This is essentially the same release we saw when 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix' first appeared on Blu-ray. Barring the difference in the special features section (which has been noted) the video and audio are the same. It's the same 1080p/VC-1 transfer and while this release has been given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix instead of the uncompressed LPCM mix that was on the original Blu-ray, it still sounds just as amazing and as bombastic as ever. I didn't notice any differences its demo-quality sound, so our original review still applies for this one.
It's a strange phenomenon, but as J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books get longer, their film adaptations seem to get shorter. The longest of Rowling's tomes, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is 870 pages long, yet the movie version clocks in at sparse (by Potter flick standards) 139 minutes. The end result is a bit like finally getting to sneak into the grand library of Hogwarts, and only finding a stack full of Cliff's Notes.
Even at her most indulgent, Rowling has always maintained a keen appreciation for story, with each of the Harry Potter books functioning as a satisfying stand-alone adventure while also fitting snugly into a larger whole. But while 'Order of the Phoenix' hits all of the same narrative notes as Rowling's book, it doesn't sing the same tune. The story and character omissions are the most damaging of all of the Potter flicks so far, giving the film an at times perfunctory feel, as if we are witnessing only a stepping stone to the next movie and not a film that lives and breathes on its own. Make no mistake, 'Order of the Phoenix' is far from a terrible film -- there's plenty of magic and whimsy on hard, and there's still great pleasure to be had in watching Rowling's now-classic characters and setpieces come to life -- it just lacks the true engagement of its predecessors.
Given that so many have either read the book or seen the film, it hardly seems neccessary to recap the story but I'll give it the old college try. In 'Order of the Phoenix,' Lord Voldemort has returned, but few want to believe it. In fact, the Ministry of Magic is doing everything it can to keep the wizarding world from knowing the truth, including appointing Ministry official Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. When Professor Umbridge refuses to train her students in practical defensive magic, a select group of students decide to learn on their own. With Harry Potter as their leader, "Dumbledore's Army" meet secretly in a hidden room at Hogwarts to hone their wizarding skills in preparation for battle with the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters. Needless to say, a terrifying showdown between good and evil ensues.
I know it is said every time a new Harry Potter hits the big screen, but 'Order of the Phoenix' is truly the most dark and mature film in the series yet. As Harry has matured (with Daniel Radcliff evolving nicely as an actor), so too have Rowling's themes and concerns. The film's final 45 minutes in particular contain the harshest and most assaultive violence yet seen in the series. Yes, this is a still a PG-13 adventure, but it's clear that Rowling is playing for keeps, and it is 'Order of the Phoenix's best asset that there are real consequences to the actions in the film. Few "children's films" these days generate any real suspense, but 'Order of the Phoenix' does so in spades.
Unfortunately, the majority of the film still feels overloaded by the burden of simply advancing the story, rather than letting it soar. For much of the first half of the film, characters are given little to do but spout exposition. It doesn't help that Harry is so busy preparing for his quests and challenges that the kid doesn't seem to exist anymore as a flesh and blood teenager with emotions that are identifiable outside of what the plot requires. Indeed, one of the few scenes to generate any real affection is when Harry enjoys his first kiss with the cute Cho Chang (Katie Leung). How ironic is it that the most magical moment in all of 'Order of the Phoenix' comes only when Harry lays down his wand and actually acts like a... muggle?
Having said all that, I wouldn't dream of dissuading any Harry Potter fan from seeing 'Order of the Phoenix.' The film still gloriously realizes Rowling's universe, from the impeccably-designed interiors of Hogwarts Academy to the moviemakers' clear love for their native Britain, which looks positively radiant. The final 45 minutes are also legitimately exciting, with fantasy-action sequences that rival any 'Lord of the Rings' film, and the villainous Snapes and other creatures are truly something to behold. 'Order of the Phoenix' may lack the charming naivete of the early Potter films (and I can only hope that the final two entries in the series give the characters a bit more room to breathe), but as a stepping stone to the excitement that is still undoubtedly to come, 'Order of the Phoenix' will more than do.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
I'll never get over the change in packaging that happened after the first two Ultimate Editions. It makes me mad. The first two were sleek and looked really nice, but now Warner has opted for a slightly taller box that have silly holographic cover art on the front. The flimsy cardboard flap at the top which holds the holographic art in place is easily torn whenever you're moving it or sliding it into place on your shelf. It's very annoying.
Inside the oversized box is the standard keepsakes that we've come to expect from these releases. There's the inner box which has a few screenshots from the movie plastered on it. Inside of that box is a 44-page hardcover book that is a companion piece to the brand-new documentary "Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 5: Evolution". There's a feeble envelope that contains oversized trading cards for Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge along with advertisements for Harry Potter memorabilia and a code for the Digital Copy. The two discs are housed in a cardboard foldout that has disc hubs for both of them. This all comes minted on two BD-50 Blu-ray Discs.
This 1080p/VC-1 encode (framed at the film's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio). Warner has certainly delivered the goods, and even with the startling number of reference-quality high-def titles I've reviewed in recent weeks, 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' easily stands tall, boasting yet another a five-star video presentation.
I've often used the term "picture window effect" in my reviews, but right from the film's opening sequence, 'Order of the Phoenix' boasts some of the most three-dimensional images I've yet seen. This continues throughout the film, with the level of detail and depth to this Blu-ray disc truly fantastic. Sharp, resplendent in fine texture and perfectly balanced in terms of balance and contrast, 'Order of the Phoenix' is absolutely top tier.
Of course, any 'Harry Potter' film is one of fantasy, and as such it's clear throughout that we are in a surreal and vibrant world. Colors are pushed to the max of saturation, but always stay one millimeter away from oversaturation. Hues remain rock solid and free of noise or other defects, so despite obvious skews in terms of color (blues and yellows are particularly accentuated), the presentation still feels surprisingly natural. Warner has also done a terrific job with compression, and I had no problems with any artifacts -- no edge enhancement, macroblocking or banding (even in heavily CGI'd sequences).
Simply put, 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' is a stunner.
It's no surprise that Warner spared no expense in bringing the latest Harry Potter adventure to the big screen. This is the best sound design you're likely to hear this year -- bold, highly immersive and unflagging in its sustained aggressiveness. There are so many fantastic sequences that you can just pick a chapter for instant demo material (the film's final 45 minutes in particular are a true aural delight). The rear soundfield is alive throughout, with sounds bounding all around with a transparency that's as close to the movie theater as you're going to get. Minor ambiance is not ignored either, with quieter scenes boasting a palpable surround presence. Even a simple whoosh of Harry's wand is often accompanied by a delightful subtle wisp of sound in the rears.
All other aspects of the source are equally excellent. Integration of music, dialogue and effects is pitch-perfect. Even with so many younger actors (and their sometimes thick English accents), I made out every word without ever reaching for my remote's volume controls. The score (by Nicholas Hooper, subbing for John Williams) is also impressively dispersed, with the appropriate majestic quality. And although 'Order of the Phoenix' may not be the subwoofer juggernaut of a film like 'Transformers,' when bass is needed, believe me, you'll feel it. There is not one aspect of this mix that disappoints.
While the audio and video presentations stayed the same, the special features package is what got the real boost. One of the most notable inclusions, besides the brand-new one-hour documentary for the 'Creating the World of Harry Potter' series, is that they decided to include the picture-in-picture movie experience that was only previously available on the HD DVD release.
Even though 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' sports a high score when all is said and done, you have to take into account the fact that Warner changed this set only two movies into it. Now the sets don't conform with each other, and these later installments don't have alternate or director's cuts to make you really want to purchase them. It's true that the extra special features make a purchase tempting, but they're special features that, really, only fans will find extremely interesting. That's why I'm giving a For Fans Only recommendation. In the end, I'm just too mad that Warner changed their direction for these sets in the middle of producing them. Any collector should be angry at that.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.