Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't Enjoy Sports? Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire Will Bore You!

The Good: Acting is all-around wonderful, DVD bonus features, Final fifteen minutes
The Bad: Erratic special effects, Predictable plot/character events, Pacing, Editing, Awkward character development (Ron!)
The Basics: Despite a few decent moments and a great climax, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is more often a sports-based teen melodrama that will disappoint adult viewers.

I'll admit it right off the bat: I came into Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire biased. The prior cinematic installment, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban had such a huge, glaring plot problem that went unresolved, essentially setting up Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire that it was pretty much agony for me to sit with my wife watching this installment. Viewed on DVD, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is too erratic for the serious cinephile to enjoy, complete with setups that go unfulfilled and such a lack of tone that it was only when the movie was almost over and my wife asked "Have you figured it out yet?" that it even occurred to me that there was a plot underfoot in the film.

Unfortunately, by this point in the Harry Potter Saga, the elements are so predictable as to be tiresome to even bother reviewing. The action always stems around the heroism of Harry Potter, a young man just learning magic, but with a strong innate ability to do it anyway. He goes from his normal life in the muggle (non-magic) world to Hogwart's school where there is something going on, a new villain rising and a complication that always centers around the new Defense Against The Dark Arts professor. It's always the Defense Against The Dark Arts professor that moves the plot in whatever way it zigs or zags. It's like the way the doctors on House, M.D. always guess "lupus" whenever they encounter a sick character. By Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, the viewer is ready for something different and, alas, we are not treated to it until the final fifteen minutes, long after most of us have stopped caring.

As always, it is worth noting that this is not the book, this is the movie I am reviewing.
As such, the usual "that was explained better in the book" might be applicable, but if it's not clear by the film, it's a poor cinematic rendering. Unfortunately, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire has far too many moments like that.

After dreaming of Peter Pettigrew and another villain in a house with a severely weakened Voldemort, who has been made corporal, Harry Potter awakens horrified and absolutely convinced the dark lord has returned. So, he goes with his friends to the world championship Quidditch match where after much fanfare, the game is played and the afterparty is interrupted by an all-out attack by Deatheaters, followers of Lord Voldemort. Terrified, the Weasleys shuffle their kids, Harry and Hermione off to Hogwart's School Of Wizardry And Witchcraft.

Once there, the school plays host to a dangerous competition designed to test the magical abilities of a champion from each of the three great magic schools of the area. The Hogwart's champion, because it has to be a person over seventeen, is the Quidditch player Cedric Diggory. But the Goblet Of Fire, which chooses the champions, also spits out Harry Potter's name and he is bound to enter the competition. Tutored and guided by MadEye, the new Defense Against The Dark Arts professor and Hagrid, Harry works to survive the various trials and work with Cedric to win the competition. But at the same time, he is plagued by the sense there is something evil underfoot and his unexplained presence in the competition is a setup for something horrible.

In fact, Potter's place in the competition is a setup for a pretty fabulous finale to the film. Unfortunately, most of the film is the competition broken up by awkward scenes of stupid middle-school antics character scenes. Throughout the film, Ron is moody in a way that is never satisfactorily explained, so it comes across on screen as a Degrassi-style melodrama. The investigation into the acts of the Deatheaters in the opening is brushed under the rug almost instantly and so MadEye's place in the film is mostly to guide Harry on the competition.

But even the competition has a sense of obvious melodrama to it that is unclearly presented in the film. Touted as a dangerous series of challenges to each magician, the competition soon becomes harmless. For example, while rescuing friends who are magically trapped underwater, the champion Fleur Delacour loses her magic bubble (her ability to breathe underwater). She mysteriously survives the event, as does the person she was supposed to rescue from her (would-be) watery grave. My point here is that the competition is revealed to be all hype and no substance; if Fleur lost her ability to breathe underwater, the competition truly is illustrated as dangerous if she dies a horrible drowning death, not if she manages to swim an impossible distance back to the surface. As it is, she only loses that test within the overall competition, so the viewer is seriously letdown. This is the basic theory of the hero; the greater the challenge, the greater the hero. Harry, it seems, is not truly in danger - save by his moody teenage friends being upset with him - until the very end.

As for that, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire entirely hinges on the mistake made in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, as it is Peter Pettigrew who appears to be instrumental in making Voldemort corporal again. The Harry Potter films, largely are more about flash than substance. This is almost made hyperbole in this installment when the gang goes to the world championship Quidditch match but after much hype the game is performed entirely off-screen. This first anticlimax comes on the heels of a terrible special effect for the portkey, a magical device that transports people from one location to another. The concept is integral to the final part of the movie, but by the time it comes up, viewers are likely to figure that something is going on given where the movie goes.

What Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire has going for it is the acting. While Rupert Grint is forced to act like a moody, melodramatic teenager with little on-screen cause, he does it quite well, portraying the anger expertly. Similarly, Emma Watson continues to develop as a convincing and impressive acting talent, especially in scenes where he character makes her first few awkward steps forward in dating an older boy. Watson and Grint play the character conflict that causes off perfectly.

Brendan Gleeson joins the cast as MadEye, a hunter of evil wizards and Gleeson is phenomenal. In fact, his performance is so different from any of his other roles that he is virtually unrecognizable in the part. Adult actors like Gleeson, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Maggie Smith (McGonagall) and Alan Rickman (Snape) fill out the cast wonderfully and play off each other perfectly to create a very adult sense of mature magic-users. Even Matthew Lewis, who plays the minor role of Neville Longbottom, comes into his own in this movie, seeming more confident within his character's nervous skin. In fact, the only performance that seems based more on casting than talent is Robert Pattinson, of Twilight (click here for my review of that film!) fame, as Cedric. Pattinson struts around cocky, but never seems to fit the otherwise professionally-performing cast.

It falls to Daniel Radcliffe to hold the film together at many points and he does it as best he can. Unfortunately, there are moments a digital double is used and it looks absurd. As well, there are times when he seems unclear with what the action going on around him is supposed to be and he does his best, but the plot seems to baffle him at times, too.

The problem here is that there is too much that is unexplained that makes the movie a real tough nut to swallow. Peter Pettigrew getting away at the climax of the prior installment makes no real sense, but given that Hermione has one of the many tools needed to capture him, why no one has is not satisfactorily explained. As a result, this is another special effects epic that is more flash than fun.

On DVD there are a bevy of deleted scenes and featurettes on the special effects and the process of bringing the book to screen. They enhance one's education into the broader world of Harry Potter, but do not make this film any more palatable.

For other films in the Harry Potter franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban


For other film reviews, please check out my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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