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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)  Print E-mail
Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical
Written by Bill Warren   
Friday, 18 November 2005

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With “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth in the planned seven-book series, J.K. Rowling took several lengthy strides. At 734 pages, the book was much longer than the first three, and it was much more serious in tone. The first three were largely comic with threads of suspense and black magic; the fourth was largely serious with threads of comedy and black magic on the center stage.

Director Mike Newell and Steve Kloves took on the formidable task of reducing Rowling’s long, complex tale to feature length—and at that, it’s still 157 minutes long. For the first time, a Harry Potter movie is rated PG-13, and deserves it. The movie seethes with danger and a constant sense of menace—and there are a couple of deaths. It really isn’t for the youngest kids, though it’s obvious if they aren’t allowed to see it in theaters, they’ll watch it (and watch it and watch it) when it comes out on DVD.

But Newell and Kloves paid a price for the direction the story required them to take, and for the necessary compression: this Potter outing is not as good as the last one, “Prisoner of Azkaban,” directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Too much of the material feels rushed, there are far fewer big special effects sequences, and a diminishing of magic. Newell seems at times to back off from depicting magic: in one scene involving miniature dragons, we see two full length, the wings of one and nothing at all of the fourth. At the climax, Hogwarts head Dubledore (Michael Gambon) aims his wand at an opponent—and there are no sparks, no beam, no sign that the wand is working except for the effect it has.

Mike Newell was a puzzling choice as the director of this outing. True, he’s the first Brit to helm one of these very British adventures, but his directorial career is spotty, with only “Into the West” having fantasy elements. Certainly there are none in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” or “Enchanted April” (despite the title), his best previous movies. Here, he emphasizes the coming-of-age material over the fantastic, although he does wrap things up with a confrontation between Harry Potter (still Daniel Radcliffe) and the newly-resurrected Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). But it’s not clear that a Harry Potter story needs a lot of teenage angst, though finally we get to see just what a beauty Hermione (Emma Watson) is becoming.

The compression meant the complete elimination of Harry’s repellent aunt, uncle and cousin, and that the big international Quidditch tournament in the Scottish Highlands that opens the story is reduced to just a few minutes on screen. Harry and best pal Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) have a falling out—that’s all too quickly resolved. We see relatively little of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) or Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith). Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), a gossip columnist for the magic world, is seen more often, possibly because she will figure more prominently in the next story. Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry’s surrogate father, is seen only as a face in glowing embers in a fireplace—though this is a very pleasing effect.

A newcomer to the tale is Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson), an old colleague of Dumbledore, the latest instructor in Defense Against the Dark Arts at the Hogwarts Academy. He’s a vividly colorful character, a growly old guy with a scarred face, a prosthetic leg and a magical, detachable eye that seems to have an eye of its own. We also meet bureaucrat Barty Crouch (Roger Lloyd Pack), whose son was lost to the forces of darkness. The Malfoy family is back in force, too.

No sooner has school year begun than Dumbledore announces the Triwizard Tournament. Three champions from magic schools of Europe will compete in three difficult tournaments. The names emerge from the goblet of fire of the title. One is from Beauxbatons Academy—a gaggle of smiling French girls who arrive in a coach drawn by flying horses. The second is from the Durmstrang Institute—serious Teutonic teenagers, and the third from Hogwarts, Cedric Diggory (Roger Pattison). All are over 17, a specified in the rules.

But then the goblet of (blue) fire belches forth another name: Harry Potter, who’s underage—and anyway, the name alone says three only will compete in the Triwizard Tournament. But neither Dumbledore nor anyone else dares challenge the forces that brought forth Harry’s name. Harry’s schoolmates are sure he rigged the contest; even Ron loses faith in his chum.

The middle third of the too-long movie is taken up with the tournament, and the first contests are exciting and (mostly) visually impressive. The students have to face vicious, fire-breathing dragons (of several types), though we see only Harry’s battle. The next involves underwater activity in the huge loch below Hogwarts, and the final (and least impressive) takes place within a vast Scottish hedge maze (that doesn’t feature even one large frog).

All of this is preliminary to Harry’s confrontation with the freshly-minted Lord Voldemort, an eerie, spectral figure in flowing black robes and with a hairless—and noseless—face of gleaming white. Fiennes in these scenes is a very impressive embodiment of evil, a welcome addition to the Harry Potter saga.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is winning favorable reviews around the world—it’s already opened in England—and is sure to do so here, too. But to me it seemed disappointing, a movie too long—and too short for all the plot elements it tries to handle. The returning cast gets better with each movie, although Rupert Grint should insist on a hairstyle change the next time around. Emma Watson impresses more each outing, and seems the most likely of the central trio to have a post-Potter movie career. Daniel Radcliffe spends much of his time in this one glowering and flinching when the (never seen) scar on his forehead tells of dark dangers. However, he’s growing into the role, now more capable than ever of carrying this vast structure on his young shoulders.

Newell has de-emphasized a lot of the familiar aspects—not only do we not see Harry’s muggle relatives, but of the various ghosts of Hogwarts, only Moaning Myrtle makes an appearance. The animated paintings can be glimpsed in the backgrounds, but we see virtually none of the various classes in magic techniques. There’s an elaborate ball because of the Triwizard Tournament, but we see relatively little of the lavish wintry decorations.

Newell wanted to make a thriller. That’s not a bad idea, but he has thrown out a few limbs of the baby with along with the gaudy magical effects and good humor of the earlier movies. Still, his task was daunting; he’s not to be blamed for flinching a little.







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