|Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Brendon Gleeson
Director: Mike Newell
ALSO! Check out where it ranked in our 2005 Year in Review.
Mike Newell stepped into the director’s chair for “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and instantly found himself surrounded by house elves, a hack reporter, a mean-ass dragon, the evil Lord Voldemort and, even scarier, legions of “Harry Potter” fanatics just waiting for him to screw it all up. The fourth installment in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series was miles above and beyond anything the “Potter” faithful had seen up to that point, both in terms of volume (long) and tone (dark). But never mind who’s in the director’s chair: is Steve Kloves, the franchise screenwriter, able to adapt this in such a way that will please fans of the book, even while kicking huge chunks of the book to the curb?
The honest answer is, yeah, for the most part. “Goblet” has some truly stunning moments, especially the pitch black finale. Yet despite its breakneck pace, the movie cannot distract us from the sense that everything is stretched just a bit too thin, that in an effort to get everyone involved, no one gets involved. Sure, this is one of the themes of Rowling’s book, how alienating adolescence can be. But even the adults are alienated here. In fact, Dumbledore’s behavior is nothing short of perplexing.
The story begins with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his surrogate family the Weasleys attending the World Cup of Quidditch. All is jolly until the scene erupts into chaos when a group of Death Eaters (followers of the evil Lord Voldemort) rampage the campground, shooting the Dark Mark into the sky. No one at Hogwarts is pleased about this, especially since they are hosting the Triwizard Tournament, which includes the wizards from Durmstrang Institute in Northern Europe, and the lovely witches from France’s Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. Each school sends one student to be their Champion, and all students must be at least 17 years of age. Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when the enchanted Goblet of Fire, which accepts the names of all eligible participants for the Triwizard Tournament, spits out the name of 14 year-old Harry as a fourth competitor. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), for one, is furious, even though Harry never actually put his name into the cup.
With every new “Potter” book comes a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. This time it’s Alastor “MadEye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a former Auror so nicknamed for the enchanted glass eye he sports in place of the real one he lost in the line of fire. We also get another new character named Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), a ridiculously biased reporter who goes far and wide to slander Harry at every opportunity. As if Harry doesn’t have enough on his mind: he is bound to enter the tournament whether he entered it or not, which means facing off against one nasty dragon, rescuing best friend Ron (Rupert Grint, who’s clearly spent some time at the gym) from a spell at the bottom of the lake, and lastly finding the Triwizard Cup in a massive hedge maze, where an unpleasant surprise awaits the winner.
All this, and we still haven’t mentioned the names of the other three Champions, never mind Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Hermione (Emma Watson), Draco Malfoy, (Tom Felton), Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Harry’s first crush Cho Chang (Katie Leung), or even how Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) fits into it all. They’re all here, but some of them – most of them, frankly – receive only a handful of lines. This is what happens when you streamline a 700 page book for a two and a half hour movie. In removing certain subplots (to their credit, the decision to remove Hermione’s crusade for the rights of the house elves was a smart one), they lost sight of the thread that bound the story together. The movie plays out like a series of tangentially connected events, rather than a coherent piece.
And that’s a shame, because there is some spectacular stuff here. The World Cup of Quidditch sequence is simply stunning, with a stadium that will send architects around the world to the drawing board in an attempt to make it a reality. The Yule Ball, the dance that the fourth years and higher go to, is painfully accurate, with equal emphasis on both painful and accurate. (The house band is a who’s who of ‘90s Brit Pop, featuring members from Pulp and Radiohead.) Kloves clearly loves writing for the Weasley twins Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps, respectively), as they receive considerable face time here, and the twins make the most of it. And then there’s the showdown between Harry and Voldemort. It’s scary stuff; Harry gets lacerated, and one of Voldemort’s followers makes a major sacrifice in order to bring the evil one back. There is a reason this movie is rated PG-13. If you have little ones, you’d be wise to heed the rating.
But what on earth is up with Dumbledore? Gambon had some difficult shoes to fill – say what you want about Richard Harris as an actor, he was a spot-on Dumbledore – but after viewing Gambon’s performance here, one gets the impression that he is hell bent on leaving his mark, any mark, on the franchise, even if it’s not a good one. His Dumbledore is angrier, less patient, and it feels off. This is Harry’s father figure, after all, and early on he’s throwing Harry into a corner and screaming at him, which makes him more Ike Turner than Albus Dumbledore. They also took some short cuts on special effects, which are even more glaring in a “Potter” movie than they are in, say, “A Sound of Thunder.” The Rita Skeeter subplot was also left twisting in the wind, and the lack of a payoff is frustrating. And then there’s Draco Malfoy, who seems to exist in the “Potter” movies solely to be humiliated. They turned him into a wuss in the last movie, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and they’re not letting up here. How are we supposed to buy him as a true foil to Harry when he’s constantly portrayed as a coward?
Devoted fans of the book “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” may be better off forgetting as much as they can before they see the movie. Adapting this book was truly a thankless task, and while they were smart to keep it to one movie (for a brief period, they pondered making two movies out of this book), they had to know that this movie, of all the “Potter” movies to date (and books, for that matter), was the toughest to adapt. They went for it, and they got a lot of it right. But while there is a lot to admire about the movie, they left far too much room for debate on what could have been.
I'm really not sure why Warner Bros. feels it necessary to offer two different versions of the DVD, since the two-disc Special Edition version of "The Goblet of Fire" is the one that everybody is going to pick up. Unfortunately, because there doesn't seem to be a director commentary (though we've heard otherwise), the first disc of the collection seems to only include the feature film. Disc two is where all the goodies are at, however, including ten minutes worth of deleted scenes, four games, five production featurettes and interviews with the young actors. This is easily one of the best "Potter" films of the collection, so be sure to pick this one up.