Threstrals are dark and terrifying creatures. They thrive in foreboding forests and are mysteriously invisible to most people. They are beastly, but beautiful. In a way, a threstral symbolizes all that "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is: a threstral not only flies, but soars.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his fifth year at Hogwarts at an emotional turning point. He confronts new people in a world where no one can be trusted, and in turn, he confronts a world where no one trusts him. He struggles with loss, morality, fate, and identity. To make things worse, Voldemort is constantly penetrating Harry's mind -- a complex art known as Legilimency. Harry knows he's in danger and has to be prepared. Unfortunately, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is a corrupt member of the Ministry of Magic named Dolores Jane Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). Her sweet facade is misleading -- Umbridge is determined to destroy all freedom at Hogwarts and convince the students that the Dark Lord has not returned. Well-equipped with a positively pink wardrobe and a ghastly giggle, Staunton's performance was excellent.
In order to properly learn how to defend themselves, Harry and his friends form a group they call "Dumbledore's Army." One such friend is Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), a strange girl with her head in the clouds. Luna is sweet and clairvoyant, often providing Harry with insight and sympathy.
Harry's intensifying relationships were exceptionally portrayed. Radcliffe's facial expressions show his rage toward Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), his love for Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), and his skepticism toward Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). However, because a large portion of Harry's conversation with Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) at the end of the book was cut from the movie, their relationship lacked momentum. Also, the death at the end of the movie seriously upset Harry for only about 30 seconds.
This movie will entertain you as well as thrill you. Comic relief is provided through Fred and George Weasley (James and Oliver Phelps), hilarious as usual. It is delightful to see Harry blossom in a leadership role during the "Dumbledore's Army" meetings, and enchanting to watch his efforts come alive as his friends produce dancing Patronuses. The special effects and scenery were phenomenal. During scenes such as Harry's trip to the Ministry of Magic Headquarters, I was stunned by the attention to detail -- every wizard or witch there had a purpose. Creatures like centaurs and giants were brilliantly crafted, and the horrific battle at the Department of Mysteries far succeeded expectations.
Though most of the acting was wonderful, such as Emma Watson's Hermione Granger and Alan Rickman's Severus Snape, others didn't impress. Once again, I was disgusted by Michael Gambon's complete misinterpretation of his character. He lacked Dumbledore's subtlety and quiet poise, and during his battle with Voldemort, he didn't command respect or have the right presence. It was hard to believe that Dumbledore was supposedly "the only one he ever feared." Another annoyance was that Professor Trelawney's prophecy, perhaps the most crucial element of the whole series, was shortened. In fact, Neville's significance to it was completely disregarded.
Phoenix is fast-paced but followable. For a movie based on an 870-page book, the plot was fairly coherent and flowed easily. The music added clarity and authenticity -- while much of it was new and magnificent, it still retained hints of the original theme. The themes of love, friendship, and the battle between good and evil are stressed as usual. As Sirius tells Harry, "We have all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the power we chose to act on. That's who we really are."
Allison Eck will be a senior at Clarence High School.
>HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Review: Four stars (out of four)