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.

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