Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
In order to get into a preview of Harry Potter the 4th my seven year old and I had to get up at the crack of dawn, drive for an hour out into the burbs, then queue another hour in a line that snaked out of the cinema, out of the shopping mall, and into the wet and windy parking lot. Breakfast was popcorn and frozen yoghurt.
And the movie? Like the breakfast, it was tasty enough for a while but ultimately rather indigestible. I would estimate my son spent about sixty of the whopping 157 minute running time with his head buried - turtle-like - in his sweater. You see, Harry is growing up, and the series is becoming darker around him. Which is fine for children who started out his peers, but is not such great news for parents of younger kids who have been infected with Potter-mania in the interim.
That said, my son didn't seem to mind self-censoring the scary stuff, and far as I can tell appears undamaged by the experience. It's also the case that while Goblet of Fire deserves its 12A certificate (it's PG-13 in the US) director Mike Newell has shied away from anything too violent. Sometimes bewilderingly so. When the Quidditch World Cup is disrupted by supernatural terrorists, Newell not only cuts away from the attack - even the aftermath is just a barren field. If you haven't read the book, you'd be puzzled. I can say this with complete confidence, not having read it myself.
Like his predecessors in the director's chair, Newell is hamstrung by the need to cram a huge book (734 pages) into feature-length without leaving out any thing which might upset author JK Rowling or her gazillion fans. The result is unwieldy. The backbone of the narrative this time is the Tri-wizard tournament, in which 14-year-old Harry is a surprise fourth entrant. Each of the contestants has to best a dragon - but there simply isn't time to show us the first three encounters, we only have eyes for Harry. (Perhaps they will show up as DVD supplements?)
As I say, Harry is growing up fast. Though not as fast as actor Daniel Radcliffe, who looks all of his 16 years. He's not only facing down dragons; at least as much screen time concerns his quest to find a date for the New Year ball and a jealous tiff with pal Weasley (Rupert Grint).
Perplexingly, Weasley asks one girl for a date and goes to the ball with someone else entirely without any explanation - but perhaps I misunderstood. No prizes for guessing that neither date is Hermione: Weasley and HP must be the only adolescent boys on the planet who don't appreciate Ms. Granger's charms.
Nevertheless, Harry remains a steadfast friend. You might wish that his triumphs in the various challenges before him involved some ingenuity on his part, and not just the intervention of powers both beneficent and malign, but at least he proves his virtue: he's a decent enough hero when all is said and done.
The movie's entertainment values are familiar by now: it's packed to the gills with splendidly elaborate special effects which manage to be both wonderfully spectacular and credibly integrated into the Hogwarts' universe (the Quidditch stadium, the dragon, and a maze more fiendish even than the one from The Shining are particularly impressive). But the sfx are matched by the larger the life characterisations of a stellar (mostly) British cast. Standouts this time are Brendan Gleason as 'Mad Eye' Moody, and Shirley Henderson in a delightful cameo as Moaning Myrtle.
At last this series is accumulating some welcome emotional ballast to shore up its wizz-bang set pieces and eccentric comic accoutrements. But it would be even better if the producers would bite the bullet and distill the book for cinema release, and keep the full unedited version for DVD. Goblet of Fire is still trying to do both with decidedly patchy results.