I have been racking my brain on how to best summarize my thoughts on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the lastest movie in the intended seven part series based on J.K. Rowling's blockbuster books. After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that Harry Potter movies are the new James Bond movies. Decent, mildly exciting movies that offer a fun night at the cinema but are hardly memorable (I am excluding the Connery 007 films from this comparison). Both series have definitely become part of the pop culture lexicon, but neither really offer any stand-out films and have not made the larger cultural impact of more significant film and/or book series such as "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings." "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is an enjoyable, though fault-filled movie, but I can barely imagine watching it again and will have probably forgotten it completely within the next decade.
Now, I have read all six of Rowling's Potter novels. I consider myself a fan, albeit a mild one. "Goblet of Fire" is possibly my favorite book of the series. Overall, the film adaptation was decent, but compared to the book, I have some major grievances. So this review is going to be slightly different than my typical reviews. First, I am going to attempt to judge the movie from a neutral standpoint as best I can. Then, I am going to discuss my problems with the transition from page to screen and some looming problems that I predict for the rest of the film series.
"Goblet of Fire," like its immediate predecessor "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," is alleviated of the slavish devotion to the books that plagued Chris Columbus' adaptations of the first two stories. Mike Newell, the first British director for the series, and screenwriter Steven Kloves faced a daunting task of focusing the narrative of the massive novel. Their results are mixed. The story is stripped to the bare essentials, but at times, I felt there was too much missing. I feel that if I had not read the book, I would have been lost, particularly the attitudes of some of the characters (like why was Ron being such a tool?). Some parts of the story are condensed so much, I wondered why Newell even bothered to include them (for example, the Quidditch World Cup and Rita Skeeter). Some of the film's elements that have been extensively hyped in all of the promotional press (notably, Cho Chang and again, the World Cup) are barely in the movie at all.
My favorite scene of the movie was the one that takes place in Dumbledore's pensieve. The element of the Potter story that I most enjoy is the larger story about Voldemort and the war against him. I love piecing together all of the clues about what happened when he rose to power and killed Harry's parents and the resulting witchhunts (pun somewhat unavoidable) in rounding up the Death Eaters and all the politics surrounding that. The pensieve scene is really our only glimpse of that in this movie, and I thought it was remarkably well done. Bravo! I also really liked the juxtaposition between the cheering crowd and the distraught Harry once he returns from the graveyard at the end. A very tense scene that I found very well done.
I think one of the greatest strengths of all four Potter movies is the costumes and sets, though the series is significantly weakened by a lack of consistency in the appearances of these. In the previous entries, I loved how the sets and costumes conveyed a sense of both the magical and the realistic. However, I feel that this movie goes overboard in making everything seem m-a-g-i-c-a-l. The opening scene and the climactic confrontation between good and evil are supposed to be set in a Muggle house and a Muggle graveyard, yet these sets are huge grandiose constructions that look nothing like what one would expect to find in rural England.
The lack of realism in the sets combines with other elements to infuse the movie with a cartooniness that I despise. Rowling's books create a world that feels real, like our own, but with magic. The magic is a normal part of these characters' lives, and it is treated rather matter-of-factly, as it should be. In the movie, that sense of otherworldly realism is absent. Nearly everytime something magical happens, the music builds, the characters tend to stop and gawk, and there are gaudy special effects that look like they were pulled out of the video game tie-in (this film series is constantly plagued by terrible, though slowly improving, CGI). The movie also treats all of the characters like cartoons, particularly the adults. These are the people who have fought a war. When I see them in the film doing over-the-top completely out of place physical comedy, I cannot picture them fighting a cockroach, much less an evil wizard. Why did Filch have to run into the Great Hall like that? Why does Barty Crouch look like Mr. Magoo? And there are enough awkward explanations of how things work or are going to play out to make Burt Ward cry "Holy exposition!" These things are completely unnecessary. Please.
The acting still leaves a lot to be desired. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) continues to improve with each movie. He's still stiff, but his talent is maturing with the character. Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron, who is in serious need of a haircut. Dude looks like a girl, an ugly girl!) are still guilty of ACT-ing. I often cringed when they were speaking. Maggie Smith (as my favorite Potter character, Professor Minerva McGonagall) continues to be the best thing about the movie. When she delivers such strange lines as "We never use transfiguration as a punishment," she makes it seem so commonplace, that one gets that she really believes in what she is doing. Alan Rickman (Snape) is amazing as he is in all his movies. The other adults are okay. Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) may be guilty of some slight overacting, but I cannot be sure as I was too distracted by the horrible design used for his character. I also miss John Williams' score.
These characters live in a world filled with magic. When Rowling writes, I can sense that she believes in this world. I do not think that the filmmakers believe in the material they are presenting. If they cannot get behind it, then how can they expect us to?
Now, on to my complaints about the movie as an adaptation of the book. Before I rip into it, I must applaud the decision to remove the subplot about Hermione liberating house elves. It was stupid in the book, and I am thankful that I did not have to suffer through it on screen.
I read this book around the time of the release of the first movie. As soon as I read the opening chapter, I said "That is going to be an awesome opening scene!" Alas, it was not. Now, normally I would not complain too much about something not looking exactly as I had pictured it, but I had such a cool scene in my head and this did not live up to it at all. Aside from my previous complaint about the set design of the Riddle house, this scene was just not creepy enough. I also felt that the title should not have been seen until after Frank was killed. I had pictured the movie opening with no music or title on this really creepy looking, but normal, old house. Frank wanders in and discovers Voldemort, Wormtail (who in my head looked way cooler than the stupid one in the movie), and company. Then Frank is killed. The screen goes black. We hear the familiar tune and see the title of the film and then Harry awakes. See what I mean? Mine is way cooler than their's.
My biggest complaint, however, is the final act. This is such a crucial moment for this story and the rest of the series. When Harry grabs the Tri-Wizard Cup and is teleported to the graveyard, the setting was not the only thing that changed. This also marked the moment when J.K. Rowling stopped writing for children and started writing for everyone. The return of Voldemort sets the stage for the war to come that will consume the remaining books.
I felt that this scene in the movie was a colossal missed opportunity. Voldemort looked ridiculous. Voldemort needs to be scary and powerful. Think of Emperor Palpatine, Saruman, or even the Wicked Witch of the West. All of these villains commanded the screen. You knew why their followers did not question them. They had power. When Voldemort and the Death Eaters finally show up in this movie, I was thinking "Why would anyone follow him?" If I were a Death Eater, I would be much more likely to do what Lucius Malfoy told me than Voldedork. He did not demand fear or respect. He looked silly not scary, like a bald Michael Jackson.
If the audience cannot be scared by Voldemort, then I fear that the remaining movies are going to fall flat. The war against Voldemort is what the next two books (and surely the yet-to-be-released seventh book) are all about. The success of the remaining movies will be dependent on how well Voldemort is executed, and if this ending is any indication, then I do not see the movies improving in the future.
What did you think about the new Harry Potter movie? Fun? Overrated? Awesome? Scary? Disappointing? Boring? Or just plain bad?
Hey man, thanks for visiting my blog. Oooh, I like yours -- devoted entirely to movies. Mine used to be about other stuff, but it gradually come to revolved strictly around my films and my petty opinions of them.
On Harry Potter, I agree with you that the series is the new James Bond. Though I find the Potter films a lot more enjoyable and well crafted than the Bond ones, neither of them really transcend the celluloid the way other films like the ones you mentioned do. Still, I think GOBLET OF FIRE is very successful and entertaining as a film...
The acting does bother me. The kids seem nice enough but i never really buy into the characters. Professor Snape owns, though. Cho Chang didn't add much to the book herself, so i am glad her part is small. Just a side plot to show the foibles of first crushes.
In my opinion, I HATED the way the movie portrayed Barty Crouch Jr. (This is because I read the book, but for those who didn't, it doesn't really matter). First off, he was not supposed to be in the opening scene because the viewer is not supposed to know he has a role. Second, the dialogue between Barty Crouch, Jr. and his father during the trial was completely missing. This supports the reason for why BCJ killed his father and why BCJ was so desperate to please Voldemort. There was also no scene in which he explained himself.
Also, like Brandon, I believe the Voldemort wasn't scary enough. As the Dark Lord, I expected him to be relishing the scene in which he torments Harry. He needed to seem like he was enjoying himself, but instead he looked like a turtle.
However, I did like the director's decision to change the maze scene by focusing on psychological demons, ("People change in here"), although the original events would have probably been more visually enteraining.
Cho Chang was cute but way overrated, and I missed Snape and McGonagall.