(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: CAPSULE: Harry Potter returns in his most complex and political story, not to mention his darkest and least cute one. Harry, Hermione, and Ron have to fight a two-front war against a takeover of Hogwarts and the return of Voldemort. Davis Yates directs. The films get more intelligent and more adult as Harry also does. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

I suppose I should admit that I have a problem with the Harry Potter films. I have read only the first book and while I have seen each movie in the series, I have seen each only once. With each film the plot becomes more complex and there are more names to remember. A film should stand on its own, and the Potter films definitely do not, which does not mean that they do not make for an enjoyable watch. Enough of the plot is comprehensible with some reminders. And there is a constant array of visual surprises that keep the film engaging. The producers know the right way to use digital effects. Here there is an intriguing visual image; there there is an interesting allusion to Dr. Who. And not only does every major British actor since Joan Greenwood seem to show up at some point, so do all the favorite British TV series, a little Monty Python here, a little James Bond there.

As the film opens Harry (played by Daniel Radcliff) is again staying with the Dursleys, his wretched foster parents. An attack by some evil magical Whatsises forces Harry to use his magical powers in the real world. This is an unauthorized liberty and he is apparently expelled from Hogwarts. This turns out to be "expelled pending a hearing." And we are off and running. It seems the Ministry of Magic has it in for Dumbledore and for the students loyal to him, including Harry. And the conflict makes headlines over and over in the magic industry trade papers. (We see a lot of newspaper headlines this time.) A new teacher at Hogwarts is Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who is an agent for the now evil and bureaucratic Ministry of Magic. She rules Hogwarts with a large set of new draconian rules to further the ends of the Ministry, playing into the hands of Voldemort (a waste of the unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes).

If you are a newcomer to Harry Potter stories at this point you are totally lost, but this is not a film made to stand by itself. It is a chapter in a much longer story. The story over five films already and two more coming covers a long arc in the maturing of the wizard Harry Potter and his friends. They are played by actors who are unavoidably also maturing. The character of Harry is showing signs of romantic interests, and this film features no less than three young women who could become amorous interests and for the first time Harry seems to notice. He also may be discovering things about his parents he perhaps did not want to know.

The passing of time has other problems implicit. Daniel Radcliff was cute as a child but has matured into unexpected blandness. If he were starting acting at this age he might not have had the appeal to be chosen for the lead of a major film series. But, of course, he is now the Harry Potter everybody expects to see.

The plot seems to have political implication not just for Harry's two worlds but also for our world with the villains being a bureaucratic ruling force who use torture (I am told somewhat toned down from the book) to get their ends. The good guys form a secret insurgency. The government is doing everything it can to disarm the learning wizards and take away their spells because they never know where the secret group will strike. Make of that what you will.

But people come to the Potter films to be swept into the world of magic and every single Potter film is magical. Now they also seem to be getting more intelligent also. I rate HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. And for once there is not even a mention of Quidditch.

I will note that this was my first experience seeing a feature film in IMAX and also in seeing the new three-dimensional process. While I can appreciate films on small screens, I grew up in the time that filmmakers were anxious to exploit the sheer size of the image on the movie theater screen. Somehow seeing films on a really big screen seems like the right way to see them. I have to say I thought the film experience was more fun watching a really large image. I do not think that I rated the film any higher for seeing it on the IMAX screen, but it improved the experience.

As for the twenty-minute segment of spectacular battle in 3-D, it was a mixed blessing. Yes, the 3-D was a nice gimmick. It did not entirely work. One eye saw a ghost, so somehow it was not quite properly blocking the second image. The distraction of having to manage the glasses through much of the film was probably more effort than the twenty minutes were worth. The filmmakers seem to realize that they can sink the image into the screen and the 3-D works its best. It would be more dramatic to bring the image out of the screen and toward the viewer, but that is much harder to make work than sinking into the screen. Three-dimensional films rarely try to have more than one or two scenes in which objects come out of the screen and at the viewer.

IMAX is a good choice for 3-D viewing, since somehow any of the standard 3-D processes make the screen look smaller.

If you want to see this or any film in 3-D there is a trick that can allow you to do that. If you watch any film merely with one eye closed, the other eye will see the screen image to at least some degree as three-dimensional. In the absence of binocular vision your brain naturally translates an image we see into one with depth. This is particularly true for images not filmed with a deep focus lens and, I notice, for computer generated images. Seeing with two eyes gives the brain more data on depth and the image becomes two-dimensional.

Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0373889/

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper