Edelstein Says Darker "Potter" Is Better

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in scene from movie "Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix."
Sunday Morning movie critic David Edelstein reviews the fifth Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

Oh, sorry, just reading my advance copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." I can't believe she'd kill off — !

Kidding. It's a fake, but I'll be at the bookstore at midnight July 21st along with the other sheep to pick up J.K. Rowling's seventh and last Potter book — and probably be up the whole night to find out if Harry or Hermione or Ron or any other character I care about gets vaporized.

Meanwhile, there's a time-lapse with the movies. On Wednesday, the film of the fifth book opened, to mixed reviews. Not mine; I love it. But some critics found "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" a tad short in the childish wonder department.

They're right. It teems with sexual frustration, madness, Fascism and death. The palette is grainy and dank, the faces gray, the hero's alienation beginning to fester.

Photos: Harry Potter
It's quite a change from director Christopher Columbus's Christmassy first movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which didn't begin to suggest the pagan energy — and anger — out of which the saga was born.

Throughout, the orphaned Harry is a victim of prejudice from humans — a.k.a. Muggles — for being a wizard and bigoted wizards for being half-human — a.k.a. Mudblood. Yet Rowling finds a balance between enchantment and dread. The wizard school, Hogwarts, is magical and liberating but also disciplined — a counterculture without self-destructive excess.

As they've gotten darker, the "Potter" movies have gotten better. In "Prisoner of Azkabhan," director Alfonso Cuaron made the now-pubescent hero's universe tactile. It wasn't a theme park; it was real, Hog-warts and all. Director Mike Newell's "Goblet of Fire" was bloodcurdling — building to Ralph Fiennes' villainous Lord Voldemort reforming out of primordial ooze.

"Order of the Phoenix" is the first social-realist "Potter" movie, with a touch of George Orwell. It's dominated by Imelda Staunton, overacting gleefully as the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge. She's a pink toad, a tea-cozy Fascist who loathes poor Harry. She represents an unchecked executive branch of government — abolishing civil liberties, holding inquisitions at the first whiff of insolence. Director David Yates lets loose with horrific montages to evoke his hero's nightmare inner-world.

The central trio — Daniel Radcliffe's Harry, Emma Watson's Hermione, Rupert Grint's Ron — is on the far side of puberty, which makes me sad. Their aging brings thoughts of their mortality.

I'm loath to predict what the final book will bring, but "Order of the Phoenix" is ominous. How can Harry defeat everything murderously repressive in the world without making the ultimate sacrifice?