After finishing his fourth year at Hogwarts and back in the land of the Muggles for the summer, Harry Potter and his cousin Dudley Dursley are attacked by two Dementors. Fortunately, Harry manages to save both himself and Dudley by driving the Dementors off with a Patronus charm. However, the Ministry of Magic are far from happy and, detecting the underage wizardry, they threaten Harry with expulsion from Hogwarts and a show trial in a desperate attempt to cover over the re-emergence of Voldemort. And with the help of the Daily Prophet, who have launched a campaign to smear anyone who claims that Lord Voldemort has returned, the Ministry of Magic are desperate to be rid of the petulant Potter and his lies.
With Dumbledore the only person who is prepared to acknowledge the danger that lies ahead, one night Harry is awoken from his sleep and taken to headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret organisation founded by Dumbledore who were ready, willing and able to take on the evil Voldemort and his minions. With Harry describing what recently happened to him, and with Dumbledore knowing about Harry's past, Dumbledore is left with no alternative but to reactive the Order and commence training in the Defence Against the Dark Arts. But at Harry's hearing all is not lost and, with the newly reformed Order behind him, he is cleared of all charges and is allowed to return to Hogwarts.
But suspecting that Dumbledore is behind the rumours regarding Voldemort's return, Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge entrusts the newly arrived Defence Against the Dark Arts professor Dolores Umbridge with the task of keeping an eye on Dumbledore and watching over the students. And it doesn't take long before she is running Hogwarts with an iron fist with decrees being made on a daily basis that essentially prevents the students from talking about Voldemort, let along preparing themselves for the battle that lies ahead.
But Professor Dolores Umbridge's Ministry-approved course of defensive magic leaves the young wizards woefully unprepared to defend themselves against the dark forces threatening them so Harry decides to take matters into his own hands. Meeting secretly with a small group of students who name themselves "Dumbledore's Army", Harry teaches them how to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, but with Dolores and her prefects constantly sniffing around, Harry and his troop are going to have their work cut out carrying out their training in secret.
The later Harry Potter films were made for a high-definition format and with nearly the entire film made up of dark locations, the transfer on the Blu-Ray disc is pretty remarkable. The picture is essentially the same as the defunct HD-DVD edition, but the 1080p picture seen here is what the format is all about - and given that The Order of the Phoenix is not the newest high-definition title around, it goes to prove just how far we've come from those humble DVD beginnings with these images and, especially, special effects that pop out of the screen in a crisp and wonderfully detailed clarity. High definition has truly arrived!
The film's storyline is very dark, and so is the picture with lots of shadows and plenty of dark corners and crannies. Never the less, the black levels and contrast are pretty much as perfect as you can get. Colour wise, it's just as good too, with skin and flesh tones remaining warm throughout whilst the scenery and locations are so well defined that you could almost reach out and touch them. Then there's the ever improving special effects - with CGI fireworks as realistic as you're likely ever to see and ghosts and spirits that'll lift the hairs on the back of your neck. It simply looks gorgeous! If there's ever a disc that spoils the viewer then this is the one.
As with the picture, the soundtrack is a bit of a cracker too with a choice of 4608 Kbps 5.1 PCM and 640 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. I've often complained then even the best Hollywood blockbuster can neglect the soundtrack, with something a little underwhelming, but with some excellent use of the surround channels (which is hardly - if ever - silent) and more LFEs than I've heard in a long time, it really is a film that will drive your speakers and provide your surround system with a serious workout. Whilst the effect channels are amazing, the dialogue is as good too, with some clear and precise dialogue in the front channels whilst the wonderful Nicholas Hooper score really adds some drama to the proceedings. All in all, it's one of the most involving and satisfying soundtracks you're ever likely to find on any DVD format.
Whilst the picture and sound offer something for the aficionado, the menu system is a little on the bland side - although it may well appeal to the minimalist. Insert the disc and there's no silly adverts for Mars Bars or forthcoming releases you've never heard of, and it wastes no time and goes straight into the film. If you want to access the extras, and there's a interesting collection on offer, then you'll need to access your pop-up menu and access the Special Features. Unfortunately, no time or effort has been spent on making a nicely animated menu system - and it simply gets straight to the facts. Extras wise, there's your usual collection of Featurettes, Deleted Scenes and even a Interactive Feature. Unfortunately, there's no sign of a Audio Commentary - well, on this release, but I dare say that once all of the films have been released and a super-duper complete box-set is released, there could well be a revised set of extras on offer.
The main extra on the disc is the 'in movie' Focus Points feature. Either viewable during the appropriate point in the film, or as individually selectable standalone features, including a 'view all' option which results in a chapter based featurette that runs for over an hour, the many 'making of' mini featurettes offer a highly interesting and detailed insight into the film. Features include looking at the various special effects, the amazingly designed sets (especially the Ministry of Magic) plus the various characters from the film. There's even plenty of interviews with the various cast and crew members and it results in a highly entertaining and interesting feature. Next up is the twenty minute Trailing Tonks: Personal Film Set Tour. Although not as interesting as the previous features, the annoyingly jolly actress Natalia Tenait (who has a minor role as Tonk in the film) still manages to offer a bit of behind-the-scenes information about the mammoth set and the day to day goings on of the crew.
Next up are ten minutes worth of Deleted and Extended Scenes. Being deleted from the film they are not fully rendered with any CGI (as you'd expect really) but it's not as if you'd really notice. In fact, the only thing you will notice are the wonderfully designed and detailed sets in superb high-definition. It's almost as if no expense has been spared here and surely the set designers should be showered with awards for their hard work. However, scene wise, and even without an audio commentary to assist, you can tell why the scenes here were removed. With an already long running time they offered little to the story and, if anything, they slowed everything down too much. Still, it's nice to see them included here - even if an overly long attempt at slapstick by Emma Thompson is a tad grating and I'm very relieved to see it wasn't included in the final cut.
Next up is the forty-four minute The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter: Revisit the First 5 Movies for Clues featurette. Made for television PR fluff to promote the films original theatrical release, it's not as interesting as the featurettes above. Sure, there's plenty of clips from all the films in the series (handy, I guess, if you're new to the series or rather forgetful - a bit like me really) and there's numerous of interviews with major cast members. Never the less, being PR material it's rather stale, uninspiring and doesn't really offer anything new. Still, at least this is an additional feature that wasn't present on the original HD-DVD version. Finally, in the five minute Harry Potter : the Magic of Editing feature, director David Yates and Editor Mark Day are on hand to show us what makes a good edit. But that's not all, this is an interactive featurette that lets all budding directors have a crack at editing the scene too. I guess this is not something that will appeal to younger viewers, but it's actually one of the few interactive features I've seen that I've actually enjoyed messing about with!
All in all, it's a reasonable set of extras made a hundred times better by the inclusion of the Focus Points feature. I think, without this, it would have really taken the shine off what is already a rather cracking disc. It's just a pity that Warner couldn't find the time (or perhaps the space on the disc) to include high-definition versions of the Theatrical Trailers or even a Audio Commentary. Still, I guess you can't have everything and we're not simply overloaded with boring stills from the sets or pages of static text.
As I write this review the sixth instalment of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is still riding high in the cinema charts. So, naturally, there's going to be fair amount of interest in the older films and a revisit, and repackaged re-release, of the existing Blu-Ray releases of Harry Potter would appear to be a good money making move from Warner (not that the Harry Potter franchise has failed to make them - or J.K. Rowling - a massive pile of money). So, with Warner initially supporting the doomed HD-DVD format, when they switched high-definition sides it was inevitable that they'd soon be releasing one of their studio gems on the victorious high definition format - the dollar and pound signs flashing before their eyes made sure of that! Never the less, what we have here is nothing but a triumph for the format.
I'll hold my hand up now and admit that I'm not a fan of Harry Potter. With a contrived plot that sounds too much like so many other fantasy books and some truly appalling acting, it's been a franchise I've duly avoided both on the big and small screen. However, the Harry Potter Blu-Ray titles do produce some superb results - with the ever expanding budgets and CGI technology almost 'show boating' its way through the books in the series and leaving you wondering just what will happen in the next films (assuming you not read the books that is). The Blu-Ray releases of Harry Potter are, without a doubt, a far superior product to the standard DVD releases and it's almost as if the format was invented for them. If you ever needed another excuse to dip your toe into the Blu-Ray arena then this film could be all the convincing you need. It's almost a shame that they're wasted on a younger audience who don't really appreciate the high-definition format. Still, at least the films give a boost to the British actors who appear in the series - and I guess it shows just what a talented bunch they are (and how small a pool of half-decent actors we do have in the UK!)
You could argue that Warner have simply taken their previous HD-DVD release and simply re-released it on Blu-Ray. Fortunately, the difference in available technology has been not been totally forgotten here and, with the extra space now available, there are additional extras to be had and further sound options. Sure, the film is not without its problems (a bit like the books really) but I'd be very surprised if any ardent A/V aficionado didn't have at least one Harry Potter Blu-Ray title on their shelf.
- Focus Points: Featurettes and Production Diaries
- Additional Scenes
- The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter: Revisit the First 5 Movies for Clues
- Trailing Tonks: Personal Film Set Tour
- Harry Potter: The Magic of Editing