Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Movie Review (***1/2)

(Originally posted on i-Pocalypse.com on 11-21-05)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has been, hands down, my favorite book of the series to this point. The story follows Harry through his fourth year at Hogwart’s. It also follows Harry through his fourteenth year of life.

In this fourth and fourteenth year, respectively, Harry’s world opens up a little wider. Hogwart’s has been chosen as the location for the Tri-Wizard tournament. An inter-school competition in which three schools each enter a champion from their student body and compete in three challenges (all of them dangerous) to see who takes the title. All the while the evidence builds that “He who must not be named” has returned. All very engaging and extremely well thought out and executed, so, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I went to see the film adaptation at the theater upon its release.

The first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was a foundational movie for the series, most of the production design was created then, the cast was put in place and the tone set going forward. It wasn’t a great movie, but it wasn’t bad either, considering all of the obstacles and the huge fan base that had to be pleased, it was a pleasant surprise. The second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, suffered from all of the same problems with which the book suffered – a follow-up to a massive hit, the sophomore curse so to speak, an over emphasis on cleaning up technical issues and losing a bit of the focus of letting the characters drive the story, rather than vice-versa. With the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling seemed to have hit her stride. She started to realize that she could take her time to tell the story and the overall effect was a much better and balanced work than previously. The movie, as directed by Alfonso Cuaran, also took the opportunity to refocus more on the meat of the story, but in the process lost some of the charm of the day to day life of these students in a boarding school (having said that I still maintain that the last third of the movie was as close to a perfect book to film adaptation as I have ever seen).

With the fourth installment Rowling really nailed the formula and in the process she released a truly affecting book that held together up to the very end (though, I have to admit to feeling quite cheated in that one of the best platonic relationship parts of the book turns out in the end to have been just a ruse). The movie seems to have figured it out, as well. Though a lot is left out from the book, it still takes a little bit of time to show those quiet boarding school moments that are so much a part of the character’s lives in the books. The constant studying, the endless lectures, the awkwardness of being too young while grown up things are going on constantly around them just outside of their vision.

The film adaptation of The Prisoner of Azkaban is so laser focused on the main storyline that there is no time for the whole rest of the Harry Potter universe to breathe. And all that the film adaptations of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets do, pretty much, is breathe – almost ponderously so. Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin and Four Weddings and a Funeral) understands the importance and necessity of building empathetic pacing, he seems to understand implicitly that it isn’t something that comes from flashy camera work and quick cuts, but that it has to be earned and the only way to earn it is to have those quiet moments in the middle of the tense ones. And The Goblet of Fire does that – during a first dance when two friends both watch the girls they like dance with others, when two best friends forget how to talk to each other, when two new friends learn to talk to each other, when two competitors realize that just because they are competing against each other that that doesn’t necessarily mean they are enemies.

All the actors come across comfortably in their roles, which by now, you would hope would be the case. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry is growing in skill with each new outing. He voice is still a bit nasally, but hopefully that will go away in the next couple of installments. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are both spot on in their roles, even more so than Radcliffe. With Michael Gambon in his second outing as Professor Dumbledore, there is a new sense of vitality to the role that was absent with the late Richard Harris. The others, such as Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman are all underutilized for their skill, but welcome background dressing in filling out the depth of the world which Harry inhabits.

The new additions bring a lot of energy as well. Brendon Gleason as Mad Eye Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, comes across believably as both threatening and sympathetic, Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter, the tabloid gossip columnist for the Daily Owl is satisfyingly shallow and insincere. Robert Patterson as Cedric Diggory, the Hogwart’s champion, is suitably an all around Boy Scout and earns your attention. Stanislav Ianevski is perfectly suited as the world class Quidditch player who represents his school in the Tri-Wizard tournament. And Clemence Poesy as Fleur Delacour fit perfectly as the Beauxbaton champion.

There are parts of the movie where I felt a little shorted, such as the opening with the Quidditch World Cup scene and the first Tri-Wizard challenge against the dragons (gimme a break, ok, it’s in the trailers). And I always wish for more, but I do understand that the craft of adapting a book to film is mainly a study in compromise, and truly, out of the four films this one seems to have walked that line the best – finding the right balance between the needs of a work of film and the needs of the story as written in its original form.

It will be interesting to see how the film-makers handle the next movie since Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix is played out on a much bigger stage with a substantially larger cast of integral characters. But until then Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is, hands down, the best of the adaptations to date.

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