Sunday, December 11, 2005

Movie Review: Harry Potter IV 

Last night we celebrated the week before my birthday. Birthdays aren't really confined to a 24 hour period in my family. They're more like an evolving festive process that can take anywhere from a week up to a month or two.

In this case, my desired gift was a night out at the movies. Sharon and I scoured the newspaper for a worthwhile grownup movie but only found artistic variations on the theme of garbage -- which really is best watched at home -- so in the end, we settled for Plan B: taking the kids to see the latest Harry Potter flick.

I'll structure my review primarily around the the awards I think the film deserves. This should help us all start getting into the mood for Oscars since it 'tis the season -- Academy hype starts earlier every year, with Holiday-Tree-Rollout and Oscar-Hype mandatory now even before the pumpkins start to rot.

So, with little further ado, since I'm running a little low on that, here are my Harry Potter IV (4) movie awards:

This year's award for most improved actor in a Harry Potter movie goes to....

Harry Potter. I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed with his progress. I had entered the film expecting to give this Harry Potter character an award for best computer generated lifeform, but it turns out it's really been a young actor named Daniel Radcliff all along. Very clever. He actually came across as vaguely humanoid this time and delivered a few lines well within that subtle area that is neither a hoarse shout nor a montone intonation. Well done Harry.

The award for most annoying body part goes to....

Hermione's eyebrows. I'm sorry, I know it's cruel, but someone has to say it. She has done some decent acting in the previous versions. But this time I wanted to jump into the screen to inject her eyebrows with a healthy dose of botox before they actually detached from her face.

The award for least frightening frightening-character goes to....

Lord Voldem... Vold.... Vvvv Vo... You Know Who. Come on, let's be serious, is that the best they could do? It's like they figured hiring Michael Jackson's prosthetic technician to tape Ralph Fiennes' nose down flat would be enough to freak us all out. It didn't work. Ralph Fiennes, a very scary guy when Spielberg just let him stretch his pot belly muscles, didn't manage to carry through on the effect with Michael's scary sense of circus sideshow-manship. I would have prefered less makeup and more character to convey the evil. Snape shows more disdain with a single blink. Honestly, I thought the scariest character in the whole film was really Professor McGonnagall. I'm sure Ron Weasley would agree.

Since I brought along my two older daughters, aged 8 and 7, I'll give another award in their honor. The prize for the moment that brought me closest to dragging them out of there with my hands clamped over their eyes was....(envelope please)...

The preview for King Kong that ran before Harry Potter even started.

Yes indeed, King Kong looks like one nasty little gigantic film. Of course I could be wrong. Based on previews, my instincts also told me that Titanic and Dirty Dancing would be among the worst films ever released. And while I may not have been too far off the mark, they did do some pretty good box office anyway.

Next up, the award for biggest plot hole goes to....

...Please cover your eyes for the following paragraph unless you have already seen the movie or read the book, or at least had someone already spoil it by spilling the beans, or if you don't really care and plan not to bother watching the movie or reading the book. What follows could be considered at least a hint of a spoiler. Now that we've ruled out those four people, the envelope please...

This year's biggest plot hole in a Harry Potter movie is... the complete absence of the Marauder's Map from the film, despite the fact that in the previous movie it gave Harry an unheeded hint that (earlier movie spoiler alert...) sometimes a rat is just a rat, and sometimes it's not. It's also a little odd that Dumbledore, the greatest wizard in the world, or at least one of the top three, seems oddly clueless about certain things. You could blame it on JK Rowling, but that would be heresy, for her creation is perfect and beyond reproach. Besides, plot holes pretty much disappear when they are buried amidst 900 pages of surrounding brilliance. No, I blame the executive producers and the key grip.

I'll end with the question I was asking myself before we went to the film: Is Harry Potter IV, The Goblet of Fire appropriate for children between the ages of 7 and 10?

I ended up taking my two girls, leaving home the four year old, since they had been through all 6 books already, and all three prior movies, and showed every sign of mustering sufficient bravery to muddle through the rough parts in order to see the scenes about boys and girls and dating and dancing. In the end, they really enjoyed it, even though they did admit it was scarier than they had expected.

The movie really is significantly more intense than earlier ones, and I would recommend thinking very carefully before taking younger kids. It's a very close call and if you were to tell your kids they should wait another year or two until it comes out on 3-d holocube, I would back that up as a not unreasonable position. But if you do take them they will probably really love it and thank you a ton.

But you should consider getting them to sign some sort of a waiver for their long-term emotional well-being before you bring them, you know, so you can't be held liable for any future therapy bills. Or skip it. They'll probably be fine.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: