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 Harry Potter & TOOTP
It seems there has never been a better time to be a Harry Potter fan as the world celebrates the double whammy of the release of the fifth film and the final book of the series. While the literature conclusion has a bittersweet tinge to it, if JK Rowling stands by her word and stops writing about the boy Wizard, the release of the film is perhaps enough to keep fans going for a little bit longer.

Potter fans will know what to expect from this darker tale, but for those of you who have avoided learning too much about the story let me give you a quick summary of events from this chapter in Harry’s life.

A teenaged Potter is having a rough summer: stuck at the Dursley’s, tormented by his cousin Dudley and haunted by the memories of the death of Cedric Diggory. Killed by Voldemort during the finale of the last film Goblet of Fire. He is also concerned and slightly angry at the lack of contact from his friends Ron and Hermione, not to mention anxious over the return to power of He-who-shall-not-be-named. Sounds pretty ordinary so far doesn’t it?!

Unfortunately for Harry, grey skies are on the horizon in the form of a couple of Dementors who try to attack Harry and Dudley. Although Harry saves his cousin with a natty Expecto Patronum, an under-age Wizard waving a wand in front of a mud-blood is strictly forbidden and Harry is carted off to face the wrath of the Ministry of Magic who seem intent on throwing the book, and anything else at him. Only a timely intervention from Professor Dumbledore prevents Harry from punishment and expulsion from Hogwarts.

When the new term finally begins things only get worse. The Ministry has denounced Harry’s claims that Lord Voldemort as have most of his classmates. To make matters worse, the Ministry has employed one of their own as the new defence against the dark arts teacher, the sweet yet maniacal Dolores Umbridge.

Her rise to power is terrific to watch but it means yet more misery for Harry and his friends as she replaces Dumbledore as Head of Hogwarts and squeezes every ounce of fun and mischief from the school. As Umbridge bans any practical magic from being performed (instead being replaced by hilariously outdated 1950’s style textbooks) Harry is soon held in high regard amongst his classmates once again as they look for someone to teach them to defend themselves against the dark forces.

Harry’s recruitment and training of Dumbledore’s army is a little rushed in the film, reduced mainly to a Team America style montage (I half expected the ‘montage’ music to start playing) but it all gears up to a fantastic face off between the forces of good (The Order of the Phoenix) led by Harry, Dumbledore and Sirius Black and the bad (Lord Voldemort’s Death-eaters).

The film is once again a gripping piece that should delight fans and newcomers alike. Although some of the book’s favourite moments have had to be cut in order to fit into two-and-a-half hours of screen time there are still more than enough memorable scenes to take away with you. New Director David Yates has done a wonderful job at keeping a light mood through Harry’s darkest adventure so far and captured the spirit of what it means to be young, angry and rebellious.

Unfortunately, this chapter suffers from not having a clearly defined plot in the same way as previous films, instead acting like an Empire Strikes Back style prelude to the final two adventures, but Yates still manages to make this film much more than just a placeholder. Just as with other Potter films, Order of the Phoenix adds several new members to its already swelling cast (including potty Luna Lovegood and Sirius’ evil cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange) meaning some past favourites are included as mere cameos. Without lengthy screen time, these characters seem quite superfluous to the events of the film, even though they play a big part in the novel. The score and effects are typically excellent, although with the darker tone it would have been nice to see a return from veteran composer John Williams, who has sat out the last two films.

The performances from the ensemble cast are somewhat mixed. Radcliffe has grown into his role as the eponymous hero but some of the other child actors are still guilty of overacting to a nauseating degree (*cough* Hermione *cough*). But the (mainly British) adult cast still keep things in perspective, with Alan Rickman once again great to watch as Snape and some fine turns from Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman and Imelda Staunton in their respective roles.

Even though Order of the Phoenix film feels largely like a precursor to more exciting event it is still a great film in its own right and one of the better Potter films.

8 out of 10

Buy Harry Potter & TOOTP now at Play.com
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