Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Time was, the premiere of a new Harry Potter movie wouldn’t have interested me in the slightest. Blame Christopher Columbus, whose pedestrian, slavish adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a bitter disappointment. I didn’t bother to watch the second movie—also directed by Columbus—while it was in the theaters, but instead caught it on DVD months later. And regretted having done so, afterwards.

Such was my disappointment with the series that I wasn’t overly concerned about when I saw the third movie. Sure, it had a different—and promising—director (Alfonso Cuaron), but the franchise as a whole seemed doomed. When I finally did see it it was in a theater full of crying babies. And it was great. Saw it again, minus the distractions, twice, and rued the fact that Cuaron wouldn’t be directing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Mike Newell has a middling track record: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, Mona Lisa Smile, many others you haven’t heard of. No huge embarrassments in the list, but nothing to suggest he was an inspired choice to carry on the newly-invigorated Potter line.

But the convention wisdom is Goblet of Fire: best Potter movie yet. True? Yeah. Cuaron did a little more with arty visuals. He also made a more self-contained film, with a coming-of-age story arc and plenty of clever elemental imagery. By contrast, Goblet is very much a middle part in a serialized story—those who haven’t read the book, or at the very least seen the previous movies, will be hard pressed to keep track of the myriad characters and plot developments. But by not worrying overmuch about the uninitiated, the film is able to hit the ground running and pack in a surprising amount of the 734-page book on which it’s based. If anything, it tries to do too much—there are a number of clipped scenes whose whole point seems to be to give a nod to an important element in the book so as not to piss off the fans. And yet the fans inevitably will be pissed off—at the absence of Sirius Black except as a face in a fireplace, at the liberties taken in imagining Voldemort’s appearance, at other things as well, no doubt.

But overall, this movie wins. By compressing so much of the early stuff, which was horrendously overwritten in the book, the Death Eater attack on the World Quidditch Cup has the impact it’s meant to, and sets the dark tone for all that will follow. Might have been my imagination, but it seems like the color palette for this film was a little darker than the previous ones. It’s all leading up to that moment when Harry and Cedric suddenly find themselves in the graveyard, and the bottom falls out of our world. And Newell nails it. Every single frame. Not that I was worried—by that point in the movie I had every confidence that those key scenes would not disappoint.

In terms of what got left in and what got left out, it’s clear that Steven Kloves (the screenwriter for all the films thus far, good and bad, which as far as I’m concerned is an object lesson for the influence of the director on the final version of a script) is taking the long view, and setting up for plot developments in the movies to come. We start getting that slightly darker view of the Ministry of Magic. (Don’t think I didn’t notice the juxtaposition of mechanistic imagery associated with the Ministry versus the woodsy, fire-and-hearth imagery of Hogwarts. Nice touch.) Even though his part in this film is minor, we still touch on those important plot points concerning Snape, whose importance is going to increase dramatically. Might have just been my imagination, but I thought I could see Alan Rickman’s acting start subtly moving from playful caricature into something a little more supple in anticipation of the future demands of his role.

Other favorite parts:

The fight with the dragon. Loved the way it crawled along the towers of Hogwarts like some vampiric bat.

The love drama, and Harry & Ron’s complete and utter ignorance as to its subtleties. One’s sympathy is with Hermione, naturally, but mine was also with Ron because that was me in school, dang it! I was that obtuse until . . . hmm, well, at the least the third year of marriage.

The fact that the rookery was covered in bird poop.

Final notes:

What are they going to do with the actors? Emma Watson will be OK for at least another movie, but every time Daniel Radcliffe insisted that he was 14 years old I could feel my suspension of disbelief fraying at the seams. Finding new actors would suck, but they really don’t want to run into a situation like in Karate Kid III where they had to hide Ralph Maccio’s paunch. I’m somewhat embarassed to remember that.

And for the guys—good news! Clemence Poesy, who plays Fleur de la Couer, is 23 years old. So it’s OK to feel that way.