Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Director : Mike Newell
Screenplay : Steve Kloves (based on the novel by J.K. Rowling)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Brendan Gleeson (Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody), Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Stanislav Ianevski (Viktor Krum), Roger Lloyd-Pack (Barty Crouch), Katie Leung (Cho Chang), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Frances de la Tour (Madame Olympe Maxime), Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Predrag Bjelac (Igor Karkaroff), Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort)
In one of the funniest and most pointed lines lifted directly from J.K. Rowling’s novel, 14-year-old Harry Potter asks his best friend Ron Weasley, “Why do they have to move in packs?,” referring to the girls around them at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. “How’re you supposed to get one on their own to ask them?”
The inscrutable mystery of girls and the spell they cast over adolescent boys with the slightest of movements (“You know I like how they walk,” Ron says at one point) is the most engaging supernatural element of Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth entry in the blockbuster series based on the Rowling’s increasingly dense novels. Following the characters’ emotional development from childhood to adolescence in Alfonso Cuarón’s superior Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Newell allows them to flounder about in the confusing morass of teenager-hood, particularly in the film’s middle section, which deals with the annual Yule Ball that offers Harry one of his greatest challenges yet: asking out a girl.
The main plot development in Goblet of Fire is the Tri-Wizard tournament, a massive spectacle in which selected “champions” from three wizarding schools compete in a trio of competitions. Despite the fact that his age of 14 makes him technically ineligible, someone slips Harry’s name into the tournament, thus ensuring that he must face down a fire-breathing dragon, the denizens of a dark lake, and a vicious hedge maze that changes without warning. The tournament provides the film’s visual spectacle, some of which is genuinely impressive (Harry’s twirling duel in the air with a Hungarian Hornback dragon) and some of which never quite reaches the heights to which it aspires (the underwater scenes have an overly digitized aura that brings one back to the rushed, rubbery Quidditch effects of the first two entries in the series).
Newell is not a particularly gifted director in the action department, but he is excellent with actors and brings out a range of nuanced emotions that will ring true to anyone who remembers the ups and downs of being a newly minted teenager. The tensions are not just relegated to bumbling gender roles, either. One of the most emotionally meaningful subplots involves a wedge being driven between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Gint), whose jealousy over his best friend’s fame and success leads him to suspect Harry of sneaking his way into the tournament. Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves don’t dance around the difficulties, but rather take them head on, and when Ron mutters under his breath for Harry to “piss off,” it’s a genuinely startling moment that makes us realize these characters have moved far from the innocent children we first met four years ago.
Although a substantial subplot involving her desire to liberate enslaved house elves has been slashed from the narrative in the page-to-screen transition, Hermione (Emma Watson) has her share of moments, including a “coming out” scene in which she arrives at the Yule Ball on the arm of Bulgarian champion Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), surprising everyone around her (although probably no one in the audience) that she is as beautiful as she is intelligent. As is typical, Hermione has reached a level of maturity far beyond that of her male friends, and her ability to comfortably engage in a social situation like the Yule Ball only points up how awkward and out of place Harry and Ron feel. Harry may be the most naturally gifted student at Hogwarts, but he’s still a lousy date.
As each entry in the series does, Goblet of Fire introduces several new characters, including the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a paranoid, hulking, one-eyed, battle-scarred grouch who watches over Harry with potentially malevolent enthusiasm (in the movie’s outright funniest scene, he turns Harry’s increasingly marginalized nemesis Draco Malfoy into a white ferret). Gleeson steals virtually every scene he’s in, as does Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter, a ruthless, smirking reporter for The Daily Prophet who is much more interested in stirring up scandal than she is in reporting the facts.
Considering that it was adapted from a 750-page novel, Goblet of Fire’s 140-minute running time is actually quite impressive, even if it moves in fits and starts at the beginning, never quite finding its stride until midway through the first hour. Those familiar with the book will certainly miss what was lost in the adaptation, but Kloves’ script and Newell’s direction keep the movie humming along until Harry’s long-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in a scene that is something of a letdown, which isn’t too surprising since it bears on its shoulders three and a half movies’ worth of build-up.
Still, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is anything but a disappointment. Even if it doesn’t achieve the lyrical enchantment of Prisoner of Azkaban, it nonetheless makes good on Rowling’s darker turn in the series (reflecting its more mature and intense sensibility, this is the first film in the series to be rated PG-13), it and sets up Harry and his friends for future challenges to come, be they magical or emotional.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 Warner Bros.