Day By Day

Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- Some Thoughts

"She Who Must Not Be Named" and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie today. This is the fourth in the series, all starring the same ensemble cast. The cast includes some of the finest acting talent in Britain and Ireland and, to be sure, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, et. al. turn in their standard high-quality but all too brief performances. There are a couple of really outstanding parts. Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as the big bad guy, and Brendan Gleeson has a lot of fun as the new "defense against the dark arts" professor. Their performances alone are worth the price of admission.

Most of the baggage is carried by the trio of young actors we have watched grow up on the screen. Dan Radcliffe is adequate in the lead part that unfortunately does not much test his talents. Basically, he is called upon to do little more than alternatively look troubled and heroically determined. He's got those down pat, now let's see something more. Rupert Grint in the best buddy role is rapidly maturing as an actor. In the past he was only goofy or distressed. Now he has a darker side that he plays well. He's going to be interesting to watch as he matures into more complex roles. The real revelation is Emma Watson as Hermione. Her role contains a fair amount of complexity. She has to deal with a suitor, an awakening awareness that she is drawn to Rupert Grint's character, disappointment, anger, frustration, motherly concern, and the transition from precocious child to beautiful young adult, and she's believable in all these aspects. There are three or four scenes where she adds little bits of business to her part that are absolutely spot on. I don't know if they came from her or from the director, Mike Newell, but hers is a wonderfully sophisticated piece of work for a young star. I should also mention Matthew Lewis in what was formerly just a comic bit part, but here acquires some real depth. He's someone to keep an eye on.

What else to say? The narrative at nearly two and a half hours feels rushed. Supposedly the studio at one point considered dividing the book into two movies, but ultimately decided on one continuous story. The result is that there is just too much being shoehorned into the film. But fans won't mind, and would resent leaving anything out. And this is more than anything a movie for fans.

The FX? Passable. The technology just keeps getting better and better. The imagined world is starting to open up to include fascinating glimpses of international sports organizations and rival wizards schools. Cinematography good with lots of pretty establishing shots. Hogwarts keeps growing. This time it's HUGE! All in all, "Goblet of Fire" is an enjoyable film, especially if you have read the books or followed the series to date and don't have to be filled in on details, such as "who is Hagrid?"

It's worth your while..., check it out.

Some notes on the political dimensions of Harry Potter's universe:

There are some points in the film that resonate interestingly with current political debates centering on the Iraq war.

1) It is clear that the Wizards Council is quite willing to engage in torture of "deatheaters" to gain vital information.

2) The prison conditions at Azkaban seem to be even worse than Abu Ghraib.

3) When Harry's nerve falters, as it seems to be doing for many Congresscritters, Dumbledore admonishes him to "do what's right, not what's easy."

4) It is made quite clear that once Harry embarks on a venture, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, that is extremely dangerous, there is no turning back. He has to "stay the course."

5) When a major character dies, Dumbledore gives a speech in which he admonishes the mourners to continue the struggle against evil in order to make sure that he will not have "died in vain."

All of which leads me to wonder -- Is Dumbedore a "neo-con?"

Actually [here we go again...] there'a a serious point here. The Harry Potter movies present a vision of heroic service that is quite consonant with major themes being articulated from the White House, but that seem incomprehensible or repulsive to many of the administration's critics.

Which leads me to wonder, is the heroic ethic put forth in Rowling's books and in these immensely popular movies -- an ethic that millions of parents feel is appropriate for their children to absorb -- in any way consonant with the realities of today's American political culture? Or is Harry [and perhaps Dubya] a figure out of his time, a heroic model that has no place in today's world and can only exist in a fantasy environment?

Basically, I am asking whether or not America today can tolerate or support heroic effort outside of Hogwarts or Middle Earth.

Stay tuned....

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