Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  November 18, 2005 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

The last time we left young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), they had managed to avoid being captured by the evil Dementors of Azkaban and learned the truth about Sirius Black's intentions towards Harry. Although the ministry of magic insisted that Black was wanting to harm Harry, the real assassin was Peter Pettigrew, an ally of Lord Voldermort. Although Pettigrew escaped Harry, Ron, and Hermione, with the help of Dumbledore, he helped Black to escape capture and certain death back at Azkaban.

Now another year older and with another summer away from Hogwarts fast coming to an end, Harry begins to have troublesome nightmares which take him into a mysterious room where Lord Voldermort is planning his evil revenge with two strange henchmen. The only problem is that Harry cannot make out who they are and always awakens before much information can be released. Before returning to school, Harry joins his friends and Ron's father for a special trip to the Qudditch world championship, but after the match, the death eaters attack the stadium. The death eaters are followers of Voldermort who have remained in hiding for the last number of years since their master's disappearance. Their return is marked also by the return of the Dark Mark, something wizards have come to fear. Harry comes face to face with a strange man, but before the authorities can step in, he vanishes. A bit shaken up, Harry, Ron, and Hermione return to Hogwarts for another year. Once back at Hogwarts, they are met by a few changes, including the introduction of a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher in Alistar Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), and the announcement that the Tri-Wizard Cup Tournament will be held there – which brings together three competing schools (Hogwarts, Beauxbottoms of France, and Durmstrang from the East). The well-known tournament is known to be dangerous and selection is limited to one person per school, made by the Goblet of Fire. However, when the Goblet throws out Harry Potter as a fourth name, Dumbledore has no choice but to let him compete, despite the fact he doesn't meet the age requirement. This causes Harry to have a falling out with Ron, which is strained even further when the two of them struggle to find dates to the Hogwarts Yule Ball. Add into all of this the fact that Harry continues to have the same nightmare that he had the past summer. As the year progresses, Harry risks his life and those of his friends when he competes in the three tasks of the tournament – a dangerous rescue of a golden trinket guarded by a fierce and vicious dragon, a daring under-the-sea water rescue, and finally a maze unlike no other. Can Harry win the Tri-Wizard Cup, and just what is Lord Voldermort up to? Find out in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth film in the series, this time helmed by Mike Newell, who is the series' third director but first to come from Harry Potter's home country of Britain. The first two were American and Mexican. Newell teams up with screenwriter Steve Klowes, who's penned all four screenplays thus far. Given the fact that the same screenwriter has been involved, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that the writing is on par with the previous chapters, leaving much of the film's success or failure down to the person directing the production. I was a bit afraid of having Newell direct the film because nothing in his past work suggests he is capable of handling this sort of fantasy film. His last film was the dreadful Mona Lisa Smile, which despite an A-list cast had to be one of the most dull chick flicks in recent memory. That, and I just loved where Alfonso Cuaron took the series visually in the last film. Luckily, the material remains strong and Newell manages to create a film that is continually engaging and entertaining, despite its 2 hour and 40 minute running time, which puts it just under Chamber of Secrets in terms of overall running time. In an age where kids' attention spans are getting shorter and shorter by the day, most of those around me at the screening were captivated enough not to run around and make noise. So that's a sign that Newell has at least done something right.

So how does Goblet of Fire as a film compare to the other chapters in the Harry Potter saga? Fairly well, as I'd put it in just behind Azkaban and Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone in terms of entertainment value. The problem with the film is that, while it's consistently entertaining from start to finish, there seems to be something missing from the storyline as there are a lot of small things happening that are hinted at but hardly explored. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the novel, at 636 pages, is much longer than its predecessors and Steve Klowes has had to compress it down even more than the others to reach an acceptable-length film, which even in its current form is one of the longest. During pre-production there was some talk of making the book into two films, which might have allowed for more of the back story to make the film and therefore allowing the final product to be more faithful to the original material. As it stands now, the biggest problem is the introduction of characters such as Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), Barry Crouch Jr., and Harry's love interest Cho Chang, who are given very little screen time, a problem that also plagues existing characters like Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid and Alan Rickman's evil and mysterious Snape. Don't get me wrong, I love that this is an ensemble piece like The Lord of the Rings and that this chapter and Prisoner of Azkaban are more meant to set up future confrontations and plot lines, but I just felt that despite the engaging action, the back story was a tad glossed over for us non-Potter fanatics.

It's been nearly 5 years since audiences were introduced to Harry Potter in movie form and man, has the core cast come a long way in terms of acting abilities and performances. Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter, and despite the fact that he's getting to an awkward age in terms of his looks (though some girls still think the guy is hot and have given him the nickname Dreamy Dan), Radcliffe continues to handle the material at an adequate if not overly impressive level. The series of films is called "Harry Potter", and as such he has the bulk of the material to handle. Although he's become visually identified as Potter, he is branching out into other films – but I'm still not sold on this guy's talents. I guess the best thing I can say about him is that he isn't annoying, and handles the part better then most kids probably could. Rupert Grint has become Ron Weasly and is always a good source of laughs, though his performance is more subdued than in the last couple of films. Emma Watson, who has long been a bright spark for me in the films, actually disappointed me here playing her more emotional scenes a bit over-the-top for my liking. In terms of newcomers, we have Katie Leung, who has mostly a thankless role as Potter's love interest, Stanislav Ianevski as Hermione's beau and expert Quidditch player, as well as Robert Pattinson as Hogwarts star athlete Cedric. Ianevski has a brooding quality to his performance, but Pattinson doesn't really do much with his screen time.

In terms of the adult cast, most of the screen time is taken up by newcomer Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, a creepy one-eyed teacher who comes to Hogwarts to teach the Defence Against the Dark Arts course. Gleeson, a talented Irish character actor, embodies this role with an eery quality that is both unsettling and strangely engaging. His work with his CGI eye is quite impressive, and he adds a much-needed comedic tone to some of the film's darker moments. Also new is Miranda Richardson as reporter Rita Skeeter, who is around for the first half before disappearing almost entirely in what must have been a case of her subplot being cut to shorten the film. The returning members of the adult cast are all spot-on, with Michael Gambon becoming the definitive Dumbledore and Alan Rickman churning in yet another solid performance in a small role. I hope Snape has more to do in future chapters, because Rickman is one of the best talents which hasn't been utilized enough thus far. Also noteworthy is Ralph Fiennes' first appearance as the overall villain of the series, Lord Voldermort.

Another aspect of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I enjoyed was that, despite all that was going on, the film at its core dealt with some issues that regular kids face when they go through that awkward transition from child to teenager. Conflicts begin to develop within the core group of characters as their overwhelming emotions and hormones begin to enter into things. Ron begins to develop feelings for Hermione, but due to his inability to act on them, he is unable to take her to the Yule Ball (sort of a prom in the Harry Potter world). Also, the conflict between saving oneself or rescuing friends at great peril also comes to play during the tournament sequences, specifically the very cool underwater scene involving the mermaids. These are true life issues that add a more human aspect to this mystical and magical fantasy world that Harry Potter inhabits.

From a visual standpoint, the movie is another visual triumph. From the opening sequence through to the battle with the dragons, the living maze, and the 10-minute underwater rescue mission, the visual effects crews have matched Azkaban's mark. After a weak start under Columbus, the visuals in the series have become something to look forward to more and more with each subsequent film.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a worthy entry into a cinematic series that has provided both excellent and mediocre film adaptations of one of the best-selling book collections in recent children's literature history. Under director Mike Newell, the cast has once again proven themselves to be worthy of appearing in this fantasy world. Action-packed and constantly engaging for almost every minute of its bloated 2 hour and 40 minute running time, this feature has something for kids and adults alike while still remaining true to its written origins (although, from a storytelling aspect, I wish there was more happening and a tad more of the back story given). This chapter, along with Prisoner of Azkaban, does set the stage for the major events to come by introducing Lord Voldermort in human form. Goblet of Fire isn't the best of the series thus far, but it does more right than wrong and is a great value for your money. Bring on The Order of the Phoenix.

Tags: Harry Potter

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Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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