'Harry' gets scary, parents be wary

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Harry Potter" isn't cute anymore.

And I don't mean just the zits and 5-o'clock shadow that are starting to make it tough for Daniel Radcliff to play our magical boyish hero, and that the geeky cast of lads that are starting to look more like rejects from London's underground punk band revival than pretty little elfin people.

Gone is most of the happy humor and warm moments of the first few flicks in the series based on J.R. Rowling's impossibly popular books. The new installment, "Harry Potter: Goblets of Fire" is more dark and brutal and bloody. In fact, it's become pretty nightmarish stuff, the climactic scenes stretching the PG-13 envelope, and parents may want to think twice about taking small children to this "children's movie."

In this installment, Harry is suffering from troubling dreams that foreshadow the return of evil Lord Voldemort, while he unwittingly becomes a competitor in the Tri Wizard tournament between three schools full of teenage wizards and witches.

Harry has to wrestle dragons, grow gills for underwater daring, defeat the devilish underworld, battle Death Eaters and an endless maze, and perhaps the scariest challenge of all for a 14-year old, ask a girl to the holiday dance.

It proves out that Harry is too busy for the babes, anyway.

For well over two-and-a-half long hours, he must fight his way through one impossible sorcery scrape after another.

There is murder and other harsh mayhem in The Goblet of Fire, but it is still a cut above the other movies today that have adopted the gratuitous death tolls of a video-game age. Harry Potter manages more plot and style than that, although a lot of the subtext of the massive book could not be included.

For action adventure fans, this is probably the Best of the Harry Potter series. The special effects are incredible.

But at the same time, it has lost most of the naive, magical childlike appeal that made young families wait with baited breath for the next adventure.

Still, on a Saturday night at the Vista III, a not-so-gracefully aging boy hero Harry Potter packed the big room to capacity, a feat that nothing else, even Oscar contenders, can do any more. A lot were adults without kids, too.

It goes to show how hungry families are for decent youth entertainment. The rest of the stuff out there is mostly cookie-cutter goth horror, mindless attempts at sophomoric humor, and an endless stream of computer-produced numbing kiddie animation. So it's too bad Harry Potter has to grown up - we could use more like him, or at least like the way he started out to be.

Thumbs halfway up - a great adventure and a good story, but too long and too violent for a youth movie.