The fourth Harry Potter film has arrived, and Tammy and I (thanks to my parents' willingness to spend the evening with Sarah Grace and Annalise) have already had the chance to see it -- something of a rarity in this stage of our lives.
First, our reaction -- we loved it. Tammy summed it up best as we were retiring for the evening last night -- she said "Don't you want to go back to the movie and be with the people in it?" What a great summary of the feeling the books inspire. What I've always loved about Rowling's style is that she captures a sense of rightness about a place. Hogwarts is not unlike Camelot -- a dreamy ideal place that enchants and delights -- it is warm and safe and good. When I finish the books, I want to go back, because the place feels right!
That's where the third film went horribly wrong for me -- it focused so much on darkness and angst that it feld there was nothing at stake. Hogwarts and the people there were not portrayed with any warmth or affection. And I was glad to leave the theatres. However in this fourth film, there is warmth, affection, friendship, and goodness. Indeed, everything that drives the plot is the threat to the idyllic world of Hogwarts.
That said - the film recaptures the importance of the friendship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It rightly puts the Weasly twins as the center of comic relief (it also introduces some wonderful business with Filch and Dumbledore that is subtle, but very very funny -- watch for the premature shooting of cannons). Ralph Fiennes nails Voldemort, but Brendan Gleeson steals the show as Mad Eye Moody. (see comments from IMDB for more reviews of the content.) Finally, there is no fat in the film -- the narrative is lean and every scene propels us forward.
Now, as to a Christian perspective -- (see other Christian reviews at Christianity Today's website). The first issue that arises is one of the use of magic -- for me this is a total non-issue. This is an imaginative world in which magic is portrayed not as occult practice, but a quasi-scientific development of fantastic gifts. In many ways, the rules of magic in this series are not that different from the rules of science in the superhero sagas of Marvel comics (watch X Men sometime for a close parallel - mutants with inborn fantastic powers who have to develop their skills and stay hidden from public view).
What is really important in this magical realm are the choices people make -- the lines between good and evil, between self aggrandizement and self sacrifice. Here we find ourselves on much more solid ground (though not as solid as we could hope). Harry clearly inhabits a moral world with something worth protecting from the forces of evil. The story clearly lauds the value of friendship and self-sacrifice.
However, because this is a world in which evil operates and tries to destroy good things, it is also a terrifying world. These are not stories for little children. I would suggest that a child ought to be as old as Harry (at this point, 14) to read and appreciate the books and the films.
There's so much we could discuss on this -- but it's bathtime for Sarah Grace, and I've got to go!
Soli Deo Gloria