Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
3 / 5 Stars
Nicholas Hooper\'s involvement with the Harry Potter feature film franchise makes him the fourth composer to work on the series. John Williams\' score to the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer\'s Stone established a few themes, including the primary "Hedwig\'s Theme" (though what Hedwig has to do with the main theme is still a mystery). The second film saw Williams\' return, along with some additional help by William Ross. The third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was arguably one of the best films in the series, and the score was equally just as wonderful - once again, by John Williams. However, he was not to return, and Patrick Doyle took over the reigns for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Eschewing all of the themes - except for "Hedwig\'s Theme" - in lieu of his own, Doyle composed a love theme for Harry Potter ("Harry in Winter"), as well as a dark theme for Lord Voldermort.
Now for the fifth outing, director David Yates brought along his long-time composer, Nicholas Hooper. Primarily known for his work on British television, Hooper had a formidable challenge ahead of him: would a relatively unknown composer be able to pick up where a master like John Williams and an A-list composer like Patrick Doyle had left off? Would he be able to hold his own against these film music superstars? The answer is not as easy as a simple "yes" or "no. Rather, while Hooper strives to achieve thematic and stylistic congruence with the palette that Williams had created, the end result is mixed, with the effort being noteworthy, but the album ultimately leaving the listener unsatisfied.
The primary purpose of a score is, first and foremost, to work with the film that it\'s composed for. In that respect, Hooper\'s score to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is successful, but not a standout. While there was over two hours of score in the film, the album (which runs about 52 minutes long) contains all of the cues that stood out as worth listening to in the film. New themes are presented - a slightly quirky, playful theme for Professor Umbridge, a very subtle "possession theme", and a theme for Dumbledore\'s Army. They maintain a Williams "sensibility", especially in the orchestration and development, but never seem to hit that level of musical satisfaction that Williams has been able to effortlessly achieve.
There are nods (whether intentional or otherwise) to Williams\' Dementors music in "Dementors in the Underpass", and even a few times that I felt the "Window to the Past" theme from Azkaban was going to be used. The opening album track is a fun jig-type number called "Fireworks", which takes place in the last third of the film. There\'s an electric guitar here, which seems out of place given the rest of the Harry Potter scores, but it only shows up once (and is buried in the film, if it was there at all). It\'s a fun track and gives the listener hope for what will follow. The big new theme for the film is presented in "Professor Umbridge", a playful ditty that builds in intensity - reminding me a little bit of Williams\' score to Hook - but not in a bad way. Another Williams-inspired melody is heard in "Dumbledore\'s Army", as a slowly building melody takes shape. It\'s uplifting and well done, but it doesn\'t really show up again on the disc. "The Ministry of Magic" is a solid track, with playful glockenspiel and descending strings that remind me of the beginning of the Les Miserables musical. And of course "Hedwig\'s Theme" shows up a few times, mainly at key moments, and it\'s nicely used ("Another Story", "A Journey to Hogwarts")
The music that Hooper wrote is pleasant, and works fine in the film for the most part, but a cue like the "Hall of Prophecies", which underscores a life-threatening action sequence, is diminished to a steady fugue-like string run with occasional timpani rolls. Yes, it\'s Williamsesque, but it didn\'t add to the sense of danger in the film. Similarly, with a track called "The Kiss", you would hope for a more romantic melody than slowly swelling chords.
The album is presented out of film order. In fact, it\'s so "random" that I have to wonder if someone accidentally hit the shuffle button before burning the album master! The flow is not entirely bad, but when the big album climax is a rousing cue ("Flight of the Order of the Phoenix") that actually takes place ten minutes into the film, it certainly begs the question of whether or not there was a solid climax in the film at all. What would have been the climax is planted in the center of the album ("The Death of Sirius"), and the album ends on a somewhat neutral note ("Loved Ones and Leaving").
Nicholas Hooper undoubtedly faced a lot of pressure when writing the score to this film, and it\'s unfair in many respects to hold his feet to the fire for not hitting the ball out of the park on his first try. It\'s a decent and somewhat enjoyable score, but it just doesn\'t really grab hold, even after multiple listens. With David Yates supposed to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it stands to reason that Hooper will be back for a second go. While I hope that his next chance wows me, I am still holding my fingers crossed that Alfonso Cuaron and John Williams will return for the final film in the series.
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