Well, friends we’re just one day away (or mere hours if you’re going at midnight) from the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth film in the eight-year-running film franchise. Should you so choose, you can check out Quaid’s generally very positive review for the new film RIGHT HERE. It really is a very solid film, one of the series’s very best and the second from director David Yates, who gave us the film we’ll be looking at today for my final entry in the Countdown to Half-Blood Prince.
And that film is 2007′s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where Harry can be seen battling Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic, and even a few of his own inner demons. This is the movie that came along and showed us that David Yates is probably the best thing to happen to this franchise. I feel like I have a three-way tie between Prisoner of Azkaban and both of Yates’s films for which movie I think is best thus far. For now, though, let’s take a glance at the fifth entry.
Harry finds himself having to plead his case to the Ministry of Magic after he is expelled from Hogwarts for using magic outside of school by conjuring up a Patronus to fight off an unwelcome Dementor attack. The Ministry, however, is reluctant to give Harry any leeway as they sink deeper and deeper into denial of Harry’s and Dumbledore’s claim that Voldemort has returned. Harry’s case goes over well, however, and he is readmitted to Hogwarts. Meanwhile, behind the Ministry’s back, Dumbledore and a legion of his devoted followers, including Harry’s fugitive godfather Sirius Black, are banding together a team dubbed the Order of the Phoenix to fight off Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Back at school, however, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, has been brought in special by the Ministry to throw down some tough-as-nails enforcement of the non-fact that Voldemort has by no means returned and that everyone is perfectly safe…unless they cross her, that is. Dumbledore, the strongest believer in Harry’s claim that Voldemort is back, finds himself under much scrutiny, and his own job hangs in the balance.
All the while, Harry is seeing visions–Lord Voldemort is trying to get inside his mind. One of these visions proves quite harmful–and real–as he sees a snake viciously attacking Ron’s father. Tensions mount, and it becomes clear that something terrible is going to happen. As Umbridge brings down her wrath, banning all extracurricular activities and refusing to teach actual defense techniques in her own class, Harry and company decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a secret alliance named Dumbledore’s Army, teaching all of their fellow students how to defend themselves against Voldemort. But once Umbridge discovers them, Dumbledore accepts the blame (appropriate given its namesake) and exiles himself before the Ministry is able to take him into custody.
When Harry recieves a vision showing Sirius about to be slain by Lord Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic, he and his army leave Hogwarts and the wrath of the newly-appointed Headmistress Umbridge, and head for the Ministry where Harry instantly locates a stored prophecy about the fate that awaits himself and Voldemort: “One cannot live while the other survives.” Seeing no sign of Sirius, Harry and friends are soon accosted by Death Eaters, who try to take the prophecy from them. Soon, several members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive to assist in the kids’ battle against the Death Eaters. They succesfully fight them off, but not before Sirius is killed by a Death Eater–and his own cousin–named Bellatrix Lestrange. It’s not long before both Voldemort and Dumbledore show up and battle it out with each other. Dumbledore has just about fought off Voldemort when the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, shows up–frozen in fear and now no longer in denial that the Dark Lord has indeed returned–and that the war has only just begun.
The Meat and Potatoes:
This movie is really, truly something. It’s always kind of bothered me that the film’s key story thread is entirely dependent on the other entries in the series, but it shouldn’t really discount what amounts to an absolutely terrific and even inspiring story. Whereas the new film is probably the best film in terms of developing character on a more universally human level, Order of the Phoenix is integral to illustrating all of the series’s characters as the bold, brave, and loyal individuals that they were concieved as from the very beginning. The heart and soul of the entire franchise is embedded in this film, making it the pillar that holds everything up. So while it kinda bugs me a tad that it really doesn’t have much of its own exclusive plot, it’s nevertheless the movie that, if removed, makes the whole rest of the franchise crumble around it and, as such, is perhaps the most necessary story of all seven (or eight, if you’re going by the movies).
One of the things that needs to be mentioned about this movie is the visuals. The movie is a treat for the eyes that none of the other films–not even the new one–has been able to match. How the art direction and cinematography for this movie went overlooked by the Academy Awards is absolutely beyond me. This is a movie that I would like to have playing on loop all the time everywhere I go so that I can just stop what I’m doing and stare at it for a little bit–it’s utterly gorgeous in every detail from design to execution. Bravo!
The brilliant casting of these films continues through this one, too, as Imelda Staunton makes for a joyously loathesome and sweetly sinister Professor Umbridge, and the performances of the young cast soar too, particularly Daniel Radcliffe as Harry who is more front-and-center in this one than any of the others. In fact, Ron and Hermione have really little to do here. Argus Filch, the Hogwarts caretaker, however, has more to do in this one than he’s had in any of the films since Chamber of Secrets, and he makes for some pretty solid comic relief.
The whole product, however, has got a great dry wit to it (which carries over even moreso into Half-Blood Prince) while also never upsetting–and more often than not, complimenting–the movie’s dark, dark tone. This is one of the bleakest Potter tales, but it’s never drab and depressing. It keeps things moving along quite well, especially when you consider that there isn’t really much hard-core narrative to this one. It instead serves as more of a turning point for the larger story and as an integral character piece than anything else.
This is the first of the movies that I saw after reading the book. I finished reading Order the day before the movie opened and had started reading Half-Blood Prince on the day-of. Having the book–the whole big, long, thick, layered story–so fresh in my head made the movie a bit hard to watch; it felt rushed to me. At 870 pages, it’s easily the longest of the books, and at 138 minutes, it’s also easily the shortest of the films. Something just made it all feel like the Cliffs Notes version of the book, and while I’ve now become more familiar with the movie than the book and it works far better for me, I still feel like certain details–particularly ones involving the practice of Occlumency and Voldemort’s ability to infiltrate Harry’s mind–could stand just a bit more explanation.
All in all, however, this movie is simply fantastic–Yates is probably the best thing to happen to the franchise (although I wouldn’t have minded seeing Alfonso Cuaron helm a few more, but then he probably wouldn’t have been able to make Children of Men and that would’ve sucked). He’s thus far given us two top-notch Potter films, and I absolutely can’t wait to see what he does with the two-part helping of Deathly Hallows next year.
Why You’ve Gotta See It:
The fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort at the end of the movie is frankly the most rousing, affecting, and visually astonishing thing that’s been in almost any big blockbuster movie in years. Watching Dumbledore use his magic to create a gigantic rotating globe of water that he brings crashing down over Voldemort is probably my absolute favorite moment–and single image, to boot–of the entire franchise.
Well, that brings this Potter countdown to a close. If you want to read on, however, you can still check out Quaid’s review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’d write my own review of the film, although I’d pretty much be saying a lot of the same things he said–only without his minor sense of inexplicable disappointment (you’ll know what I’m taking about when you read it). I’m pretty gung-ho in love with the new one, so take it from a guy who got himself jazzed enough to write five big-ass articles leading up to it: Half-Blood Prince totally rocks and is right on par with the best of ‘em. See it tonight at midnight or as soon as you possibly can!