Everything Wrong With the Order of the Phoenix Movie
If you listen to our podcast #WizardTeam, you’re familiar with our practice of naming an MVP and benching a character at the end of each episode. You’re probably also familiar with the fact that I greatly dislike the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In my eyes, it is eternally benched.
Initially, I was going to make a petty list of all of the things I hate about the Order of the Phoenix movie, but once it got 50-deep I realized I needed to regroup and come up with a different plan.
I haven’t really made it a secret that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book of the Harry Potter series, nor have I kept quiet about how I hate the movie for the same reason. I still vividly remember being excited to see the movie when it first came out, and being angry and disappointed as it progressed. Maybe part of it was my fault—even compared to the other movies in the franchise, I had ridiculously high expectations. Still, I often think about what could have been done to make it better.
I understand that when a book is being adapted to the screen there are things that will be left out. Taking hundreds of pages of content and condensing it into two hours of film can be a daunting task. For the most part, my qualms aren’t even with the scenes left out (though in a perfect world we would get every single detail of that amazing book). For me, the problems were with how things were left out, the subtleties and character development that were squashed into one-dimensional problems, lazily demonstrated, or left out completely. I’ve only recently been able to fully articulate why I don’t like this movie and why most movie adaptations slightly annoy me. It isn’t about specific scenes, it’s about the lack of nuance. When these stories are adapted, they lose the small conflicts, the underlying tension, the shifts in character development that make these stories, and specifically Order of the Phoenix so great.
So I am going to make a (hopefully short) list, condensing my list of petty squabbles into sections with real issues I have with certain portrayals (or lack thereof) of certain characters and situations. Just know that I have WAY more issues than these few, but these sort of encompass why this movie irritates me so much. Also, if anyone is as salty as I am, feel free to ask me what’s on the real list…maybe I’ll tweet them out.
One of my favorite things about Order of the Phoenix is the character development of Harry. The story starts about a month after he just witnesses a classmate murdered in front of him and the rebirth of the greatest Dark Wizard of all time. Not only is he coping with trauma, but he is dealing with isolation (both externally and internally imposed), persecution, and defamation. On top of that, he’s fifteen years old, right in the middle of teenage angst and drama. What I love about the book is how Harry’s predicament is treated with care. Even while there are issues happening in the present, Harry is constantly having to relive and work through the trauma of his past. By the end of the book, there is fresh grief with the death of his godfather, Sirius Black. Harry has to grow up very quickly by confronting his grief and trauma, as well as learning about his true destiny in the war against Voldemort. All of this happens to him, but not at the expense of his already-established characteristics. He still has his temper (which is definitely amplified), his great comebacks, his moral compass, and his frustrating nosiness (WHY DID YOU LOOK IN SNAPE’S MEMORIES HARRY. WHY??). The movie frustrates me because all of this nuance is lost. Harry just seems sulky, walking around glaring at everyone. We don’t really get to see the way he has to relearn how to navigate his world because we focus so much on his battle against Umbridge rather than his issues with his friends, his struggles with school, his anger and hurt at Dumbledore, and his worry about Sirius. His portrayal—along with everything else in the movie—feels really one-dimensional, only existing to get through the plot.
No one likes the Dursleys, but Potterheads can’t deny the importance of Harry’s aunt Petunia. Though she barely appears in Order of the Phoenix, her part is important, especially for Harry’s well being. Early on in the book, Vernon decides to kick Harry out of the house. Petunia is silent, allowing this to happen until she receives a Howler from Dumbledore telling her to “Remember my last,” and overrides Vernon’s decision, allowing Harry to stay. We later learn, that the Howler was sent as a reminder that while Harry’s time at Privet Drive was horrible, it was, in fact, the very thing protecting him from Voldemort and his Death Eaters. This information is incredibly important to the plot, but also to Petunia’s character development, showing us why she decided to keep Harry and complicating both her relationship with her sister and her complicity in the abuse of Harry as a child. However, instead of getting that in the movie, we just get more of Petunia’s doting on Dudley and trying to sneak him into the car (to hide from nosy neighbors) in a way that just continues to have her as a one-dimensional, mean guardian.
For a movie that almost exclusively focuses on the battle between Harry and Dolores Umbridge until the climax where we’re reminded that Harry’s not lying and yes, Voldemort is still a thing, Umbridge’s characterization in the movies still leaves something to be desired. Rather than truly dealing with how horrible she is, and the ways in which she clings to and struggles to gain power, we get more of a montage of her putting up a cartoonish amount of Educational Decrees, forcing students to tuck in their shirts, and not allowing kissing in the halls. We don’t see how she’s spying on the students (especially Harry), bans Harry and the Weasley twins from Quidditch, and attacks both Hagrid and McGonagall in the dead of the night, sending the former on the run and putting the latter to the hospital. We even learned that it was her who sent the dementors after Harry in the beginning of the story. However, the movie doesn’t truly show the depth of her nastiness and how this is directly tied to her aspirations for power. She is a person who is willing to change her beliefs and actions based on what will keep her in a position of power, and she is not above using Dark magic to achieve it. Not watering her down would have truly made her presence in the movie much more potent.
I know that subtitle isn’t clever, but I do have a point. The Order of the Phoenix book continues to paint Sirius as Harry’s reckless but protective godfather who rather than being on the run is now holed up in his childhood home, one that he ran away from at the age of sixteen and which reminds him of a family and childhood he would rather forget (think Harry being forced to live at Privet Drive almost twenty years after thinking he would never have to set foot in the house again). So, sure, Sirius is restless from being cooped up, angry at not being able to better help the Order of the Phoenix, and dealing with childhood trauma, but he still makes it his top priority to care for Harry. While there is definitely an interesting characterization of Sirius being unable to move on from the past—from his mutual hatred of Snape to his difficulty separating Harry from his father—the movie both tempers it down and gets rid of the subtleties of Sirius’ relationship with Harry. On the one hand, Sirius seems to be more serious and responsible, often warning Harry and being the voice of reason for when Harry is afraid or dealing with his own trauma without a tinge of recklessness. On the other hand, Sirius accidentally calls Harry “James,” in the Department of Mysteries, which while heartbreaking wasn’t strictly necessary, as shown in the book, where his difficulty separating the two is never made explicit but is always clear. Again, the problem this movie has as an adaptation is the lack of nuance in the characters.
Department of Mysteries
The Department of Mysteries is one of the most intriguing settings in the Harry Potter universe, both on it’s own and as a backdrop to the final battle of the story. In the book, the Department of Mysteries is a confusing labyrinth with multiple rooms with multiple identical doors. Each room explores a different mystery; for example, some of the ones we see are the Hall of Prophecy, of Time, and of Death. While the six members of the D.A. are fighting the Death Eaters, they are also encountering some of the Wizarding World's deepest secrets. However, in the movie, the Department of Mysteries is reduced to two rooms, the one with the prophecy, and the one with the arch (the Death Chamber). It makes for a far less interesting and layered setting and really has no mystery to it. While a part of me understands why they would dilute the Department of Mysteries to a basic setting for the purposes of money, plot, and time, it feels like a loss to not have the Battle of the Department of Mysteries be as robust and interesting as it is in the books.
Of course, as I said before, I have way more beef with the Order of the Phoenix movie than just these five points, but each of these elements add depth and nuance to both the plot and the story’s characters that the movie glosses over. I get that we can’t always have Lord of the Rings-length movies, but within my truncated list, only some of the things would actually make the movie longer. Rather than rushing to get a finished product, there should have been a more complicated exploration of these characters, themes, and plots.