VIDEO: The trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
|Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix | Directed by David Yates | Written by Michael Goldenberg Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling | with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Fiona Shaw, and Alan Rickman | Warner Bros | 138 Minutes|
Whatever else it may be, the Harry Potter Edda is surely the most popular narrative about the dawning of pubertal awareness ever created. And now, with the fifth Belgian block of a book adapted all-too-briskly to film, our Harry’s short hairs are growing wild and his hormonal self-pity is raging like a July forest fire. As Aleister Crowley always said, sex is magic and vice versa — which is why in J.K. Rowling’s world the apprentice sorcerers have always been so heavily regulated in their wand usage, and had their magical loins flexed harmlessly in sports, until such time as they can control their own transformative impulses. (Successful spells, after all, have an orgasmic ferocity.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has no time for Quidditch; the franchise staff (ostensibly led by Brit-TV director David Yates) dive right in, smooshing Rowling’s biggest book into the shortest film and treating the rich subtext — as well as much of the text — as dispensable.
Of course, puberty is a complex and ambiguous ordeal, and so — as we all know because we’ve all read the book already, and seen the other films — the right-and-wrong of magic becomes less clear-cut in this chapter, though the introduction of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, continuing the series’s typecasting hole-in-ones, and its exploitation of Mike Leigh’s Rolodex), the Ministry of Magic exec and new Dark Arts prof, is a bald-faced bit of social satire. Exercising a classic neo-conservative power maneuver, the prim and buttoned-up Umbridge virtually takes over Hogwarts with Puritan reasoning and sexual dread, a rule-choked process that feels as Stalinist as does any old-fashioned Catholic school. (She even toils at the behest of a Murdoch-like media magnate.) Better still, she reduces the sorcery syllabi to rote memorization focused on scoring high on standardized tests. No Wizard Left Behind is, she obnoxiously chirps, “what school is all about!”
The plot? Didn’t you read the book? The disgruntled (read: sexually frustrated) kids conspire and begin to meet secretly, inspired by subversive dirty-old-coot Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), and to explore their adolescent prowess in preparation for the coming onslaught (everyone just looks to the horizon and bemoans an approaching storm) of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) — who must in this Grimm little psychodrama come to symbolize, snakehead that he is, the danger posed by the male erection run truly amok. I won’t sweat the details, because the filmmakers didn’t; easily half of the densely plotted book is discarded, and with it no small amount of connective tissue. The whole story is ignited by two Dementors illegally invading the land of the Muggles and stalking Potter, but to learn how or why they were compelled to do this, you’d have to get to reading.
As a viewing experience and not as a kabbalistic colloquium among Potterians (who will overlook its scant values and over-digitization), Phoenix is crammed and quick, a shorthand version of a thick-as-a-brick pulp tale already well understood by the initiated and of no consequence to the trifling rest of humanity. Daniel Radcliffe, as the increasingly fuzzy-scrotumed HP, remains a standard-issue Luke Skywalker type, opaque and dull so the bestiary around him can look spectacular. The beasts in question are, of course, plummy British thespians enjoying a light work week and reliable franchise checks — how disappointed Gary Oldman must have been to read two years ago that Rowling bumped Sirius Black off, whereas Remus Lupin, Severus Snape, Sybil Trelawney, and Mad-Eye Moody live on to earn for their actors in two more movies.