Order of the Phoenix Spoilers Ahead. A Tonne of Them.
I saw it. I saw it, and it was as if heaven itself opened up and gave me a glimpse, one stolen glimpse, of a Film Nirvana I had only dreamt of.
This. THIS is a movie.
The opening scene is everything it should be. The new, more ominous Dudley is perfect, though I feel a diction coach could have been usefully employed there. As in the novel, Harry is hanging around the park, which is just as dilapidated, drought-ridden, and foreboding as the book describes.
The broomstick evacuation from Privet Drive is marvellous. Tonks is only onscreen for a brief time, but those few moments make me long for Half-Blood Prince, when we should get to see more of her. (She's Ellie from About A Boy, by the way.) Marvellous, too, is Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
The one problem I have with the Headquarters scenes is that most of the Kreacher subplot is cut out. Critically, the closet-clean-out scene is missing, and consequently movie viewers who haven't read the books will have some catching up to do when they see Half-Blood Prince and start theorizing on Horcruxes. Regulus Black isn't mentioned, nor is Dumbledore's brother. Interestingly, though, they did include the Grawp subplot, which could be a clue as to the role giants will play in Deathly Hallows. (Five days, in case you've lost track.)
Now, Dolores Umbridge. There aren't many bad things to say about Imelda Staunton, who has become one of my most-admired actresses after her performance in Vera Drake. She does an excellent job as Umbridge, and gives a shudderingly good portrayal of her manic side during the interrogation scene when she threatens Harry with the Cruciatus Curse. Interestingly, though, the film never reveals that she actually ordered the Little Whingeing Dementor attack. Nor do we see the Firenze-as-Divination-Teacher sequences, or hear much from the centaurs at all. This is not critical, probably, though it's one more way in which viewers who skip the books will know a disappointingly truncated Potter-verse.
The movie's greatest strength is in its subtlety. I read a review from another blogger who said that she "didn't get the sense that we shared what Harry was going through". I couldn't disagree more. Harry's emotions and all their accompanying struggles were plainly evident in the cinematography. The weather, the music, the lighting, the camera angles - not to mention Daniel's growing acting talent - all reflected what was going on behind Harry's glasses. I was particularly impressed with a subtle serpent sound effect they kept putting behind some close-ups of Harry's profile. It was a small, quiet rattle - very brief, but it absolutely established the connection between Harry and Voldemort without anyone having to spell it out onscreen. Conspicuously - and most gratifyingly - absent is the sullenness that is all too evident in the novel. What comes across in the film is fear and helplessness - and the viewer feels it too. I spent much of the two hours, fourteen minutes either on the edge of my seat or pressed back into the padding as if trying to wriggle my way inside. It was very, very scary. Which brings me to my next note.
ATTENTION IDIOTS WHO BROUGHT THEIR TWO YEAR OLDS TO THIS MOVIE. You are very bad parents. If I had any power whatsoever to have you slapped upside your stupid heads, please believe I would be exercising it right now.
Impressively, the directors and editors spent many key moments of screen time developing the characters and setting them up for events in Half-Blood Prince. In previous films, I often felt there was more of an interest in the "Wow" effect of spells, levitating things, tiny fairies, twinkling lights, and cool tricks than in the underlying stories. In Order of the Phoenix, it looks like the filmmakers have finally acknowledged the deeper, more important storyline. There is definitely a sense of inexorable motion toward a climactic ending, in that when you finish this movie, you feel like you, too, have to get ready to face whatever's coming. You feel like you should go to the bathroom, get more Wine Gums, and settle in for a screening of Half-Blood Prince.
The friendship between Ron and Hermione deepens. This is done perfectly - absolutely perfectly, an ordinary exchange given intimacy in sound editing, a few warm camera angles, some set arrangements wherein Ron and Hermione are on one sofa, and Harry on another - all little things, and maybe easy to miss, but the discerning moviegoer will raise an eyebrow and utter a speculative "hmmm..." Similarly, Ginny is a quiet observer of the doomed Harry-Cho romance, with a few good facial expressions that are serious, perhaps a little disappointed, but never crossing the line into either moping or melodrama. I look forward to seeing her emerge in HBP as the very strong character Rowling gives her. In this film, we do get to see her blossoming talent as a witch, too - though there is no mention of her "Bat Bogey Hex", she does a fantastic reducto, as in the novel.
Speaking of the reducto charm, I must comment that I am not at all impressed with the way in which the films have handled the spells. It has always annoyed me, for example, that expelliarmus was given such force in the movies - the victim often flies fifteen feet backwards and lands with a crash and a cloud of dust (the notable exception being Snape's disarming of Lupin at the Shrieking Shack in Prisoner of Azkaban). Even in Order of the Phoenix, which is the smoothest and most emotionally deep of them all, there are entirely too many big bangs, flashing lights, grandiose flourishes, and flying bodies. To their credit, there is a scene in the Room of Requirement in which Harry is trying to teach people not to wave their wands so much while doing expelliarmus, with the result that the victim's wand simply flicks away, as it does in the novel. I rather wish they had stuck with the understated approach throughout, but at least they've come 'round to it in the end.
The subtler charms effects are most apparent in the final scene in the Department of Mysteries. I was sort of dreading this scene, and wondering how they would handle all the advanced magic contained therein, and how Michael Gambon's Dumbledore would stand up to Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort. I needn't have worried. The exchange of curses between the Death Eaters and the Order is most impressive, taking on an almost gunfire rapidity. Most of the time they use nonverbal spells, which brings a sense of desperation and haste to the battle. One notable exception is the avada kedavra curse with which Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius.
The exchange of magic between Dumbledore and Voldemort is nothing short of fantastic. You don't get the impression that poor Michael Gambon is having trouble keeping up. In fact, I would argue that Michael Gambon becomes Dumbledore in this scene, and proves his worth to all those who have dismissed him as an inadequate replacement for Richard Harris. He is understated, down-to-earth, shrewd, and more than a match for the Dark Lord. Richard Harris had more of the doddering about him - Gambon's energy is perfect for a Dumbledore-At-War. He has a compelling connection with Harry, as well. During Harry's possession by Voldemort, Dumbledore is not thrown for a second. He handles it slightly differently than in the book, but his response is succinct, pitying, loving, and implacable all at the same time.
One thing I particularly liked about the film is one key change the writers made to Sirius' death scene. Sirius and Harry are standing near the veiled archway, firing curses at the Death Eaters, when Sirius suddenly shouts, "Well done, James!" It almost stops your heart. There is just time to catch a confused impression of a startled Harry, and feel a surge of foreboding at the exultant look on Sirius' face, before he is hit with Bellatrix' curse. This is almost the only reference in the film to Sirius' emotions towards Harry, and his indulgent fantasies about Harry replacing his best friend. The beauty of it is, you don't need to see all that background - with one little sentence, all is revealed.
It has often been noted that the novels' progression reflects the growing maturity of their readers. This is equally true of the films. Philosopher's Stone was flashy, shallow, overdrawn and juvenile; Chamber of Secrets only slightly less so. Azkaban was darker, more interesting, funnier and slightly more complex. Goblet of Fire took things to a new level, but still I felt that Voldemort was given too theatrical a voice and too dramatic a manner, and that Harry was not as strong and complex a character as he deserved to be. Order of the Phoenix has suddenly upped the ante. The dark is darker, the spells more dangerous. The magical world changes in this movie, from floating candles and Golden Snitches to actual, life-or-death, bloodletting. There is more at stake, and everyone, from the director to the sound editor to bloody Emma Watson, has stepped up.
I intend to move heaven and earth to see this movie as many times as I can manage before it's out of theatres. I will do my damnedest to get to an IMAX screening. I will haunt the theatres when Half-Blood Prince is released next November.
Seriously. Run -- don't walk.