It took me a long time to appreciate Goblet of Fire as a movie. It definitely has the hardest job of any of the films, because it has to adapt one of the longest books in the series. Not only that, but it’s not a book that will let you remove parts easily. It’s the climax in the classic sense, the turning point of the entire arc of Harry Potter. So it’s a tough adaptation, and they do a good job. But it’s the first time where we see some narrative seams showing. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the weakest Harry Potter movie that I’ve reviewed so far, and it might end up at the bottom of the pile when all is said and done.
That’s not to say that it’s bad, you understand. It still has a good deal more soul and wit than about 90% of the blockbusters that get released every year. Even at its worst, Goblet of Fire is still quite good. Mike Newell, the series’ first British director, takes the reins ably. He has a great eye for action especially, turning in one of the most thrilling scenes in the entire series, Harry’s first task against the Hungarian Horntail. It’s a white-knuckled chase over the grounds of Hogwarts, and the danger feels real with every fiery breath. He also has a keen sense of the human element of the novel, and he’s able to capture the awkwardness of the teenage years better than anyone before him.
But he did have to leave a lot out, and in a couple places the movie just feels sloppy. Just look at the death of Barty Crouch. It’s mostly handled in a line of dialog that is overheard by Harry. Would it have been that difficult to show someone taking his pulse and saying he’s dead? It’s not even explained who actually killed him. There are a lot of weird flourishes to the editing, like the ominous shot of Igor Karkaroff as he enters the chamber with the Goblet of Fire. It’s foreshadowing of nothing, essentially a false omen.
It’s also disappointing to see a lot of the best-loved characters sidelined as the book has to get on with business. Snape barely registers more than once, and Sirius Black only appears in the fireplace in the movie’s coolest effect. Even Dumbledore feels like he’s trying to get a word in edgewise. At least the new characters are given a chance to breathe a bit. Of course there’s Ralph Feinnes debuting as Voldemort, and he does great. But don’t forget Brenden Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, or at least the guy pretending to be Mad-Eye Moody. I guess we don’t really get to see much of that character either.
The thing is, I don’t think a lot of this is actually the fault of the movie. I’ve never appreciated the book quite like a lot of other fans. I’ve always felt that the final scene comes too abruptly, and as a story it’s loaded with false leads. If anything, the movie shows how much of the novel didn’t advance the story. A novel can get away with that, because it’s a place where you live for a while. But movies have to get down to business, and this one does so effectively, sometimes at the expense of the characters and a little of the story. What choice does it have? It could have cut more of the actual plot, but no doubt it didn’t want to risk losing the fans. It had to make hard choices, and it mostly makes the right ones. But it isn’t always able to keep you from noticing what’s missing, at least not if you’ve read the book.
One thing the movie gets right is all of the adolescent struggles of the students. I’ve known people who find those moments tiresome in the books, but they ground the story and keep it from being a mechanical checklist of plot points from the novel. It does a terrific job of capturing the constant awkwardness of the early teenage years, like Ron’s mortification that he must dance with a teacher and the feeling that everyone at a dance is having fun except you. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are all growing into their parts so well. There’s such a natural back-and-forth between them now that they slip from camaraderie to conflict and back again without making it looked forced. It’s that age when embarrassment seems life-threatening and hurt feelings are the end of the world. The movie may have had to cut out things like Ludo Bagman and Winkie the house-elf, but if it was to give us the Yule Ball it was totally worth it.
Another fantastic scene is the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. Voldemort is a great villain, because we learn enough about him to know that he totally would be the type to “monolog,” to borrow a phrase from The Incredibles. He just can’t resist telling Harry about his plan, and he never misses an opportunity to self-aggrandize. It’s a scene that bogs down in the book, but here it blasts right through it. It’s a dark finale, but the movie earns every bit of it. The actual duel between the two is visualized wonderfully as well. I’ve always loved how the spells collide and spray what looks like paint into the air.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m down on either the book or the movie, because I’m really not. They have their strengths and their weaknesses, but in the end they are able to provide the thrills and the deeper glimpses into the wizarding world that are such a part of Harry Potter. If they don’t always do it as cleanly as I hope, maybe that’s inevitable. It still makes for a thrilling movie. More importantly, it shows that the magical realm isn’t a safe place. People die, and there are hard times to come.
- The one casting choice that doesn’t really work for me is David Tennent as Barty Crouch Jr. I’m as big a Doctor Who fan as the next guy (more than most, actually) but Tennent is going to gain some serious weight from eating so much scenery.
- Of course, David Tennent played The Tenth Doctor. In the two parter “Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel,” he battles John Lumic, played by Roger Lloyd Pack. Here, Pack plays Tennent’s father.
- Really, you could just make a list of Harry Potter actors who would later appear in Doctor Who. It would be a long list.
- Did you notice that when “Moody” looks in the foe-glass you can see the faces of Barty Crouch Sr. and someone I assume is Crouch’s wife? I noticed that for the first time when I prepared for this review.
- Details That Irritate Me Pt. 1: Dumbledore pronounces Beauxbaton as “boe-batten.” Not much of an accent there, Professor.
- Details That Irritate Me Pt. 2: The Patil sisters aren’t both in Gryffindor! Padma should be in Ravenclaw. WORST MOVIE EVER.
- Hagrid tries to cop a feel on Madame Maxime.
- The Weird Sisters play the Yule Ball. Recognize any of them? That’s Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, and Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway from Radiohead.
Next week: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix