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REVIEW: Harry Potter: Technical masterpiece, but far more than child fantasy

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the most anticipated film of the year, opens this Friday, Nov. 16. And depending on your outlook, it will either completely delight you or totally appall you.

Based on the first of J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s novels about Harry Potter, the live-action Warner Brothers adventure tells the story of a boy who learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. Invited to attend “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Harry embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. At Hogwarts, he finds the home and the family he has never had.

While studying how to develop his powers as a wizard, Harry and his pals have several adventures. Some of these escapades are amusing, such as a rugby match on flying broomsticks, while others are a bit more scary, such as a final confrontation with the villain, a snake-like demon who once killed Harry’s parents and now wants to destroy him.

The cinematography, set design and the use of color are breathtaking, exquisite to look at. The splendid recreation of the school and surrounding locations are sure to please Potterophiles. The casting is exceptional, with every actor suited completely to his or her role. The score by the legendary John Williams (“The Cowboys,” “The Reivers,” “Superman,” “E.T.”) may be the best background music composed for a film since “Jaws.” Williams masterfully underscores the tempo and texture of every scene. He gives it credibility and awe. Most won’t even notice it, but together with the screen action, it adds an energy and thrust to the goings-on.

Director Chris Columbus (“Home Alone,” “Adventures in Babysitting”) has kept a faithful eye on Rowling’s first book and manages to extract convincing performances from one and all. As a former screenwriter under the producing tutelage of Steven Spielberg for “Gremlins” and “The Goonies,” Columbus wisely tucked away and now applies every trick of the master’s trade. For example, young Daniel Radcliffe, as Harry Potter, may not be the thespian Haley Joel Osment has proven to be, but Columbus knows how to pluck not just feelings, but moods from his young lead. Like Spielberg, he connects with kids. You can tell that the young cast members trust their director. What’s more, he knows how to maneuver them in such a way that makes us believe they know more than they probably do.

That’s not to slight the work of the film’s younger stars. Each completely captivates the viewer. Radcliffe plays the wonder-struck Harry without precociousness. He’s vulnerable, confident, and flashes a winning smile the camera loves to dwell upon. Rupert Grint plays Harry’s buddy, Ron Weasley. Looking like a cross between a young Mickey Rooney and an even younger Billy Mumy (“Lost in Space’s” Will Robinson), Grint delivers some of the film’s best comic jabs with the humorous dexterity of a comedian many times his age. And Emma Watson as Hermione Granger has the neurotic intelligence of a miniature Holly Hunter. She’s not just playing somebody smart. You can tell, she really is smart.

Steve Kloves (“Racing With the Moon,” “Wonderboys”) reverentially adapts Rowling’s novel. He has seen to it that the wit, the charm and the magic have remained intact.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is simply a masterpiece of technical craftsmanship and a brilliant example of rudimentary storytelling. That said, there is a problem. And that problem rests with its thematic foundation. Many, including this reviewer, believe that Harry Potter is far more than mere children’s fantasy. In truth, there are millions of practicing witches worldwide. Members of Wicca teach a philosophy that embraces no absolute truth or sin, replacing the patriarchal male creator God of the Bible with a belief in both male and female gods. It instructs its members to embrace spirits and how to use spells and curses to control their lives and the lives of others.

Arguably, perceptive children can view such material without succumbing to the snare of the occult. But there are those who view films such as “The Craft” or TV shows such as “Charmed” and find themselves drawn to experimenting with the occult. Unhappy at home, unpopular at school, frustrated with the trials of life, many young ones seek solace in something supernatural. And since Christianity often seems a fanatical part of their parents’ established world, they rebel by delving into the occult. But once ensconced in that dark culture, they find it governing their lives and ultimately destroying their souls.

In a television special titled “Hollywood Spirituality,” which aired last year on E! Entertainment, Raven Mounauni, a professing witch and owner of an occult paraphernalia store, credited the 1996 movie “The Craft” with inspiring young women to explore the world of witches. “I get a lot of teenage girls in here. You can always tell when ‘The Craft’ has been on TV, ’cause we get a big influx of girls looking for supplies.”

Folks, Mounauni said it all. Programs that contain occultic material cause an interest in young people.

Now, I’m not going to tell you not to see this new Harry Potter movie. But, at the very least, I would suggest you keep the door of communication open with your kids concerning the subject of witchcraft. Occult practices shouldn’t be considered just diverting amusement. Ouija boards, psychic readers and other forms of misleading supernatural entertainment should not be taken lightly. In Leviticus 19:26 we are instructed, “Do not practice divination or sorcery.” There are several warnings in the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, making it clear that we are to avoid witchcraft or anything associated with the occult.

So if God is instructing us to avoid occult practices, how can we justify using it to entertain ourselves? God’s Word doesn’t apply to just parts of our lives, but to the sum total — including how we entertain ourselves. If we govern what we support at the box office, it is honoring to God, nurturing to loved ones and a guidepost to those who scrutinize our walk.

The movie is rated PG (no objectionable language other than a couple of questionable exclamations; the film doesn’t seem to show legitimate lessons in learning spells or incantations, but it is full of special effects that portray magic; there are various scenes that may frighten little ones — so many that I was surprised the film only received a PG rating).

A video alternative: “Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged – Making Evil Look Innocent.” This documentary addresses the issue of occultic influence on our society and shows how Rowlings’ book series markets occultism to little ones under the guise of children’s fantasy. Contact your local Christian bookstore and see if they can order it for you.

Another alternative: “E.T.” A young boy befriends a hunted alien in this allegory with similarities to the story of Christ — a sacrificial being comes to earth, giving love and his life for others, dies, comes back from the dead, ascends into the heavens and promises to remain in our hearts. Rated PG for a couple of questionable exclamations, but positive, heart-warming messages. Soon, a new version will be released. In it, director Steven Spielberg has removed one of the offending crudities the younger boy barks at his brother.
Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For more information, click onto his site at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright