Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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I'm somewhat sad to report that The Goblet of Fire is as of yet the sloppiest, most awkward and least heartfelt entry into the Harry Potter series. While it does contain a few gold moments and a spectacularly dark climax, the majority of the film is a collection of proverbial sore thumbs, and it pales in comparison to both Chris Columbus's decent, kid-oriented entries and Alfonso Cuaron's marvelous Prizoner of Azkaban.

I believe the movie's failings are because of two reaons - first, that director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) doesn't really understand the story, and is probably pretty shakey on the entire Harry Potter universe. This is probably why the film seems so unsure of itself. Everything in the film dealing with the Yule Ball is practically a movie-within-a-movie on how to shoot bad scenes. Don't get me wrong - I'm not opposed to romance in the Potter universe. There were moments in Azkaban where we'd see little hints of a romantic subtext in the way that Harry would accidentally touch Hermione's hand and what-have-you, and they were handled expertly with subtlety and skill by Cuaron. Newell instead opted to beat the audience over the head with obnoxious teen movie cliches, and even managed to bring his own lackluster efforts screeching to a halt and loudly bringing us right out of the movie by sticking a glam rock band right in the middle of it all.

Many of the actors seem equally unsure of themselves, which is a typical result of a franchise film by a director who doesn't really "get it." The worst of all is Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, who took over from the brilliant Richard Harris in the last couple of films. While Harris did a fine job of conveying a sense of wisdom, and the ability to reduce the Great Hall to silence while speaking barely in a whisper, there was also a sense that the guy was just too damn old, and it was nice in Azkaban to see a Dumbledore with a bit more of a twinkle in his eye. Here, unfortunatley, the twinkle is nowhere to be seen, and in its place we have a hyperactive Dumbledore who yells at the top of his lungs and bodyslams Harry against the wall. He looks like he could unscrew your head and shit down your neck, but he isn't very believable as a grandfatherly, wise old wizard.

In fairness to Newell, though, I don't think that all of the movie's faults were entirely down to him; many of them are to do with J.K. Rowling's original book. Azkaban was by far the best film because it was also the best book out of the ones I read, and it was handled by a director who understood the universe, and was skilled at making both intelligent children's films (such as the highly underrated A Little Princess) as well as more adult fare. I know a lot of Potterites complained about how much of the story he left out, but such is always a dilemma with filmmakers adapting popular books - they have to deal with trying to fit ten pounds of shit into a five-pound bag. Azkaban omitted some details and sub-plots but remained a remarkable film, because, among other reasons, the book was remarkable too. The Goblet of Fire was not so remarkable. In fact, the only thing I remember about that book was that it was even longer than the previous three put together, and the next two that I didn't read were even longer. After all the deeply personal trials faced by Harry in Azkaban, a plot revolving around some wizard Olympics-type contest feels pretty uninteresting in contrast.

There are a few nuggets of gold in this picture. Brendan Gleeson is terrific as "Mad-Eye" Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which, if you have been following the series, is the teaching position which always ends up being filled by someone who is a little weird. Out of all the child actors, Emma Watson gives the best performance as Hermione, showing a great deal of emotion and character development since her Chris Columbus days, whereas Radcliffe and Grint appear to be having second thoughts about signing on to make these movies for the rest of their youthhoods. Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman do wonderfully as always, and Ralph Fiennes has a brilliantly evil turn as You-Know-Who, whose scene toward the very end is one of the darkest in the whole series. Harry's encounter with the dragon is also quite a nice CGI set-piece. However, as I said before, these are small bits of gold in an otherwise very awkward and lackluster film, a cake which could have baked a lot longer in the plot and characterization oven before pulling it out icing it with CGI gimmicks.


Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

Sorry, Jack, but I beg to disagree. Goblet is my favorite book of the four (it's almost like a mini version of Lord of the Rings to me) and is my second favorite of the films.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Gaith5674 said...

Wow... shame you didn't like it. I'll probably see it in December.
I agree that Azkaban is the best book, and I think Pheonix (5) is by far the worst, so seeing that movie should be verry interesting.
I also agree that Gambon's Dumbledore is much, much more suited to the role than Harris was. He *body-slams* Harry to a wall in Goblet? That's strange.
Happy Thanksgiving! Did you get my link to the Zorro article? I loooved "Legend".
Best, M.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the movie myself, but I can understand.. one can get overwhelmed by ultral cgi stuff.. I suppose I can understand one not liking the fifth book because of Harry's emo mood.

-Jenny Maurer

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