Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Money

Now that we are well and truly into the Harry Potter saga (and to judge from the sales for this one over its first week, lots more people are paying money in order to pay attention), it will be well if we take stock of the story and its relative merits. But in order to do so, I must set up a dual frame of reference.

I was riding through Philadelphia this past week and noticed two things-- a house in which Edgar Allan Poe once lived in, with a giant statue of a raven just outside of it, and the ubiquitous billboards advertising the coming Narnia movie. Both of these things are of relevance in analyzing Harry Potter. Having read Poe's stories when I was much younger, I must say that the Harry Potter stories are mostly tame by comparison when it comes to darkness and the dance macabre. When you compare the two bodies of work you wonder why there was so much angst in the Christian community when the Harry Potter novels first came out, and then the movies began to appear. We have been reading dark stories for a long time indeed, even dark children's stories, and there are some merits to doing so--- namely it helps us recognize evil when we see it. In neither the Harry Potter stories nor in Poe's stories (even in the "Pit and the Pendulum") is evil ever portrayed as good, or as finally triumphing over the good.

But as for the comparison with "the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" of course we must reserve judgment until it comes out, but one can say for sure that it will take some doing for it to top this episode in the Harry Potter saga. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has all the elements of a classic story. It has darkness and light, it has humor and suspense, the story is allowed to develop at its own pace, and the characters are stretched by various events to be their best selves. It has a wonderful supporting cast, surprising turns of events, especially at the end, and in the midst of all this we see the three central characters beginning to come of age and grow up. Yet the shortcomings of even Harry Potter are occasionally in evidence as well (he almost fails to rescue a fellow competitor from Hogwart's who is a good lad). It is not a fairy story, it is a mystery.

This particular story is more about plot development than about potion development, and the focus is not really on school life at Hogwarts. Rather the focus is on a three school competition to demonstrate who is the greatest wizard of all. But it is the dark forces lurking around the edges of the competition that provide the compelling subplot and bring Harry face to face with evil incarnate. There is however comic relief in the person of Rita Skeeter, the gossip columnist for the Daily Prophet who's interviews with Harry and others are nothing short of hilarious.

The visuals for this movie are consistently darker than the previous episodes, but with good reason, and there is a nice meshing of CG effects with live action of the cast. One never feels that one is slipping back and forth between a real drama and a cartoon, which is always the danger if the CG is over done or poorly done. Best of all, this movies leaves you wanting to see more and looking forward to the next episode. It does not seek to tie up all the loose ends, yet there is a strong sense of resolution of the plot as the movie winds down to its last few scenes.

At well over two hours this is the longest of the Potter movies, but none of this movie could be called filler or superfluous. It is no small task to do cinematic justice to an interesting and challenging novel that is full of magic and mystery, but this effort of director Newell can be said to have succeeded admirably. Indeed, this movie will bear repeated viewings with profit, but it is a much more adult tale than the previous episodes and a few scenes may be a bit too intense for smaller children. On the whole this is a movie that helps us see the line between good and evil rather clearly, and helps us make the right sort of choices along the way.

8 comments:

jean said...

I read somewhere, sometime, on the "net" that the Christian backlash against Harry Potter was due to taking seriously a post on "Onion".

Ben Witherington said...

This is what happens when you react to something you haven't even read or studied. It makes Christians look stupid.

ap said...

Dr. Ben, I found Goblet's portrayal of Dumbledore quite frustrating. He had none of the air of being in control that Rowling gives him (except in book 6...for debatable reasons). He shouts and is worried in very un-Dumbledore fashion.

Ben Witherington said...

This is a fair point, and it is a bit mystifying. Perhaps the film makers were wary of dominate adult characters who are protagonists lest they over-shadow Harry and the other teens

Greg Hazelrig said...

I agree about Dumbledore. I didn't seem to see the man that I read about in any of the books with the possible exception of her last one. That was my only problem with the movie. I know that they had to replace him in the last movie, but he has changed just too much.

Other than that, I loved this installment. I realize it was very dark, especially when compared with the original. I hope they don't go too far with that.

John said...

Found this one unsurprising – read book – and wished they had spent more time with the adults who seems to ‘bumble along’ in the background. Problems with the superb special effects are that the characters are not believable (poor dialogue) and seem to be ‘unaffected’ by astonishing sights. Until well into the 2nd half of the film everyone seems to be acting out the story rather than being the story.

Anand Paleja said...

Ben,

I disagree with your take on Harry Potter. Teaching children that magic and witchcraft is 'good', contradicts the Bible.

see Galations 5:19-21

yuckabuck said...

This was the first Potter I saw AFTER reading the book, and it affected my enjoyment of it. There were some rough transitions, in which you needed to have read the book to understand the movie.

I am still evaluating John Granger's claim that J.K. Rowling is really a Christian write in the tradition of Tolkien and Lewis, but this quote from an interview with the Vancouver Sun blew my mind away (10/26/00):

Is she a Christian?

''Yes, I am,'' she says. ''Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.''

Anyone who knows of her Christian faith will know how the books will end???? Hmmnn...