The Theory of Chaos

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Originally published 11/19/05
Full review behind the jump

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

: Mike Newell
: Steven Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
: David Heyman
: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Miranda Richardson, David Tennant, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Spall, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Stanislav Ianevsky, Clémence Poésy, Katie Leung, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Robert Pattinson, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Matthew Lewis, Frances de la Tour, Predrag Bjelac

The first two movie adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s
Harry Potter books were directed by Chris Columbus. As befits his mainstream aesthetic they were faithful, bright and safe, with full screen time devoted to the awe and wonder Rowling’s imagination naturally inspires. They introduced us to the world of Hogwarts, the academy where magically-inclined children are trained, and its most famous pupil, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Potter is “the boy who lived”; as an infant he survived an attack by the feared Lord Voldemort. Voldemort, who murdered Potter’s parents that night, is no longer quite alive but no one dares speak his name, because he’s not quite dead yet, either, and may yet return to spread terror.

The third movie was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and was painterly and tumultuous – a captivating transition from what were essentially children’s fantasies into something different. Now we have a fourth movie and another new director, and I think it was the right choice. Mike Newell is an agile, detail-oriented filmmaker who presents the world of each of his films with organic authority. His choice, which is key, is to shoot this story essentially as if it were real, and as urgent as the undercover mob investigation of
Donnie Brasco or the swelling romances of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Shots are not framed to offer the most attractive view of the special effects. Moments to gaze at the strange sights of the world of magic are few and far between. Do not think this means the movie will look dull – quite the opposite, it is dark and exhilarating – a genuine adventure spectacle which no longer requires the presence of our inner child. But the challenges foremost in importance to Newell are the changing interactions between heroes we’ve already built a relationship with, and a story so packed with detail and incident that this 2½-hour movie can’t afford to stop for breath.

Potter, along with closest chums Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), are now in their fourth year at Hogwarts, and it’s a fearful time. The World Cup match for the wizard sport Quidditch was violently interrupted by Voldemort’s masked followers the Death Eaters, and his mark (a skull with a snake emerging from the mouth) was cast into the sky. Harry saw a man (David Tennant) cast that mark, the same man who’s been in his recent nightmares about Voldemort’s return.

And Hogwarts has been chosen to host the dangerous “Tri-Wizard Tournament”, where a champion from each of three magic schools, selected by the enchanted Goblet of Fire, compete in events of extreme physical and psychological danger. This year, in addition to the champions from Hogwarts (Robert Pattinson as the athletic and confident Cedric Diggory), French school The Beauxbatons Academy (Clémence Poésy as the svelte and bewitching Fleur Delacour) and the Norse/Russian-influenced Durmstrang Institute (Stanislav Ianevsky as the beefy, aggressive Viktor Krum), the Goblet of Fire throws out a curveball – selecting Potter to compete as well.

Shock and jealousy follow – it’s against the rules for someone as young as Harry to compete, and classmates suspect he cheated to grab glory for himself. This isn’t just the year for our hero to face his most harrowing trial yet – and since our heroes have previously been turned into stone, chased by giant spiders and attacked by life-sized chess pieces, that’s saying something. It’s also the year where Harry and his fellow male students must ask girls to a dance, and it’s debatable which scares him more.

The movie is unerring and hilarious in how it observes the social rituals of teenagers. Hormones are in full flow – bodies are changing (Harry gets some rather too-admiring scrutiny from a ghost who catches him bathing) and emotions easily frayed. At some point all three of our young friends will be driven to screaming or tears by each other, which they wouldn’t have imagined before.

And the faculty, presided over as always by the ancient Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), can hardly conceal that they don’t quite know what’s afoot either but it surely doesn’t bode well. Dumbledore wants extra protection, so he hires an old friend for the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts, which always ends up vacant by the end of the school year. The new prof is a former hunter of dark wizards named Mad-Eyed Moody, and you know the movie’s doing something right because he’s played by Brendan Gleeson.

There’s dozens of new characters to absorb in this chapter, but thanks to Gleeson’s enthusiasm and unpredictability Moody never fades into the background. Gambon is still considerably more vigorous in the Dumbledore role than his late predecessor Richard Harris, but his portrayal is becoming more familiar, and his sterner, less genial persona may be more useful to where this saga is headed.

I don’t know where it’s headed because I have not read the books, but for the first time after seeing one of these cinematic versions I felt it becoming necessary. There are too many questions left for me, too many uncertainties about how everything unfolded and why. In the heedless rush to capture all of the important characters and the three epic Tri-Wizard Challenges (which involve dragons, mysterious rhymes, Mer-People, and a hedge maze where the hedge fights back), I grew dizzy and unsure. We no longer need to stop the story just so the audience can get settled with the world this all exists in, you’re expected to know the score coming in. But I do miss those quiet moments of delight and discovery. There’s fewer now but they’re welcome, like the quill pen used by obnoxious tabloid reporter Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), which not only transcribes her interviews but adds its own flamboyant observations.

Packing all the necessary story to make this movie smooth plus those little smiles in besides would have made Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire long enough for two movies – which was the studio’s original plan. We don’t just lose grace notes, we lose the chance to really absorb the emotional impact of each direction change. There are moments throughout this story where life or death decisions are made, and characters face wrenching sacrifices involving the people closest to them. But there’s hardly time to even watch them register it.

We’re now at the midway-point of the seven-book cycle, and the master narrative is getting clearer by the minute – Voldemort does not plan to stay not-quite-alive and is making fearsome progress. Newell delivers on the movie’s look and with the performances – which are as natural as they can be in the context of their own eclectic design. But he does not succeed in putting the whole thing over in the minutes on screen. We needed more, and the movie suffers; not enough to place it beneath the other episodes in my estimation, but enough that I fear for movies ahead. We’ll see what the next director does.


Post a Comment

<< Home