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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

DIRECTOR: Mike Newell

CAST:

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Timothy Spall, David Tennant, Miranda Richardson, Katie Leung, Robert Hardy, Warwick Davis

REVIEW:

The Harry Potter film series, the cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books, found a life of its own with 2004’s Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban , and the tone continues to grow darker and more ambitious with Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Even to reach the film’s running length of approximately two-and-a-half hours, screenwriter Steve Kloves had to do a lot of nipping and tucking from the 734-page novel, but managed to create an end product that retains the essentials and is faithful to most of the significant bits while sacrificing some more tangential plotpoints. Goblet of Fire is imperfect, and isn’t quite as good as Prisoner of Azkaban– even with numerous cuts of material, it’s still a lengthy movie with a sometimes sluggish pace- but in the realm of fantasy adventure, the Harry Potter series is turning into a formidable contender. J.K. Rowling and the filmmakers have succeeded, like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, in creating an entire, intricately detailed world that has the feel of something that could exist beneath our noses, populating it with a large population of colorful characters led by eminently likable, appealing protagonists, and giving each book and film an intriguing individual plot while leading us to pick up the next book (or pop in the next DVD) to see what comes next. In my opinion, Harry Potter does not touch The Lord of the Rings, but since I feel The Lord of the Rings is probably the crowning pinnacle of fantasy adventure, that’s hardly damnation. And to simply dismiss Harry Potter as kids’ books or kids’ movies is an oversimplification and an underestimation. The books and movies are kid-friendly- at least for the most part, although some scenes in both Azkaban and Goblet are a bit intense for small children- but Rowling has developed her world with prodigious depth and detail, and the plots are intricate enough to be fully appreciated by adults. Harry Potter might be enthralling for millions of children, but it doesn’t talk down to the adults who show up with their children, or those watching it by themselves. In fact, while the children delight in the magic, special effects, adventure, and liberal doses of humor, there are intricacies and themes present that might be more fully appreciated by adults.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are now beginning their fourth year at Hogwarts, but Harry senses that all is not well. He is plagued by a recurring dream that makes him worry that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) may be plotting a return. However, at least for the moment, concerns about the Dark Lord take a backseat, as Hogwarts plays host to two visiting wizarding schools for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a series of three difficult, even potentially dangerous tasks which will end with one of the three entries as the champion. The contestants who enter their names into the Goblet of Fire are Hogwarts’ Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson), Bombatton’s Fleur de la Couer (Clémence Poésy), and Durmstrang’s Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), but then the goblet spits out a fourth name- Harry Potter. This fourth entry shocks all, including Harry, who swears he did not place his name in the goblet, although he is regarded as a cheat by many of his fellow students, including Ron. Could someone at Hogwarts be plotting against him? What about Igor Karkarov (Predrag Bjelac), head of Durmstrang? Or the eccentric new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Moody (Brendan Gleeson)? And then there are the usual figures of suspicion, like Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and Lucius and Draco Malfoy (Jason Isaacs and Tom Felton). And there is the enigmatic Barty Crouch Jr. (David Tennant), a follower of Voldemort who lurks in Harry’s nightmares.

Goblet of Fire is a fairly strong entry in the Harry Potter series; it doesn’t equal Prisoner of Azkaban but it’s easily ahead of Sorcerer’s Stone or Chamber of Secrets . The series of contests Harry and the others must fight their way through provide three exciting and entertaining set pieces (the first and best pits Harry against a fire-spewing dragon, while the next two feature hostile mermaids and a claustrophobic maze), but Goblet still doesn’t escape feeling a little overstuffed and unwieldy, juggling numerous tangents such as obnoxious reporter Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), and the Yule Ball, all entertaining in their own right but causing the pace to drag a little, and we get impatient waiting for the inevitable long-awaited reemergence of Lord Voldemort to liven things up. Goblet’s pace is more fitful and meandering than Azkaban’s, nor does it ooze Azkaban’s eerie atmosphere, but the film is more ambitious, featuring more action-oriented sequences and some large-scale special effects, including the aforementioned dragon (which is obviously animated but still effective) and a huge stadium housing the Quidditch World Cup, and the dark climax makes for a strong finish to a sometimes sluggish film and leaves us anticipating what is to come. Goblet doesn’t drip with spooky atmosphere the way Azkaban did, but director Mike Newell maintains much of his predecessor Alfonso Cuarón’s look and feel. The encroaching feel of something dark and ominous on its way that permeated Azkaban is still present here. Fortunately, Goblet is not all a dark, dreary experience. There’s a lot of humor thrown around, especially relating to Rita Skeeter, a tongue-in-cheek caricature of the shallow, sensationalist journalist we all know (played by Miranda Richardson with a juicily satirical edge), the lunatic Professor Moody, and Harry and Ron’s inept attempts to get dates to the Yule Ball. The Yule Ball is the first time we’ve really seen the students interact with the opposite sex, and watching their awkward, intimidated preparations is a lot of fun. But as many carefree moments as Goblet might have, we’re never allowed to forget for too long that there’s a dark, churning undertone lurking not too far beneath the surface, and there’s the distinct, growing feel that things aren’t going to stay as simple as tests and school dances forever.

That said, as with every Harry Potter installment, at the center of the film is not the struggle between good and evil, but the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione (just as it is my opinion that Harry Potter is not just for kids, it is also my opinion that those who condemn it as promoting witchcraft are missing the point: if there is an overriding theme of Harry Potter, it is love and friendship, not magic and spells), but the three are interacting differently as they get older. Jealousy, hormones, and the first frightening, awkward feelings of attraction are all rearing their heads in full force. For our trio, things aren’t as simple anymore. Hints of feelings between Ron and Hermione grow more obvious, and Harry develops a crush on a fellow student, Cho Chang (Katie Leung). The romance doesn’t get too much attention, and never threatens to steal the spotlight, but it’s one of the ways in which the trio we’ve followed since childhood are growing up.

There isn’t really much to write about Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, or Emma Watson, because what was true of them in the other installments is just as true here. They’re not performances likely to blow anyone’s mind, but that’s not required. What’s more important for the series is that by this time the three are Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and they have an unforced chemistry and camaraderie between them that makes any acting deficiencies forgivable. And by now we have followed them for four movies and have a vested interest in what happens next. Grint has times when his petulant whining gets a bit tiresome (but that’s probably not his fault, and anyway it’s kind of the point), while Watson remains consistent as the feisty Hermione. The most appealing of the trio is Radcliffe, who is at his most awkwardly likable when, by now having faced trolls, Basilisks, Dementors, and dragons, Harry still fumbles all over himself when trying to ask a girl to the Yule Ball.

All the emphasis on the students’ goings-on gives most of the teachers, particularly Alan Rickman’s Snape and Maggie Smith’s McGonogall, scant screentime. Michael Gambon seems a bit off as Dumbledore, too gruffly abrupt and without much of Richard Harris’ warmth or charm. David Tennant only has a few scenes, but seems intent on milking his scant screentime for all it’s worth, snarling through the scenery like a rabid dog. Gary Oldman as Sirius appears only as a face in a fireplace (talk about a short work day). The only staff member (with the arguable exception of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore) to have significant screentime is Brendan Gleeson as the token bizarre new teacher, with an artificial left eyeball that swivels in every direction and apparently has a zoom lens. The other notable newcomer is Ralph Fiennes, who commands our full attention when he is on the screen. Although his role consists only of a ten-minute or so cameo at the climax of the movie, Voldemort’s long-awaited appearance in the flesh, as a hairless, colorless creature with snakelike slits for a nose dressed in dark flowing robes, does not disappoint, and almost single-handedly accounts for the film’s PG-13 rating. As soon as Voldemort appears, we- along with the characters- recognize that the series has taken a significant step toward a darker tone from which there is no turning back. When he puts his mind to it, few actors can radiate evil better than Fiennes.

When the Harry Potter series began, with Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, it came across as kid-oriented, watered-down, juvenile fantasy adventure. Since then, starting with Prisoner of Azkaban and continuing with each subsequent installment, it has taken substantial progressive steps, both as a film series and as fantasy adventure of a high caliber with plenty to offer both kids and adults. Goblet of Fire gives kids plenty to wonder at, but parents should be warned that the climactic scene featuring Voldemort is dark and creepy, scarier than anything thus far, and not suitable for small children. There is one brief moment of surprisingly graphic violence, and Fiennes doesn’t ‘dumb down’ Voldemort’s villainy and creepiness, or seem to consider himself to be in a ‘kids’ movie’. Fiennes plays his part 100% straight, and makes Voldemort suitably scary and evil. Along the way, Newell deftly balances the mix of light comedy and gathering darkness, and remembers one important thing: Goblet of Fire is magical fantasy adventure, and meant to be fun and entertaining to sit through.

While Goblet of Fire has a fairly substantial running time that sometimes shows, there’s a lot to explore and appreciate here. J.K. Rowling continues to display vivid imagination, and a sense of epic storytelling that was lacking in the previous episodes is beginning to take root. Through four films, we have become immersed in the intricately detailed structure of Harry’s magical world, a world many of us have likely spent a moment or two wishing we’d gotten to live in, and now we are presented with its very existence being invaded and destroyed by a dark and malevolent force.  Goblet of Fire is imperfect, long, chock-full of material competing for attention and screentime that occasionally hurts the movie- the pace moves in fits and starts, and a character isn’t developed in enough depth for his death to have as much impact as it’s supposed to, but it’s magical nonetheless, filled with imagination and invention, and like any worthy episode in a continuing series, it leaves us wanting to see what’s coming around the corner.

***

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