Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 29
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

LOVE'S FIRST KISS: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, left) has developed a crush on Hogwarts classmate Chang (Katie Leung) and manages to find a quiet moment to steal a kiss as a brief respite from protecting the world against the return of his archenemy Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Harry Finds Himself Ostracized During His Fifth Year at Hogwarts

Kam Williams

The adaptation to the screen of the fifth in the best selling series of Harry Potter books was entrusted to David Yates. The gifted British director has more than met the daunting challenge of distilling J.K. Rowling's 870-page fantasy into a compelling two-hour cinematic saga.

Furthermore, he's remained faithful to the tenor and tone of the earlier episodes, thereby crafting a seamless addition to the earlier Harry Potter movies. In addition, Yates has allowed the maturing boy to discover teenage romance.

We find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) wrestling not only with his trademark demons but with his own developing feelings of attraction to the opposite sex. The object of his affection is Cho Chang (Katie Leung), a classmate he has developed a crush on. However, that budding relationship is a sidebar to the primary plot which revolves around whether he lied about having an encounter with the late Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

At the picture's point of departure, Harry's winding down another uninspiring summer spent at the home of his unsupportive Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). The action starts with a distracting red herring, when he uses his magic wand to fend off a beating by a gang of bullies who were teasing him on the street. Since it's against Hogwart's rules for anyone under 17 to practice magic in front of muggles (ordinary humans), Harry is expelled for the infraction, only to be reinstated almost immediately thereafter.

Of far greater consequence is the fact that when he arrives on campus for the fall semester he learns that most of the students and faculty believe a vicious rumor that he and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) had made up the story about the reincarnation of the evil Voldemort. As a result, Harry is ostracized and the disgraced Dumbledore is dismissed from his post of Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Dumbledore's responsibilities are assumed by Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), an imperious bureaucrat whose unreasonable rules stifle the student body at every turn. Exhibiting the demeanor of a strict Catholic school nun, this no-nonsense disciplinarian orders a new defensive approach to magic that will leave the young wizards vulnerable to an attack from the Dark Arts, especially if it's true that Voldemort has really been reincarnated and has regained his power. Of course, this means that Harry, along with his best friends and loyal classmates Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Ruert Grint), have to save the day.

Imelda Staunton's scene-stealing performance as the overbearing Umbridge overshadows a plethora of other excellent performances; most notably Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. The supporting cast also includes Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, and Emma Thompson.

The Order of the Phoenix should prove to be the best of the Harry Potter screen versions to date because it delivers a riveting cinematic experience that can be appreciated by audiences unfamiliar with the source material's multi-layered tale and sometimes confusing jargon. Basically, it's the Little Rascals to the rescue in a movie dressed up as a mystical fable complete with medieval mumbo jumbo and some cool state-of-the-art special effects.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for frightening images and fantasy violence. Running time: 138 minutes. Studio: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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