The fourth Harry Potter film has some very big shoes to fill. Following up on that almost perfect third movie must be a daunting task, and by now we've also entered the phase, where the books have become so unmanageable that whole characters and subplots have to be cut, when they're adapted for the silver screen.
To top that off we're in the hands of a peculiar new director, and the kids are growing up too fast. But we're past the point of no return now, three down, three to go!
Bring on the goblin! The what, now? What's a goblet?
IT'S THE ONE WHERE...
Hogwarts hosts The TriWizard Tournament, with three deadly challenges, which Harry inexplicably finds himself involved in. Our wizards go to their first big dance, and the Dark Lord makes his triumphant return, albeit without a nose.
There's a battle with a dragon. A certain young Robert Pattinson shows up in a small role. And both Ron and Hermione appear in a dress.
After The Prisoner of Azkaban I found myself really looking forward to revisiting this fourth Harry Potter film. It's got some fantastic elements, but also some huge problems.
This time British director Mike Newell takes the reins. He's a bit of an odd choice. His only qualification for tackling a film of this nature seems to be... that's he's British. Looking at Newell's filmography it's hard to imagine that he's a passionate filmmaker. With films like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Donnie Brasco (1997), Pushing Tin (1999) and Mona Lisa Smile (2003), it's obvious that he doesn't have a clearly defined style, and he doesn't seem to have a passion for any particular type of stories. In my view he's a journeyman, nothing more.
Even though he doesn't make a complete fool of himself, Newell has nowhere near the same confident grip on the drama that Alfonso Cuarón had on the previous film. Newell often gets lost in the big, busy scenes (of which there are quite a few), and the characters aren't properly introduced, visually. Sometimes it even feels like there aren't enough close-ups.
Newell doesn't get under the skin of the wizard trio. The young wizards say and do all the right things, but they don't look like they mean it half as much as they did in the last film. It's a subtle difference, but it's there. Newell just doesn't manage to make the Potter-verse quite magical enough. On top of that he's stuck with a story that has some major flaws and fundamentally doesn't make any sense.
First of all: I don't buy this tournament at all.
Dumbledore announces the tournament to the students, and the next moment teams from the other schools burst into the dining hall, ready for the challenges, meanwhile all the Hogwarts students are gobsmacked! Hang on a second... Doesn't anybody tell anybody anything in this school?! The most prestigious wizard event in creation comes to Hogwarts and NOBODY knows about it until 3 seconds before it starts? That seems odd. I really have serious questions about the level of information between the school and the parents, and between the school and the students!
This is further enhanced when Dumbledore describes the nature of the tournament. Apparently this is extremely perilous stuff! Every single one of the challenges are nothing short of LETHAL! Really!?! And the parents are fine with this? They have no problem with this annual slaughtering of their kids? I know the winner gets a fancy cup and all, but even in the context of the film's universe it doesn't make ANY sense! Plus, as the challenges unfold it turns out that the whole tournament is rather pointless, since everybody seem to be lying, cheating, and stealing till they're blue in the face, just to get ahead.
The tournament and the challenges themselves are actually pretty cool stuff, and quite riveting, it's just the whole setup I have a problem with.
This film also kicks the whole Ron and Hermione romance into high gear. I'm torn on this one. On one hand I like where the characters are heading, on the other, Ron is such a pitiful guy that I find it hard to believe Hermione would be attracted to him. Like he himself points out, he's just Harry's stupid friend.
The most unfathomable moment in this story happens when Ron is forced to show up to the dance in a ragged old dress! Why in poo-perfect hell does he need to wear a freakin' dress?! WHY?! As if a young boy going to his first dance wasn't awkward enough! There's plenty of potential for good, realistic drama in such a situation, there's no need to muck it up with such stupidity!
I have to mention Emma Watson again, because I've noticed she's awfully inconsistent. In some scenes here her primary acting tool is her eyebrows! In other scenes, she's a fountain of fire, especially when Hermione gets really frustrated with the boys in her life. Watson tends to be a bit screeching, when she gets mad, but when Hermione descends the stairs, Cinderella style, flashing a crooked little smile, everything is forgiven. This moment is played out to perfection! Tip of the hat to Newell and Watson for that. Did I mention this is also the film where Harry tries to land a date with an Asian chick?
The sexual awakening of these characters is an interesting thing to explore, and it keeps all the magic grounded in reality. Harry may have battled all kinds of deadly creatures, but he still gets all befuddled when he's standing in front of a girl. That's a nice contrast.
Another thing that bothered me here, which I didn't notice in the other films, was that I felt parts of the story were missing. I'm not surprised that die hard fans feel something is missing from the films, compared to the books, but when I get that same feeling - keeping in mind that I haven't read the books - you're in deep trouble.
The whole opening sequence, for example, is devoted to the quidditch World Cup. Young wizards and assorted parents travel to the event, they're set up in a tent, they arrive at the giant arena, the two teams enter the site and then.... Nothing. Cut. Suddenly the whole match is over and everybody talks about how great it was. Huh?! If I had seen this at my local cinema, I would have thought a reel had been misplaced. Same thing happens moments later when the place is attacked by Voldemort's cohorts. All hell breaks loose! Panic in the streets! Pandemonium! Yet, for all the running around, the fire and brimstone, we don't actually see anything, and suddenly it's over. Maybe it's just poor staging from the director, but it felt really odd.
Okay, before we enter a death-spiral of negativity, let's cover some of the good elements of the film.
New personal! With the appearance of future Doctor Who, David Tennant, and a certain Mr. Pattinson as fellow student Cedric Diggory, this is starting to look like an all-star team. Still, best new addition is once again the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Boy, they sure go through a lot of those!
Brendan Gleeson stars as Mad-Eye Moody, complete with peg leg, facial scars and a mechanical eye that seems to have a life of its own! He's quite entertaining, and provides the funniest moment in the film, when he transforms Draco Malfoy, to teach him a lesson. "Is that a student?" asks Professor McGonagall. "Technically it's a ferret!" Moody justifies.
Moody also teaches a class where he explains the three unforgivable curses, by tormenting and eventually killing an innocent bug. This is quite a scary scene, but it perfectly demonstrates how a wizard could be drawn to the dark side of magic, while it also sets up some definitions we need to know later.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of the film revolves around the challenges of the tournament, and the three sequences that deals with those are pretty spectacular. The first one is the best, visually speaking. Harry must go head-to-head with a fire spewing dragon! The sequence, created by Industrial Light & Magic, is a fantastic set-piece. Harry is chased through the air by the dragon, the roofs of Hogwarts are torn to pieces in the process, it's very dramatic, and very believable.
While I'm impressed with the challenges, I'm less impressed by the visuals this time around. Though the film is quite striking at times, it doesn't look nearly as edgy as the third film. Some scenes seem a little flat, especially the big outdoor scenes, and the color-palette appears a bit faded at times.
In the final act of The Goblet of Fire, after an awful lot of misdirection, ALL HELL suddenly breaks loose! The film drops all its prancing around, and goes straight for the jugular! We finally see the Dark Lord materialize, and that is truly a frightening moment! Ralph Fiennes is PERFECT as Voldemort, he can be quite scary when he wants to be, just think back to Schindler's List (1993).
The showdown between Voldemort and Harry is incredible and actually worth the wait. Though, I was a bit surprised that the film gave us SO much, so fast, after stepping so delicately around the subject through three films.
There's no question that The Goblet of Fire is the biggest Harry Potter film to date, but that doesn't make it the best. I don't want to sound like I hated the film, because I actually did enjoy watching it again, despite my problems with major elements of the plot.
In terms of Harry's quest to find out more about his past, this whole movie is basically one giant detour. With the final act, and that exhilarating confrontation with Voldemort, we're back on track again.
"Dark and difficult times lie ahead," Dumbledore warns. "Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." That's coming up in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). I must admit I LOATHED that one the first time I saw it, but I'll try to give it a fair chance when I see it again.
Watch this space, as they say.
Feature running time: 157 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 636
Hermione Hotness Factor: 8/10
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 7/10 (it's the long hair that does it)
Voldemort-o-meter level: 9/10. Holy crap that guy is nasty! What's wrong with his faaaace?!
Harry faces off against Lord Voldemort... That, or Hermione coming down the stairs in a dress.