Monday, November 21, 2005

I Put A Spell On You!

Normally, I don't bother with movie reviews, mainly because they never conform to my taste in movies. Any medium which says Moulin Rouge is a great movie but gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a mediocre panning is clearly lacking in credibility. However, I decided to break with this prohibition and actually read Focus on the Family's review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I also went to see last night.

I have to confess to some bias before I begin, though. First, I loved the movie. It was head-and-shoulders above the other three, which are all decent flicks in their own right. Second, as I noted below, I was rather annoyed that this bastion of family values dedicated time on its site for picking on an innocuous kid's movie while ignoring the latest Republican effort to further oppress the poverty stricken. However, despite my inclination towards thinking the reviewer was probably a loon from the outset, I still found some very interesting things in this review.

Some choice bits:

Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore calls for unity, friendship and cooperation among students from different schools and cultures.

This was listed under the "Positive Elements" portion of the review, and while it seems innocent enough, one has to remember that this is Focus on the Family's review of the movie. Given that, it's obvious that the reviewer went a bit off the reservation here. After all, one of the different schools was from France of all places, and we know that good "Family" members can't trust those atheistic, terrorist-loving near-communists. Even worse, the all-male Russian (aka: Communist) school made their big entrance with a coordinated dance number! All that was missing were the rainbow lapel pins and hammer-and-sickle cuff links.

Without magic and the occult there is no story. Supernatural goings-on inhabit every corner of the film. Harry and others fly on brooms, wield magic wands and utter incantations. Humans are transformed into animals and "hybrids." Words recited skyward cause clouds to form dark, foreboding symbols. Objects are endowed with the ability to transport anyone touching them from one place to another.


While navigating the hedge maze, a competitor is "bewitched".


A disturbing scene in a graveyard finds one of Voldemort's toadies tossing the shriveled wizard into a cauldron before adding other ingredients (including his own hand) that fuel a macabre transformation. The spirits of Voldemort's most recent kills appear to Harry and talk to him.

All of this lovely spoilage was listed under the "Spiritual Content" heading, which is puzzling. First, I have to wonder exactly what the review was looking for when bemoaning the focus on "magic and the occult"? The story's about a bunch of student wizards at a school for such. You know, without all the "supernatural goings-on" in the Left Behind series, there would be no story at all. There is nothing in Harry Potter that is any wierder than the Bible, and yet the reviewer is clearly panning this fine example of miracles and providence. Of course, it bears mentioning that if magic cups and spells constitute spritiuality, then my Dungeons & Dragons campaign back in the 90's earns me a divinity degree.

[T]he camera lingers on a group of girls' backsides wiggling in unison. While dancing with a woman, Hagrid's hand wanders south of her waist (she is quick to move it back).

A giggling female ghost makes a game out of trying to see Harry naked through the suds of his bath.

While the average Puritan may be hesitant to take his goodwyfe to this film, these examples of sexual content are probably safe enough for the average "Family" member. The girls were just doing an interpretive dance, no worse than Salome to Solomon. Hagrid's a seven-foot tall man dancing with a nine-foot tall woman! Where else was he to put his hand? I note the glaring omission of how his head rested on her naughty pillows, as well. As for Moaning Myrtle's "game", what of it? Good natured fun. Who hasn't wanted to play a rousing game of "Button, Button, Who has the button?" with the dead girl living in their toilet?

The Death Eaters, a sinister, Klan-like group with pointy black hats, crash the Quidditch World Cup event, creating chaos and decimating a campground by hurling fireballs (Harry gets knocked unconscious).


[H]e's bitten on the hand by an owl and a bowlful of squirming "snacks".


Professor Snape whacks disruptive boys over the head with a book.

Nothing about the Death Eaters is similar to the Klan, except for the pointy hats. By that rationale, many others are "Klan-like", including the Keebler elves and the Travelocity gnome. As for the other examples of violence, they're awfully tame compared to, say, The Passion of the Christ, although perhaps in the metaphysical calculus used by Focus on the Family to determine a movie's fitness, piety outweighs violence by a stark weighting.

Some images (skulls, serpents, headstones, etc.) may not be spiritual or violent per se, but they convey an aura of wickedness and death.

Finally, we have this little tidbit under "Other Negative Effects", which really just caps off the sanctimonious handwringing of this review. How any self-respecting member of "The Family" can be uncomfortable with images of death really calls into question the strength of their faith. And, really, a snake is just a snake, even if they do give bad moral advice.

All in all, it was a great movie and I highly recommend it. Focus on the Family is, as usual, far off into the right wing netherworld on their critique of the film. For everyone else living in reality, where ghosts and magic are make-believe, it's an enjoyable ride, though probably not appropriate for young kids.

In closing, I just have to say that after watching four Harry Potter movies, I'm more convinced than ever that my parents were negligent for not sending me to Hogwarts. I would have fit in much better there and likely learned a more interesting trade.

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