Home > Reviews > HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX – Nicholas Hooper


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s always enormously gratifying when a new, untested composer gets a chance to score a major, high-profile studio film for the first time in their career. While others may have wrung their hands in anguish about Nick Hooper’s appointment to score the fifth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I always tend to see these things as a mouth-watering prospect, full of potential. Remember, Howard Shore was the creepy thriller composer before Lord of the Rings came along. Even John Williams was typecast as a silly comedy/disaster movie composer before two unknown directors called Steven Spielberg and George Lucas came along and got him to score their little movies. On Order of the Phoenix, it’s the daunting shoes of Williams that Hooper has to fill, which is no mean feat in itself, and his career may fly or flounder purely on the response to his score for, and the box-office performance of, this film.

For those of you who have been living on Mars for the last few years, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth film based on the indescribably successful series of books by author J.K. Rowling, and follows the adventures of young wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry witnessed the rebirth of his nemesis, the evil warlock Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), at the end of the fourth film, and is now determined to warn the wizarding world about the impending arrival of the most dangerous magician the world has ever known – the only problem is that, by and large, no-one believes him. So despite the threats coming from the Ministry of Magic, Harry and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) team up with a clandestine organization named the Order of the Phoenix – the majority of whose members are Hogwarts teachers and wizards loyal to the school – to stop Voldemort’s plans. In the meantime, Harry has to deal with the usual trials and tribulations of teenage life, including his first romance, and a horrific teacher named Dolores Umbridge, sent to Hogwarts by the Ministry to quell the spreading rumors.

The adult cast of Order of the Phoenix is a veritable who’s who of British acting talent: Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis and Julie Walters are joined by newcomers Helena Bonham-Carter and Imelda Staunton. The director is David Yates, a veteran of numerous BBC dramas, including the BAFTA-winning Sex Traffic and The Way We Live Now. Hooper’s attachment to the project is solely because of Yates’s involvement: Yates and Hooper have worked together five times before, including two of Hooper’s five BAFTA-nominated scores.

But, as I said, it’s daunting enough to follow John Williams; Hooper has to not only follow Williams, but also Patrick Doyle, who wrote the best score of 2005 for the last Hogwarts adventure, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Thankfully, Hooper’s end result is pleasing, if not as groundbreaking or memorable as its predecessors. Like Doyle did, Hooper uses Williams’ familiar main theme from the series in several key locations. In the main title theme, “Another Story”, it receives dark and foreboding statement. In “The Hall of Prophecies”, it receives arguably its darkest recapitulation yet, while in “The Journey to Hogwarts” it is strident and full of purpose.

There are two main new themes: firstly, a saccharine-sweet, irritatingly pompous, but wholly appropriate little march for prancing strings and twinkling glockenspiels for the despicable Dolores Umbridge, which gets its concert performance in the eponymous second cue, and appears later in the gossamer-like “The Room of Requirement” and the playful “Umbridge Spoils and Beautiful Morning”. The second, more insidious theme is the ‘Possession Theme’, which underscores the mental aspect of Harry’s battle with Lord Voldemort, and is identified through a series of soft, sinister, appropriately snake-like string fugues which churn away under the music in “Possession”, “The Sirius Deception”, and others as Voldemort slowly begins to unveil his horrible plan.

The action music is, at times, surprisingly bold, as befits the darker, more serious and more mature tone director Yates has given the film as a whole. The opening cue, “Fireworks”, is sprightly Irish-tinged jig embellished by outrageously anachronistic wailing electric guitars, which sound as though they should be totally out-of-place, but actually work very well in the context of the scene they are written for. “Dementors in the Underpass” has a cacophony of voices – simultaneously unnerving and angelically beautiful – juxtaposed by brass stingers and thrashing strings. The second half of the aforementioned “The Hall of Prophecies” rolls tumultuously with more slashing strings and a strong percussion element. “The Death of Sirius” is hugely dramatic, as one might expect, and features a wonderfully exciting middle-section which seemingly echoes Patrick Doyle’s percussion-driven action music from Goblet of Fire.

Elsewhere, a defiantly English-sounding theme for an ebullient clarinet and more prancing strings anchors “Dumbledore’s Army”, which fleshes itself out into an entrancing call-and-response theme with heroic, Hook-esque overtones during the finale of “The Room of Requirement”, and as a majestic finale to “The Sirius Deception”. Harry’s much-anticipated first kiss with Cho Chang in “The Kiss” is scored with admirable subtlety, with chimes and glockenspiels accompanying soothing, romantic strings as Harry embarks on his first, hesitant juvenile romance. The mordant “Darkness Takes Over” is the closest Hooper comes to recapturing the overpowering sense of dread in Patrick Doyle’s finale. Surprisingly, the score’s most pointedly emotional moment is the seemingly throwaway cue for “The Sacking of Trelawney”, which simply drips with string-led pathos.

However, having said all that, there are still two things which prevent Order of the Phoenix from becoming all it can be. The first is “memorability”. Whereas in both Williams’ and Doyle’s scores their themes stuck with you, and became part of the fabric of the Harry Potter universe, Hooper’s music is more ingrained as underscore, in the purest sense of the word. Some cues are little more than elongated chord progressions which hint at emotions rather than performing identifiable thematic content. Others are dissonant, angry and quite coarse. Others still provide merest hints and thematic fragments which tantalize the listener into wanting a fuller statement, but in the end seem just a touch frustrating.

The second problem is one of tone: Hooper’s score is, for the vast majority of its running time, light and airy, and almost fluffily upbeat, which seemingly stands at odds with the increasingly dark and dangerous nature of Rowling’s story, and Yates’s film. Whereas one could feel the sense of loneliness and isolation in Prisoner of Azkaban, or the sense of overwhelming dread and portent in Goblet of Fire, someone could quite easily mistake Order of the Phoenix for a light-hearted caper based on Hooper’s music alone. Whether there is more “tone-appropriate” music in the film which does not appear on the album is yet unknown, but as it stands the album would not seem to give a true representation of the nature of the film it accompanies.

Still, irrespective of these criticisms, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix remains an enjoyable score in its own right, and more than vindicates the decision of those who stuck to their guns and fought for Nicholas Hooper to get this assignment. In the bigger scheme of things, Phoenix is arguably the weakest score of the five to date, but this should not be seen as a pointed criticism of Hooper. He is clearly a man of considerable musical talent and, although Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is unlikely to be a true representation of his musical voice, I hope we have chance to hear more of it on similarly high-profile films before he returns to the franchise with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2008.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Fireworks (1:51)
  • Professor Umbridge (2:37)
  • Another Story (2:43)
  • Dementors in the Underpass (1:47)
  • Dumbledore’s Army (2:44)
  • The Hall of Prophecies (4:29)
  • Possession (3:22)
  • The Room of Requirements (6:11)
  • The Kiss (1:58)
  • A Journey to Hogwarts (2:56)
  • The Sirius Deception (2:38)
  • The Death of Sirius (4:00)
  • Umbridge Spoils a Beautiful Morning (2:42)
  • Darkness Takes Over (3:00)
  • The Ministry of Magic (2:50)
  • The Sacking of Trelawney (2:17)
  • Flight of the Order of the Phoenix (1:36)
  • Loved Ones & Leaving (3:16)

Running Time: 52 minutes 57 seconds

Warner Bros. 148156 (2007)

Music composed by Nicholas Hooper. Performed by The Chamber Orchestra of London. Conducted by Alastair King. Orchestrations by Geoff Alexander, Julian Kershaw, Alastair King, Bradley Miles and Simon Whiteside. Original Harry Potter themes by John Williams. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin. Edited by Graham Sutton. Album produced by Nicholas Hooper.

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