. Again, it’s very hard to follow up on John Williams with the first three movies, but Hopper manages to make this soundtrack his own. In fact, Hopper was nominated for a World Soundtrack Discovery Award for this movie’s soundtrack.
The Order of the Phoenix is generally seen as one of the better entries in the series. It received moderately positive reviews when it first released, but the fan reception has generally been much more positive. It earned several Scream Awards presented by Spike TV, for Best Sequel, and Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) for “Most Vile Villain.” It won three awards at the inaugural ITV National Movie Awards, for Best Family Film, Best Actor (Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter) and Best Actress (Emma Watson, for Hermoine Granger). David Yates won Best Director at the 13th Empire Awards. Years later, the BAFTA Awards gave David Yates a special Artistic Excellence for directing the last four Harry Potter movies, which includes this one. At the 2008 BAFTA Awards, the movie also received nominations for both the Visual Effects and Best Production Design. The Visual Effects Society gave it the Outstanding Special Effects in a Motion Picture award, out of 3 nominations.
I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for the Harry Potter series, speaking from experience. That said, this is a brilliant movie in its own right. It contains a lot of character drama. It realistically explores political themes about abuses of power and how propaganda can affect the general public’s mindset. It’s got several brilliant action scenes, most notably the battle in the movie’s climax. All the darker elements of the story are balanced out with its fun elements. It’s a visual spectacle that holds up well today. Most people tend to agree that the best Harry Potter movie is between 3 and 5, and one could make a strong argument for either of them, but for me personally, this is my favourite.
Next up is actually my least favourite movie in the series, The Half-Blood Prince, despite the book being my favourite of the 7. Then I’ll wrap this series up next month with the two Fantastic Beasts movies after Deathly Hallows. I’m strongly considering doing a Sean Connery month in January, and then doing a couple odds and ends in February while I decide what my next monthly theme will be.