Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Pattinson, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Clemence Poesy, Robert Lloyd Pack, Miranda Richardson, David Tennant with Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes
Plot: A magical wizarding competition comes to Hogwarts, three deadly trials to test the greatest students. Harry Potter (Radcliffe) is rigged to participate, just as Lord Voldemort’s followers gather steam.
Harry Potter films are usually judged impossibly harshly on a first viewing. The truth is that these books are truly remarkable creations, J.K Rowling’s sheer imagination and aptitude for characterisation something that cannot help but capture the hearts of readers across the world. It means that when you sit down to watch one of the movie adaptations, everyone is a critic. Daniel Radcliffe faces the daunting task of being put on a pedestal before he has even truly developed as an actor. Directors are at the mercy of harsh audiences and even harsher producers when it comes to replicating the textured universe of Harry Potter good enough. Because, we could strongly argue that there is no such thing as good enough. There are so many angles in the novels, it is impossible to satisfy everyone. Putting more emphasis on Robert Pattinson’s Cedric Diggory would mean less screen time for Alan Rickman’s ever malicious Snape. Adding the character of Ludo Bagman might mean scrapping Miranda Richardson’s Rita Skeeter (Rowling’s glorious satire of the Daily Mail). And it is hard not to be slightly peeved that the finale in the maze has had some much cutting from the book that the third Triwizard tournament task is a bit of a dull finish. Someone is going to be disappointed.
So let’s shift focus from what the movie doesn’t do and instead talk about what it does do. Very well, in fact. Goblet of Fire’s strong point is that it is one of the more cinematic of the books. There are certain set-pieces that feel like they were designed for the big screen. As Harry grabs his broomstick and takes on the terrifying species of dragon, known as the Hungarian Horntail, it might be one of the few moments where the films outdo the book. It is a wondrous spectacle of action that thrills constantly. Let’s be honest, ever since Harry Potter’s first book was released, we have all been waiting to see an adult dragon. The action doesn’t slow down there, taking Harry into an underwater race against time that sees him take on a tribe of merpeople, holding his dear friends hostage. Newell understands that when tackling a movie that almost breaks that dreaded three hour mark, you need some good old-fashioned fun to keep the viewers entertained. But that fun doesn’t necessarily have to derive from action. A lot of the Harry Potter films’ charm comes from the casting. Yes, Snape is a great character in the books, but he is even better when personified by Alan Rickman. The Goblet of Fire continues the trend of amazing performances, dedicating whole scenes to bringing the characters to life through the actors. Brendan Gleeson is the movie’s big name from the newcomers, an alcoholic Auror (dark wizard hunter), complete with a peg leg, false eye and the teaching manner of a psychotic drill sergeant. His opening Defence Against the Dark Arts class is a mesmerising adept lesson in jumping from laugh-out-loud humour to chilling tension in the space of a few moments. Michael Gambon is given a lot more to do than usual too, his Dumbledore upgrading to the centre of attention on several occasions, feeling a lot more comfortable about stepping into Richard Harris’s shoes than last time. Goblet of Fire should also be noted for having scenes solely dedicated to separating the supporting cast from Harry. Rowling’s books rarely take the action away from the central character, with the exception of a few prologue chapters, so we view everyone through the eyes of Harry. Newell strips Radcliffe away from the screen for a few brief moments, so we get to know the characters a little better. It is all trivial stuff (Hagrid has a crush, Snape and McGonagall clash), but it works well to add welcome depth to the peripheral faces. It’s all the more important, because after the three main leads, few characters get enough screen-time to develop fully. Robert Pattinson is that talented an actor he makes his thinly-written Cedric Diggory just prominent enough to make an impact, but others like Clemence Poesy and Tom Felton slip away into the background. Gary Oldman is relegated to an animated fireplace. It is just one of those understandable flaws that come when tackling a story quite this large.
But Newell finds time to get the important bits right: namely Harry, Ron and Hermione. Goblet of Fire is a tricky piece of the series to get right, because, as the characters hit fourteen, puberty becomes the topic of the day. Critics have slated this instalment due to the fact it takes a break from the dragon-fighting and Death Eater threatening to spend a large part of the film talking about Harry asking out girls and taking dates to a dance. It is easy to see why this might cause nerves from some. But Newell understands that it is an important part of the series and works hard to make it just as exciting and interesting as the set-pieces. This moment works better when thinking about the series as a whole. The thing with franchises as prominent in Harry Potter is that the character of Harry Potter is more than a fictional person showing up movie after movie. The school setting of Harry Potter, where we reconnect with our hero one year after the other, helps build this feel that we aren’t just spending time with this character, but actively growing up with him. As you go through your own life, you will find Harry doing the exact same thing in the literary world. Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets tackled that horrible feeling of being a kid, trying to do good but the adult world belittles you, ignoring your attempts to be involved. Prisoner of Azkaban talks about the struggles of growing responsibility and discovering your own identity. When Harry hit the fourth film, it was only natural girls were going to come up. Goblet of Fire doesn’t tackle too much in the form of romance, but it does highlight that the characters are noticing members of the opposite sex. Harry makes a fool of himself in front of women. Friendships are made and broken, as hormones fire horrendously out of control, resulting in situations that the characters will regret. And the beauty of this part of the story is that, we, the audience, will know exactly where those characters are coming from. The genius behind Rowling’s work is that, squint past the magic and spells, and you an see your own life in the pages of her book. Harry might be a wizard, connected to a Dark Lord, but he still has to face the indignities of teenage life. Newell recognises this part of Rowling’s writing and accentuates that here. There are moments that also not only bring out sexual awakening in the characters, but in the audience. One moment, where Emma Watson comes down the stairs in a jaw-droppingly beautiful dress, will cause every male teenage heart to flutter uncontrollably. These characters aren’t kids anymore and neither are their audience.
The Goblet of Fire also has a secret weapon. Lord Voldemort. Yes, this is the part of the series where we finally meet one of the greatest literary villains of modern times. When Goblet of Fire reaches its finale, one of the most precious chapters in the novel, we wait with anticipated breath. What follows could be the greatest scene in the entire movie franchise. Harry finds himself alone and cornered, surrounded by Death Eaters and the reborn You Know Who. Cast amazingly with Ralph Fiennes, Lord Voldemort is a sight to behold. Pale-skinned, his facial features diminished to a reptilian degree, Voldemort is undeniably one part of the films that absolutely satisfies the readers of the book series. Ralph Fiennes has never been more chilling and this is an actor who has depicted chilling more times than most actors have had hot dinners. It is a directorial master-class from Newell who helps Fiennes deliver some deliciously terrifying dialogue with undeniable gusto. It is the slow build (that rotating shot before Voldemort opens his eyes – I shiver with excitement every time), the crescendo of emotions, the level of villainy that Fiennes takes Voldemort. When a movie is this long, it needs a spark to send the film off with. Fiennes forgoes the spark and gives us a whole fire.
Final Verdict: Editing problems remain but Goblet of Fire is a lovingly built adaptation that is far better than most of us were expecting.