This is not a review for Harry Potter devotees. Of course, I have one of them in my family (my sixteen-year-old daughter), although my wife also marginally qualifies. I have read the first two of the books, but never quite felt the need in my busy life to pick up the subsequent books. Maybe I am too old to get into fantasy marketed primarily toward teens and preteens.
Consequently, I came into the latest movie,
I understand the movie is quite faithful to the book, and the material may be my biggest problem. For as Harry Potter fans know, the fourth book continues to take the stories further toward the dark side. Hogwarts, which was fantastic if somewhat cute in the first movie, is now an ominous and scary place. Gracious! If my child had the calling to be a wizard I would send him or her to some school likely to be a whole lot more benign. I certainly would forbid them to participate in events like the Tri-Wizard Tournament. This is a complex and potentially deadly set of games, which happens in this movie to be hosted at Hogwarts. Even gladiator combat seems benign compared to this rough stuff. I cannot imagine why the school’s administrators would encourage students to come out and witness such rough stuff. Of course, Harry, age 14, somehow manages to become a participant in this contest supposedly only for those age 17 or older. This makes complete sense in this fantasy world of course, but throws a discordant note to those of us with children. It deserves its PG-13 rating, although I am sure many parents are taking impressionable children to it anyhow. They should stiffen their resolve and let their children age a bit.
At three hours, the movie is a potential kidney buster. Moreover, it is engaging and well directed. This is the kind of movie that makes you wonder if this world could even be depicted without modern computer-generated imagery. The CGI is in almost every scene. It has become so good that it is becoming almost impossible to distinguish the CGI from much of the live action. While the directing by Mike Newell is nearly as good as Alphonso Cuaron’s direction of the last movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, watching the fourth installment of this series did have me irritated by one big problem.
To be plain: Daniel Radcliffe is not a very good actor. Granted it is tough to find someone who looks like Harry Potter who is also a decent actor. The good news is that Newell does a decent job of getting the most out of Radcliffe during his scenes. The problem is that there is not much native talent for Newell to draw from. While marginally better than Orlando Bloom, one has to wonder if maybe it was time for Radcliffe to drop out of the series. There must be better talent out there than him. Nevertheless, like the Lord of the Rings movies, the ensemble seems to be stuck together for the duration of the series. The problem is that by portraying the key character in such a mediocre fashion, the whole movie and the whole series is brought down a notch. This is a shame. Fortunately the otherwise fine directing and seamless special effects make up for much of Radcliffe’s mediocrity.
At least the movies are improving. The first two, directed by Chris Columbus, were pedestrian efforts. With so much money to spend and a guaranteed audience, the producers can take time to find the excellent talent they need to up the quality level. If only they would change Daniel Radcliffe!
So most likely even if you are a Harry Potter neophyte you will enjoy the movie. You may find yourself lost at times, as I was, by the sometimes-baffling array of characters coming and going. A lot of the fun and humor in the movie is dependent upon having thoroughly read the books. Otherwise, odd scenes like Ladies of Beauxbatons sashaying down the main hall at Hogwarts seem unnecessary. For me it was a solid B+ of a fantasy movie.
3.1 on my 4.0 scale. I enjoyed the last movie a bit more, perhaps because it was shorter and easier to follow.