The first reviews are in for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”: the Vatican gives the flick a thumbs up.
L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, praised the sixth installment in the boy-wizard movie series, saying the film clearly frames the good vs. evil battle and strikes the “correct balance” in its handling of teenage Harry and his hormones.
The approval from Rome may not seem a big deal, especially for a film that’s likely to reap a non-denominational box office bonanza from the moment it hits theaters Wednesday. But the positive review serves as a thoughtful and welcome rebuttal to the fundamentalist leaders who long have foolishly derided J.K. Rowling’s books as, at best, anti-religious, and, at worst, an endorsement of Satanism.
It wasn’t long ago that the Potter novels were greeted in some small-minded circles with goblets of fire, in the form of Nazi-like book burnings, amid Salem-like cries of witchcraft. More recently, a conservative Austrian priest declared the books satanic. The Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner, who reportedly also suggested that Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of punishing New Orleans, lost out on a promotion from the Pope over his various ill-received comments.
Rowling’s Potter books aren’t overtly religious – there’s not much mention of a higher power other than that Harry and his pals celebrate Christmas. (Hey, who wouldn’t want to wake up to a new, homemade Weasley sweater every Dec. 25th?)
Read into the Potter series what you want: Good usually wins over evil in Rowling’s world of wizardry, but not without great sacrifice. For some, the books and movies simply represent strong story telling, while others will search for “Narnia”-style religious allegories.
A dangerous few – some of whom, no doubt, never read a word of the books or saw a minute of the movies – will find an excuse to rile up people with silly, fear mongering talk of the occult.
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In a sign of progress, the only major controversy surrounding the new movie appears to be its release date – some fans are still miffed that the film didn’t come out this past November as originally announced.
Boycotts have been threatened, but don’t expect to see much impact on the box office: the only unholy aspect of “Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince” likely will be the length of the lines in front of theaters.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.