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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005)

The “Harry Potter” movie franchise is at a very interesting point now as the books become longer and the movies remain at the acceptable length (2 hours and 20-45 minutes). Inevitably, more storylines must be cut, scenes that would benefit from more screen time in order to convey the true weight of the drama now have to be stripped down to the bare plot points and because of the speed at which these movies get made, some story elements get lost in the translation. I guess we just have to accept the fact that the perfect Harry Potter movie will never be made. Still, they each have their near-perfect moments and this latest installment is no exception.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire distinguishes itself by being the first in the franchise to be directed by a Brit. Mike Newell has a rather diverse resume that makes him both a good choice (“Donnie Brasco,” “Into The West,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and a less-than-exciting one (“Mona Lisa Smile,” “Pushing Tin). Yet, the final result suggests that Newell makes a good choice for a director. It certainly makes more sense than hiring Chris Columbus to direct a musical about bohemians in New York.

Unlike his predecessor Alfonso Cuaron, Newell doesn’t bring anything substantially new to the franchise, but he tries to maintain what Cuaron started and that’s good enough. The school still looks worn and lived-in, the awkwardness of teenage life can still be felt and the actors—old and new—really get to sink their teeth into their roles without chewing too much scenery. Newell has crafted a mostly solid piece of entertainment that certainly ranks as the darkest entry yet.

This year, Hogwarts hosts a Tri-Wizard Tournament, an international competition in which other witchcraft and wizardry schools compete for the world cup. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is too young, but someone has entered his name into the Goblet of Fire (which spits out a single name from each school) and he has no idea who. Dumbledor (Michael Gambon) and his colleagues debate whether or not Potter should compete and decide that rules are rules. The Goblet spit out Potter’s name and so, despite his age, he should compete. But the tournament is rather dangerous and the possibility of being killed looms heavily…so who’s trying to kill Harry Potter now?

Meanwhile, with competitors from all the other schools attending Hogwarts, the students must attend a Yule Ball where they will be taught to—horror of horrors!—dance with one another. Harry and his friend Ron (Rupert Grint) naturally can’t imagine the thought of having to ask a girl out, but they’re 14 now and it’s time. Harry has his eye on a girl named Cho Chang (Katie Leung) and Ron asks Hermione (Emma Watson) at the last minute, but loses to a competitor from another school. As the school year progresses, the tournament gets under way, which gets more and more challenging with every competition, and eventually Harry must confront He Who Must Not Be Named, here played to creepy, malicious perfection by Ralph Finnes.

But the best parts of “Goblet” occur in the film’s middle section with the Hogwarts Yule Ball. The cast, Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves clearly have the most fun with this sequence, which could be the brightest and funniest in the entire franchise (even though this does not represent the best film in the series). It’s the sort of charm that reminds us of what makes the Potter series so much fun and engaging in the first place. In spite of all the magic and otherworldliness that the series encompasses, these are still teenagers and they don’t have any more of a clue as to how to ask out girls than any of us. Watching them try to figure it out brings the Potter series down to earth and makes for a very funny sequence that could have easily been schmaltzy (the school band, featuring members of Pulp and Radiohead, actually rocks).

The movie will likely score many points with the fans, but some of the storyline gets lost or has been awkwardly presented. For instance, when Harry’s name gets mentioned for the Tri Wizard Tournament, Ron suddenly resents him. I knew why. The readers know why, but it seems forced when played out here. Why won’t Ron simply listen to Harry when he explains that he never put his name in the Goblet in the first place? Often, Kloves and the original author J.K. Rowling take for granted that many audience members have read the books and know everything ahead of time, but little story items have been falling through the cracks on these last two installments, an inevitability that’s likely to get worse with every forthcoming film. The three leads could still use a little coaching here and there.

Still, the Potter series remains fresh and full of wonder. Newell has proved he can craft a great action sequence while balancing the humor that comes with awkward adolescence and the sadness of the story’s final act. These movies will still never be as good as the movie in your head when you read the books, but they’re always a welcome addition in today’s mundane movie climate. It will be interesting to see how the next film turns out and how much of the story will translate. Even more curious is the choice of unknown David Yates as director and Michael Goldenberg (“Contact,” “Peter Pan”) as screenwriter. I wonder who put their names in the Goblet for that job? I, for one, don’t envy them.

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