I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire while on Thanksgiving vacation and it was a mixed bag. In some ways, it was one of the better movies: it didn’t shy away from the darker content of the book and it hit the feeling of the world throughout. In other ways, it was the first in the series to really suffer from the divergence of the films and the book, and highlight the great lengths the writers, director, and editor will have to go to from now on to make the movies work. In fact, this may be the film that forces them to actually change the storyline to accomodate the differing medium, or make more movies than books (doubtful). I have a feeling Harry Potter fans will be howling “avada kedavra” when The Order of the Phoenix goes up on the big screen because so much of the story, characters, and world will be cleaved off.
Spoiler Warning: In this post I assume you’ve read the book and won’t be surprised by the movie. I give away many plot points below.
The long and short of it* is that the books are getting too long to go to film with all of their richness and complexity intact. In the film, everything leading up to the Tri-Wizard Tournament itself is told in a frenetic no-frills fast forward. So much so, that even the actors’ deliveries seemed hurried and without pause. As Matthew Baldwin of Defective Yeti points out in his review, “At one point they introduce a major character (Barty Crouch Junior) only to interrupt themselves halfway through to introduce a second major character (Mad Eye Moody), and then return to the original introduction once that is complete.” Imagine reading the first sentence of every other page of the book, after Harry’s already gotten away from the Dursleys (who don’t even nab a mention in this film). That’s what it feels like before the tournament.
Goblet of Fire is a straight shot of Harry Potter firewater for the fans, no question: get the hard part over quick and feel the warm glow of familiarity and thrills afterward. This film will leave non-fans/-readers in the dust until they can get their bearings during the competition (though my brother, who hasn’t read the books, said he enjoyed it). But if you embrace that aspect of the production and view the film as a test for the screenwriter Mike Kloves and director Mike Newell’s abilities, it makes a lot more sense. I hope neither is a huge fan of Harry Potter, or this was undoubtedly a painful process of ruthless cutting. They dropped half of the book or more, no question, and it wasn’t just dialogue.
Anyway, getting past the slash-and-burn of the book, when the movie settles down a bit and isn’t obviously trying to dumptruck plot points, it’s pretty good. The actors all own their characters quite well and Ralph Fiennes fully inhabits his role as the restored Lord Voldemort. With his superb makeup job and excellent mannered and darkly pointed delivery, I think he’ll give us another great on-screen villain. Though I have to admit the film’s Voldemort is a bit more visually subtle than I envisioned. The on-screen Albus Dumbledore has always struck me as a little off as well; I always saw him as being more outwardly loveable and impossible to ruffle. Dumbledore has always had a bit of Picasso-ish child-like simplicity to him, with a larger-than-life persona in my mind’s eye. The movie grounds him and trims him down to size a bit. I try not to let it bother me, as the films’ version is just a different take on the same ideas. Also, some of the actors are starting to outgrow their roles as nature propels them further from their characters’ ages, but once you get past it, it’s not too bad.
The visual effects worked well and the inherent wonder and mystery of the world hold together. The film is worth rewatching for the dense and rich visual landscape created to service Rowling’s world. One element in particular that exceeded my expectations by far is the design of the Death Eaters. Their costuming is a brutal, dark fantasy, S&M Klansmen look that struck to the heart of their dread in a single move that read immediately. I was very impressed. But, ultimately, it’s all very well designed HP-lite. If you really want to get another HP jolt, go see it. If not, don’t bother and just read the book instead. At this point, I’m doing it because I love the books and I like watching the films with my wife. If it weren’t for that, I might not have bothered and just stuck with the books. If you’re on the fence, just rent it, as it is pretty entertaining.
My hope, in spite of my backhanded compliment of a review, is that Gambon will start a trend for these films that will save them from themselves: extensively expanded director’s cut. The DVD format has done, in my opinion, wonders for film as an industry and an art, and I’m hoping that the producers and the studio recognize the potential for not only more cash but also a way to appease fans and serve the work. I’d love to see a DVD director’s cut that’s an hour longer and much more faithful to the book. I think studios are more tolerant of this now, particularly after Peter Jackson’s directors cuts of Lord of the Rings, the longest of which added 40 minutes to an already roughly 3 hour film. If they were smart, they let Gambon make the film that worked, and then cut it down intensely for theatrical release…if they were smart. The DVD rentals and sales would explode if they could offer a more developed and faithful extended version. I’d rent it. But we’ll see.
MPAA Review: Sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.
Ad Exec Review: “Difficult times lie ahead, Harry.”; Dark And Difficult Times Lie Ahead; On November 18 Everything Will Change.