Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Two-Disc Special Edition)As a rare non-Harry Potter convert, the illustrious Potter film series always seemed a little less magical to me than it did to the well-read fans of J.K. Rowling’s treasured novels. At first I anticipated the films with equal fascination, but upon leaving the theatre after each new entry, I felt a little less inclined to see the next installment. Perhaps that’s why I waited for the DVD release of the fifth movie before taking the time to check it out. But if David Yates’ work on The Order of the Phoenix is any sign of what’s to come, I’m already in the queue for The Half-Blood Prince.

Decidedly the darkest of the five films in the series, Phoenix starts out on a dreary playground as Harry’s bullying housemate Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling) berates a surprisingly mature-looking Harry (the ever-improving Daniel Radcliffe) for talking in his sleep. Wasting no time with exposition, the skies darken, clouds rumble, and dark, flowing creatures chase the boys down, eventually trapping them and forcing Harry to resort to magic to drive them away and save Dudley and himself. Needless to say, Dudley doesn’t exactly thank Harry, and the Ministry of Magic isn’t too keen on Harry’s underage use of magic either.

Thus the fifth year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter and his friends begins, though this time around Harry is seen as something of a pariah due to his claims that Voldemort (the excellently chilling Ralph Fiennes) has indeed returned. The darker lighting shades and tints employed by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (Black Hawk Down) help deepen the mystery and provide a much-appreciated heaviness to the story, as Harry’s anger and isolation are carefully worked-over and explored in Michael Goldenberg’s clean adaptation (though Potter readers have been known to voice disappointment at how much of the novel’s plot was cut for the film treatment).

The introduction of Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton as the puritanical Dolores Umbridge serves as bitingly relevant social commentary, as she seeks to cleanse the school of the use of actual magic, instead teaching theory and rote learning. Staunton serves the character up elegantly with a haunting twitter and smirk, something like a cross between Ted Haggard and Martha Stewart.

And all the old stalwarts are here as well: Jason Isaacs, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Julie Walters, Warwick Davis, and Robbie Coltrane, to name a few. Helena Bonham Carter shows up as a delightfuly demented Bellatrix Lestrange, providing a promising outlook for the larger role she is to play in the up-coming films.

Hardcore fans may cry foul at the loss of a good deal of the story, but 139 minutes is nothing to scoff at. Though over two hours in length, the story is constantly engaging and downright driven. There’s hardly a dull moment, and as the three young leads (Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe) have aged and improved their techniques, the chemistry between the three and the dialogue-driven scenes are increasingly more powerful and believable. The most welcome addition to the plot, though, is Harry’s new role as student teacher as it allows the audience to finally see Harry as the leader he’s been made out to be from the beginning.

The two-disc special edition includes a second disc containing a 45 minute featurette that basically recaps the story up til this point with several leading Potter “scholars,” a short briefing on the importance of editing, and a few other throw away features. Basically, it’s a second disc thrown in for extra measure to pull in those diehards. Anyone just looking to watch the film will be satisfied with the normal edition.

Zach’s Rating: A-
Perfect For: A convincingly dark and epic foray into fantasy
Stay Away if: Wizards don’t cast a spell on you

To purchase the 2-disc Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, visit Amazon
To just purchase the widescreen version, visit Amazon
To see more reviews by Zach Freeman, visit his Hubpage

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