Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Now in his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Magic, young Harry Potter is amazed when he is chosen as the fourth competitor in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, since he didn’t even put his name forward.  As he and his competitors progress through three intimidating and dangerous rounds of competition, Harry faces distractions, and not all of them revolve around signs that the evil Voldemort is gathering strength – he is a teenager, after all!

The popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books meant that as soon as the contracts were signed, Warner Bros were pretty much issued with a licence to print money; and any remaining doubt was swept away by the critical and commercial success of Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban.  Nevertheless, a bad film can throw any franchise into disarray, so as the characters (and the actors playing them) continue to grow, and the threat of You-Know-Who (if you don’t, his name’s Voldermort) looms ever larger over Hogwarts and its students, the pressure is on for Mike Newell to deliver.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is troubled by dreams of Voldemort and a sense of looming danger, compounded when Voldemort’s ‘Dark Mark’ appears over the sky at the Quidditch World Cup and his followers, called ‘Death Eaters’, also show up, causing mayhem.  Nonetheless, when Harry and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) reconvene for the new school year, they quickly have other things to think about; the Tri-Wizard Tournament is being held at Hogwarts, bringing a party of glamorous French students and a less welcome (to Ron, anyway) contingent from Bulgaria, including champion Quidditch player Victor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski).  The rules, as explained by ministry official Barty Crouch (Roger Lloyd-Pack), state that Harry is too young to enter, but mysteriously his name comes out anyway, in addition to those of Hogwarts heart-throb Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson), French favourite Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy) and the brooding Krum.  Each of the challenges appears insurmountable, but with the not-so-subtle guidance of Dark Arts teacher Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Harry manages to negotiate his way through combat against a vicious dragon, an underwater rescue of his friends, and finally a chilling, claustrophobic maze.  Less successful are Harry and Ron’s negotiations with the fairer sex, as they both fail to find proper dates for the Yule Ball that accompanies the tournament: Harry fancies Cho (Katie Leung) but Cedric has already bagged her, whilst Ron’s indifference towards Hermione has driven her into Krum’s arms.  Not that the boys are on good terms, since Harry’s fame has only increased since being entered in the competition, much to Ron’s chagrin.  If Harry was aware of what fate awaited the winner of the cup, he would definitely not want to get his hands on it, since his visions about Voldemort returning to (Ralph Fiennes’) full human form are to prove eerily accurate.

Given that this is our fourth journey with Harry and friends, it’s fair enough that Mike Newell and writer Steve Kloves make no concession to newcomers.  If you’re not aware of the dynamics by now, you had better start from the beginning (and where have you been?).  More worryingly, Goblet of Fire is likely to be a confusing watch if you haven’t read the book on which it’s based.  For while the film covers roughly the same ground as the book, it has trouble reducing the elements to a film-friendly package; and this leads to some strange imbalances.  For example, why go to all the time and trouble to set up the World Cup Final (I’ll pass over the borderline-offensive portrayal of the Irish) and not show a single second of competition? And while the Yule Ball serves its purpose of showing our heroes turning into young men and women – and continuing Ron and Hermione’s prickly relationship – it goes on for too long, doesn’t really achieve its other aim (ie. lightening the mood), and just adds to the gap between mentions of what the Dark Lord and his acolytes are up to.  In the world of Harry Potter, the over-arching sense of something big going on is all-important, and Goblet of Fire fails to build up satisfactorily to the crucial moment.  Thankfully, when this moment does come the serious turn events take is handled very well, Voldemort’s re-birth impressive in both design and execution, and Ralph Fiennes delivering a fine performance of contemptuous evil.

The returning cast members mostly acquit themselves well, though Gambon’s Dumbledore is still much too loud and cross compared to the late, great Richard Harris, and Radcliffe is still not quite the finished article, always wearing the nervous, excitable look of someone about to find out his exam results, anxious even when smiling.  On the plus side, Brendan Gleeson is a terrific addition to the cast, and future Dr Who David Tennant also has a small but vital role.  The other youngsters are fine – Ron’s stupid swearing excepted – and do a good job of making the action scenes both exciting and believable.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a mixed bag, and will probably frustrate as many die-hard fans as it will newcomers since it reduces many of J.K. Rowling’s fine ideas to the point where the references make little or no sense (eg. Priori incantatem; and I can’t remember exactly what was or wasn’t in the book, but here there’s no actual Quidditch games; no Dobby the house elf; not one trip to Hogsmeade; and no mention of Harry’s awful adoptive parents).  However, the ideas that survive remain notable for their inventiveness; and in preserving the drama of this book’s finale, and setting up the magical world for darker times ahead, Mike Newell does a perfectly adequate job of keeping the Hogwarts Express on track.  Not – to be honest – that this money train was ever likely to be derailed.

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