The Barenaked Archives – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Difficult Times Lie Ahead

Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireThe phenomenon that is Harry Potter is unlike anything we’ve really seen. People are lining up at midnight for the books and for the movies. And the latest offering, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is the one that probably differs the most from its literary roots. Asking somebody to condense the 734-page tome into a two-and-a-half hour movie is tantamount to asking a miracle, and as a diehard fan of the books I knew going in that only what was essential to the main plot was going to be included.

The result? Despite some uneven pacing, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire holds true to the darker and increasingly dangerous spirit of the book, with an ending that packs one hell of an emotional wallop.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are about to enter their fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Hogwarts is to host the dangerous Triwizard Tournament, where three wizards-in-training from three different schools compete for the Triwizard cup and eternal glory. When Harry is somehow entered in the tournament and forced to compete, he discovers that the evil Lord Voldemort poses a more dire threat than ever, and that danger lurks within Hogwarts itself.

With Goblet of Fire, Hogwarts is hitting puberty, both within the movie and without. The stars are maturing and becoming more comfortable with their characters, and it shows. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson have practically become Harry, Ron, and Hermione. This movie also gives us the first major fight between Harry and Ron, as well as Harry’s first crush. Watching the boys try vainly to find a date for their first school dance is funny if only because of how familiar and true it is.

Blessedly, there’s more from Fred and George Weasley, something I’ve been praying for ever since seeing the first movie. The prank-pulling twins are the funniest characters in the books and it’s nice to see them finally get a chance to shine.

The best newcomer, hands-down, is Brendan Gleeson as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Mad-Eye Moody, a scarred ex-Auror (Dark Wizard hunter) with a fake leg and a magical eye. Brendan Gleeson is one of my favorite character actors, and he plays Moody with a zeal that encompasses both Moody’s innate paranoia and glee for his particular brand of teaching. There’s a scene involving a ferret that’s probably the funniest in the movie.

However, to tell this whole story in a manageable time limit means that a lot had to be cut, and I mean a lot. We never see the Dursleys, Harry’s rotten relatives. There’s barely a glimpse of the Quidditch Cup. S.P.E.W. is gone, as well as ninety percent of Rita Skeeter’s (Miranda Richardson) subplot. While I’d be hard-pressed to say that S.P.E.W. is missed, the amount of other stuff that needed to be cut hurts the pacing in parts of the movie, especially at the beginning.

The book takes quite awhile to set up with the trip to Ron’s house and the Quidditch Cup, and it’s not till page 170 that we even get to Hogwarts. The movie has to cram a lot of set up into a very short span, and sadly it doesn’t work out too well. It feels disjointed and jumpy up till they get back to the school, though things settle down once the Triwizard Tournament gets started. They could’ve taken a little more time at the beginning to smooth things out, maybe showed a bit more from the Cup and definitely from the Death Eater rampage immediately following it.

It also wouldn’t have hurt to give the other school champions some more screen time. Cedric, Fleur, and Viktor have maybe three or four lines apiece, with Cedric getting the most because he spends the most time interacting with Harry. Other than that, it seems they’re just Tournament fodder, so to speak. It’s a shame, especially since a little more time spent on them would’ve made them more than stock characters.

Even so, the ending of the movie really makes up for the aforementioned nitpicks. Director Mike Newell stayed consistent with the darker tone set forth in Prisoner of Azkaban, and this is the first film where characters actually die onscreen. Even knowing the deaths were coming, it was still a shock. The climax in the cemetery is great, and the makeup guys deserve mad props for making You-Know-Who (played by the wonderfully wicked Ralph Fiennes) one scary, scary man. There’s no returning to the status quo at the end. Everything has changed, and you can feel it in the final frames.

Those who haven’t yet gotten into the Harry Potter phenomenon would probably do better to start with the movie Prisoner of Azkaban, which does the best of the four in balancing a faithfulness to the plot and spirit of the books. (They’d actually do best to start with the books and then move on to the movies, but I don’t have enough faith in humanity that they’ll do that.) However, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an excellent and well-made addition to the series. Fans of the books (not purists) and movies alike won’t be disappointed.

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