Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter (who doesn’t carry out human sacrifices) enters his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Magic (which does not have an agenda of corrupting the children of fundamentalist Christians)  under the cloud of the reemergence of the Death Eaters, Lord Voldemort’s followers.  Additionally, the school will be the site of the famous Tri-Wizard Tournament (which again, doesn’t affect fundie kids in any special way), and somehow, Harry was entered.  Now he must complete three dangerous tasks against three more experienced competitors (none of whom have given themselves to Satan), all the while watching for what is really going on behind the scenes.  Ron and Hermione (not cultists!) are there to help him, but less then usual as puberty has not been kind, particularly to Ron who has grown moody and irrational.  Luckily, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Alastor Moody (yes, the school teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts, not embracing them while drinking the blood of virgins).  He’s erratic, violent, and disagreeable, but he’s the only one helping Harry.

Here we are again.  Another Harry Potter movie, and another batch of insane Christian rantings.  If you haven’t kept up with the misplaced mental workings of our fundamentalist friends, take a look at my review for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It will give you the basics.  Not surprisingly, little has changed in close to five years.  The books still sell millions, and the kids who read them don’t worshiping the Devil.  The movies entertain without breaking the minds of children everywhere, and Christian groups still scream that anything connected to Harry Potter is, “Eeeeeviillll!!!  EEEVVVILLL!”

Reading the reviews in Christian publications, I sway between hysterical laughter and hysterical depression.  At least hysteria is involved either way.  The disconnect with reality is fascinating.  Since their claim is that Harry will lead Children into “witchcraft,” “occultism,” and “Satanism,” I keep wondering where all these witches, occultist, and Satanists are?  Just about every kid in the Western world has read the books.  Shouldn’t we be seeing a huge up-surge in Devil covens by now?  But then, the type of groups these Christians fear have never existed except in their own black hearts and some old Hammer Horror films.  People who call themselves witches don’t make pacts with the Devil.  Members of the Church of Satan don’t even believe in the Devil as an entity (which pretty much just leaves him to the Christians).  No one, anywhere, is sacrificing babies to Lucifer, so fearing that some books and movies are going to swell the ranks of these nonexistent organizations might just be a little paranoid.

For Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, one Christian critic stated how ill she felt knowing that parents who brought their children to the theater weren’t raising them properly, not only because of the lure of witchcraft, but because all of these children would be terrified by the film, would have nightmares, and wouldn’t be able to handle it.  However, by the end of her article she contradicts herself when she says she spoke to parents and found this wasn’t the case.  The kids can enjoy the movie just fine without trauma.  Instead of admitting that her position was wrong to begin with, she just rambles that this is a bad sign.  How, she doesn’t say.

But not all Christian groups oppose Harry and his pals, and these people are almost as funny.  Jeffrey Overstreet of Christianity Today defends The Goblet of Fire saying:

While real-world witchcraft is certainly a dangerous and deceptive practice, more and more Christians are coming to appreciate the way the Potter stories use make-believe magic to illustrate the spiritual conflict in the real world.

And Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films follows that up with:

…the only elements that in any way resemble real-world occult practices are unambiguously evil, from the Unforgivable Curses to the quasi-sacrificial ritual used to restore Voldemort.

So to them, the magic is OK because it isn’t like the magic in our world.  Guess what people—there is no magic in our world!  Zero.  And no one who calls himself a pagan or a witch or an occultist is sacrificing body parts in a big vat.  They might be gazing at some crystals and asking for wisdom from the mother godess (sort of like Christians gazing at a rosary or asking for wisdom from the Father, God).  Did these people learn comparative theology by watching 1950s horror flicks?

Like the three films before it, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire says nothing one way or the other about religion or deities.  And in this episode, where Harry doesn’t have a chance to do anything but react, he isn’t even self motivating.  This is a film that sits out any debates on free thinking, realism, spiritualism, atheism, agnosticism, and theism.

What it does is entertain in a series of wild, effects laden scenes.  There’s a team of pegasi pulling a flying coach.  There’s attacking, acrobatic merfolk.  There’s people transforming into other people, wand duels, and a dizzying, dynamic hedge maze.  And there’s the most realistic dragon made-to-date engaging Harry in an aeronautic duel.  It all looks great.

The story is slightly darker than its predecessors, with unrelenting dangers for our poor, often out of breath hero (well, except for the occasional study session or school dance).  But it doesn’t get any more frightening then a good Halloween party and young children will be awed, not terror-stricken.

New director Mike Newell goes for a more Spartan, old-world look for the school.  The cute pictures and happy ghosts are rarely seen.  To signal their advancement into middle teens, the students are sloppier, with untucked shirts and uncombed hair.  It implies a less Disney fairytale world, and one more fitting to the Brothers Grimm.

As for the plot, it’s best not to look too closely as it will collapse upon inspection.  Everything is based around the villains doing things in the most difficult way possible.  But when the dragon is flying and the magic bolts are whizzing by, you probably won’t care.  Pace is a larger problem.  This is a 2 hour and 37 minute film that should have been about 2 hours.  Yes, the books is much longer and a lot was cut out.  So?  Cut more.  Too many snippets from the book were tossed in just to be there.  Excising the reporter and several love interests would have helped immensely as these go nowhere.  A subplot with Ron turning on Harry should have been cut as well.  It is ludicrous and slow (I’m guessing J.K. Rowling had a really tough time in school if she thinks that this is normal teen behavior), and worst, not entertaining.

But some unnecessary extra material can’t cancel out all of the astonishing moments.  There is plenty of magic (figuratively speaking, for any fearful fundamentalists reading this) in this newest Harry Potter adventure.  Few series are even watchable by the time the fourth film rolls off the line, much less enjoyable for the whole family, even after multiple viewing.  It does lose some of the wonder on the small screen.  If you’re buying the DVD, it might be an excellent time to get that sixty inch TV to go with it.