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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // December 11, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel Hirshleifer | posted December 29, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie:

I've been re-watching the entire Harry Potter series recently (thanks to Warner for putting out all the available titles in HD instead of just the latest one), and I find that half the fun is in watching everyone grow up. Rarely are films made yearly (or almost yearly) with a cast of kids and teenagers, allowing the audience to watch them get older on screen. It's endearing and a bit surprising to watch them back to back. But more than that, it's so interesting to watch the series evolve as films. The first two movies were annoyingly literal interpretations of the books, with Chris Columbus afraid to cut a single word and giving us overlong renditions of the two stories that are by far the least interesting of the seven. Then we got Alfonso Cuaron's inspired take on Prisoner of Azkaban, which actually viewed the piece as a film separate from its source material. To date, it's still the best of the films. Mike Newell proved that he didn't have it in him to follow up Cuaron, turning the best book of the series into a bumbling, awkward piece that couldn't hold a candle to the beautiful work of Azkaban.

This brings us to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The longest book of the seven becomes the shortest of the films to date, but it is by far the most accomplished since Azkaban. David Yates is no Cuaron, but his sense of economy is exactly what the movies needed after Newell's inability to effectively condense Goblet of Fire. In fact, Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg have distilled the essence of what made Order of the Phoenix click, resulting in a film that rolls along without worrying about the ancillary aspects of Harry's world. By now, the audience should be familiar enough with these aspects that Yates doesn't need to linger on them.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is attending his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. But not all is rosy. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned, and while Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) understand the threat, the Ministry of Magic is determined to discredit them, going so far as to plant a teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), to sow seeds of discord at the school. Harry, along with his perennial friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), now have to form a secret society to undermine Umbridge and convince the wizarding world that Voldemort is back--and a serious threat.

Order of the Phoenix doesn't dilly dally. The opening title shoots by, hardly pausing for to allow the audience to read it. Almost immediately, Harry is attacked by Dementors, which sets the tone for the film. Phoenix is dark, introducing several new characters, such as the deceptive Umbridge and the insane Death eater Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). The action is also unprecedented, with a level of tension and technical dexterity not seen in any of the previous installments.

But there's also a sense of camaraderie. In response to Umbridge's increasingly malevolent machinations, Harry, Ron, and Hermione form a group, dubbed "Dumbledore's Army," to fight back. In several inspiring sequences, Harry and his friends realize that they have what it takes to be great wizards. They understand that they can take control of their own destiny and leave their mark on the world, despite (or perhaps because of) their young age. These scenes effectively capture that exhilaration of youth exploring their abilities for the first time, and taking the first steps into becoming the people they want to be.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix puts the series right back where it needs to be: Focused squarely on Harry. While all of the films are about Harry, at times it felt like he was there to have people react to him. Harry's moods and personality is more deeply explored here, giving him some ambiguities that had not been present before, and all for the better. Of course, neither Ron nor Hermione are neglected, and several of the other characters get nods without pulling away from the story, especially Neville and Luna.

At this point, you're either a fan of Harry Potter or you're not. None of these movies can really work as standalone pieces, because they're entirely dependent on the audience knowing the characters, settings, and back story. But for those who have taken the ride this far, Order of the Phoenix has some of the best set pieces in the series, including any scene that takes place at the Ministry of Magic, and another great set of performances by a crew of Britain's most distinguished character actors (including Michael Gambon as the superior Dumbledore). Order of the Phoenix offers thrills, excitement, and a sense of anticipation for the next sequel: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Warner Bros. has released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix simultaneously on HD DVD and Blu-ray. While WB has retained their standard practice of using the same video encode for both, while giving a Dolby True HD track to the HD DVD and a PCM mix to the Blu-ray (both are lossless, although there is word that WB uses dialogue equalization on its True HD tracks). The big difference is in the extras package. WB has optimized the special features to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each format. HD DVD currently has more interactivity, so that version gets web content and IME. Blu-ray has more space, so it gets more of its features in high definition.

The Image:
Warner Bros. presents Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. It seems like lately I've seen a slew of fantastic transfers from almost all the studios, and you think I'd become jaded about it. But I can't when WB is giving us transfers like we get for Order of the Phoenix. The depth and dimensionality of the picture is breathtaking. I've said it before, but it applies here: It's like you could reach in your hand and touch the characters. The fine details in all the hallways of Hogwarts and on the character's faces are immediately apparent. The colors pop out and overwhelm the senses, but never get pushed to the point of blooming or bleeding. As a critic, sometimes I feel that I'm giving out five star picture ratings like candy, and I wonder if I should be more harsh, but there's nothing here to attack. It's a testament to the work being done at the studios that we're getting so many excellent transfers, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a must-see.

The Audio:
I've heard criticisms leveled at Warner Bros. for using dialogue equalization on their Dolby True HD tracks, but I don't see what the issue is, as I've heard both the 48kHz/24-bit Dolby True HD 5.1 mix on this HD DVD and the PCM 5.1 track on the Blu-ray, and they're both simply sublime aural experiences. The soundstage is alive from frame one, with the score almost ever present beneath the action, which is constant. The rears are always in use, either with ambient sounds or directional effects. And the aforementioned dialogue sounds flawless. The range of the mix is deeply satisfying, with plenty of bass and wonderful depth to all of the sounds. If you needed a disc for a new demo, this will fit the bill nicely. And if you simply want an excellent sound mix to complement the image, you're gonna get that, too.

The Supplements:
Here's where things get interesting. The HD DVD of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix offers several interactive features not available on the DVD or Blu-ray. However, due to space limitations, none of the features are in high definition.

  • In-Movie Experience: A feature Warner has neglected as of late, the In-Movie Experience is WB's name for picture-in-picture commentary. WB extends the interactivity by including "Focus Points," quick featurettes that you can choose to play when offered. In addition, Warner has included a pop-up trivia track to fill in the blank spots. The actual commentary footage is less than spectacular, to be honest. We get most of the teenage cast members explaining what we're seeing on screen, or the larger plot. Very little in the way of discussing the themes or production stories. The trivia is better, with many interesting tidbits to impart.
  • Focus Points: Essentially an evolution from the "Follow the White Rabbit" feature on the original Matrix DVD, the Focus Points can be viewed in the IME or by themselves. Together, they offer slightly over an hour of behind the scenes and making-of footage. These range from a look at effects shots (the Dementors sequence in particular has an especially interesting process behind it) to practical production concerns, a deeper look at the characters, themes, or just individual shots. Taken together, they give a fairly good picture, but the short length of each featurette gives it all a scattershot feel that prevents it from being comprehensive.
  • Web-Enabled Features: One of the big selling points of HD DVD is that the format can connect to the web, and every player that has the HD DVD logo on it can partake. WB has taken advantage with not one, but three different features, although only one of them is worthwhile. The one to which I'm referring is the "Live Community Screening." This allows a viewer to invite his friends who also have the disc to watch the movie along with him. The main user (designated the host user) can control the film, pausing, rewinding, or fast forwarding, and the command will extend to all the other machines connected. Not only that, but you can text chat with the other viewers, allowing for discussion of the film as it plays, or an MST3K style ribbing. One of the more innovative features I've seen lately. Also using the community aspect is the "Pick Your Favorite Scenes" feature, which lets you select scenes you like and send a list of them to your web-connected friends. The final extra in this set is the option to purchase mobile ringtones. Yep, that's right. Commercialism at its worst. Still, the Community Screening aspect is worth commending, as it's truly different and new.
  • Deleted Scenes: 10 minutes of deleted and extended scenes are offered, the best being the ones that include Emma Thompson. There are no major revelations here, but most of them are fun, if inconsequential, extensions.
  • Trailing Tonks: The lovely Natalia Tena, who plays Auror Nymphadora Tonks in the film, takes the audience on a tongue in cheek guided tour of the studio and sets for Order of the Phoenix. Clearly aimed more towards the younger crowd, as Natalia is overly jubilant most of the time. Still, we get a nice insider's look into what it takes to put a production on the level of a Harry Potter movie together.
  • The Magic of Editing: Beginning with a basic Editing 101 introduction by director David Yates and editor Mark Day, we soon get to play around with a sequence from the film. There's a collection of different shots, and you're given the chance to choose between them, rearrange them, choose a bit of the musical score, etc. This isn't the first time I've seen a feature like this, but it's still enjoyable.

The Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the best film in the series since Alfonso Cuaron's brilliant entry, Prisoner of Azkaban. With tight pacing and thrilling execution, Order of the Phoenix propels Harry Potter's story forward with excitement and panache. The HD DVD offers sparkling picture and tremendous sound, along with a series of interactive features and web content not found on any other version of the title, including the Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.

Note: The images used in this review are not indicative of the image quality on the disc.

Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.

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