Franchise Backsliding

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to school for his fourth year to find that Hogwarts is hosting two other wizarding schools in an epic tournament consisting of three deadly tasks. Each school will be represented by a single champion. But all is not as it should be in this competition: Harry has mysteriously been entered alongside the other three champions. Meanwhile, there are increasing rumors of Voldemort’s return, and Harry and friends discover a growing interest in the opposite sex.

So, have you heard there’s a new Harry Potter movie out? There’s magic . . . flying broomsticks . . . Evil Lord Voldemort . . . Same old schtick. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is as long as any two of the three previous books combined, but the movie adaptation is only the second longest of the four at a measly two hours and thirty-four minutes. Sadly, the lack of runtime shows. Goblet” suffers from a hectic pace, virtually no character development, and shamelessly self-indulgent special effects.

In shortening a lengthy work, there are a number of routes to take to satisfy the necessities of keeping the main ideas intact, leaving room for the fans’ favorite scenes and still fulfilling the important elements of good movie-making. Goblet picked what is possibly the worst of these routes: a “good-parts” version of the book translated onto the big screen, sacrificing many of the elements from both the book and previous movies that made them so endearing to begin with. What we get instead is a mind-numbing barrage of flashy computer-generated glitz for the first hour or so of the movie without a moment’s pause for breath or expository dialogue.

For instance, Harry and his friends journey to an enormous encampment outside the Quidditch World Cup within the first few minutes of the movie, and we see the huge arena, the wild crowd and both teams flitting rapidly about. We are even introduced to Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), the most famous Quidditch player in the wizarding world. Cut to our heroes arriving back at their tent, post-game. Everyone seems happy, and no one seems to care who won or what just happened. They certainly don’t pause long enough to inform the audience before a group of Death Eaters (Who? Oh, nevermind) begin rampaging through the camp. Never fear, the Death Eaters won’t harm our hero. They won’t have time. He has to be at Hogwarts in five minutes.

Goblet hardly slows down the pace until just before the Yule Ball, when at last it appears as though we may get to know some of the characters. We are treated to a few scenes of actual dialogue with some good laughs and interesting developments. The Yule Ball begins and the Great Hall of Hogwarts (lavishly decorated for the occasion) is awash in a veritable sea of character interaction. It’s glorious . . . for at least thirty seconds. Then the rock music starts, and the scene abruptly devolves into junior prom. In this and other scenes, Newell has significantly changed the visual feel of the movies, abandoning some of the archaic fantasy appearance in favor of a more modern, pop style of the sort that will make this movie feel extremely dated within the next decade at most.

Essentially, the plot has been stripped down to include only the book’s flashiest scenes, largely related to the Tri-Wizard Tournament (an event which will remain largely unexplained to those who haven’t read the book). The action-packed scenes that are left are beefed up to make them even more exciting. The most vivid example of this is the transformation of a two and a half page scene in the book where Harry successfully completes the first task of the Tournament by outflying a dragon. In the movie, we are treated to a ten minute adrenaline-filled chase through the air, during which Harry must fall off his broom at least once, hang by his fingertips over a yawning drop, and plummet into the misty depths to be presumed dead before he ascends, broom sputtering, to complete the task.

Despite these flaws, fans of the series will be quick to note that this is still Harry Potter. Even though many of the characters seem flat, others are given brief but memorable moments to stand out. Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the Weasley twins (James & Oliver Phelps), and Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) all shine in minor roles. Several subplots, which are complete dead ends cinematically, serve as nods to fans of the books to make up for cutting the whole thing, most notably the inclusion of Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson) and Madame Maxime’s (Frances de la Tour) romance with Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane).

Additionally, the movie’s climax, easily the darkest and most intense in the series to date, manages to convey all of the emotional weight of the book. From the moment Harry and his fellow competitors begin the final task of the Tournament, none of the previous flaws seem to matter. We might almost have forgotten them entirely if Goblet hadn’t defused its own impact with an incredibly trite denouement by Dumbledore before the final credits rolled.

As an adaptation of its source material, Goblet leaves much to be desired, and as a movie it suffers artistically in its attempts to match the source material. Nevertheless, fans of the series should still go see it, and will still enjoy what it gets right.

  • Co-reviewed with Randy

~ by Jared on November 18, 2005.

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