by MP Bartley
I've always quite liked the fact that I've never read any of the Harry Potter books. It means that I can judge the big-screen adaptations on the merits of being films alone, and not particularly worry about what's been left out or changed. But on the whole, the first three films have not convinced me to go and pick up the books either. The Philosopher's Stone was a rote, lifeless introduction to a list of characters, although Chamber of Secrets picked up the slack and was a lot of fun. The Prisoner of Azkaban was a muddle however, confusing those who hadn't read the book. It's a great relief to say then, that 'The Goblet of Fire' is the first Potter film to make this non-Potter reading critic actually want to go and read the damn thing.Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts turns out to be just as eventful as the previous three. Someone has entered him into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a competition involving several dangerous tasks with the prize of everlasting glory for the winner. But Harry shouldn't have been entered into the competition, as he's too young, and it seems that someone has sinister designs on him. As well as that, Harry, Ron and Hermione have to deal with the fact that they're getting older, starting to notice the opposite sex and have, um, urges to deal with.
"Harry Potter and the Raging Hormones."
The main problem with the previous Potter adaptations, is that they lacked the sense of fun and character that all great children's films should have. Instead, they were mostly a slapdash portrayal of the series biggest events and characters, simply laid down in the belief that actually just filming them automatically equates them with excitement.
Well it doesn't, and this is something that Mike Newell knows and actively works against. Something of an odd decision initially, he turn out to be an inspired choice to helm Harry's current year at school. Newell works really hard to invest the action scenes with a palpable sense of danger and excitement. Subsequently, scenes where Harry battles a dragon, gets dragged into a maze which is a hellish combination of the Overlook's garden and David Bowie's Labyrinth, and battles to save his friends underwater, are more than just eye candy.They have a spark to them, a genuine wonder and excitement, and the film is much more involving for the audience as a result.
But balancing this out, are the emotional undercurrents that make 'The Goblet of Fire' stand out as the best film yet of Harry Potter. It's very, very rare that a film made by adults can accurately represent the emotional mindset of a bunch of 14 year olds, and rarer still to give it a realism without slushy sentimentality. And if you'd told me, that that film would be a Harry Potter film, I probably wouldn't stop laughing for a day. But 'The Goblet of Fire' is that film, and for once, you actually give a damn about the kids involved. So when Ron starts lashing out at Harry and then Hermione, you don't hate him for it, you feel for him, because that's what kids do at that age and we recognise it. Likewise Hermione's teary rant at Ron at the Yuletide Ball - it's not just a stroppy teenager, Newell manages to bring out the hurt and emotion that she's feeling without making it mawkish.
The potential pitfall of becoming mawkish is avoided mainly because it also happens to be the funniest of the films by far. Scenes of Harry and Ron trying to pluck up the courage to ask a girl out, are as funny as anything Cameron Crowe has ever wrote and the supporting characters are as colourful and as entertaining as they should be.
There's a great feeling throughout the film that Newell knows exactly what tone to strike and where. It's funny when it needs to be, appropriately exciting and emotional, and by the end when we finally get to meet Lord Voldemort, scary as hell (for kids). He may only have one (long) scene as Voldemort, but, heck, if Ralph Fiennes doesn't just steal the film away. After building the character up over three films, there was a real danger that his first appearance could have been a huge anti-climax, but thankfully it isn't, and he's a villain we can really anticipate seeing again soon. It's a noticeably darker film, not only in content but in language - I was shocked to hear Ron grunt "Piss off" at Harry.
Fiennes is superb, but the whole cast are starting to reach new levels of excellence. The likes of Coltrane, Gambon, Gleeson, Smith and Rickman are predictably great as ever, but it's the kids who have really come on leaps and bounds. Emma Watson is proving herself an actress of real quality, while Rupert Grint displays some great comic timing. It's perhaps Radcliffe who displays the biggest improvement however. Probably helped by the fact that his character has more to do now than just react with a "Wow! What? Who?" to things, Radcliffe gives a comfortable, confident performance, who gives the films ending the extra wallop of emotion that it needs. And, as a massive Pulp fan, this film gets extra praise from me just for casting Jarvis Cocker as the band singer at the Yuletide Ball.The other films suffered quite a lot from having blatant holes, where huge chunks of the book had been missed out. 'The Goblet of Fire' also has this flaw - after surmising that the Quidditch World Cup must have been longer, and we should have seen the other tournament competitors battle the dragons, I wasn't surprised to learn that those sequences are much longer in the book. I honestly didn't quite understand the why's and wherefore's of the plot, a similiar flaw that crippled 'Prisoner of Azkaban', and the likes of Hagrid, Snape and even Dumbledore don't get that much of a look-in. Yet, despite these flaws, despite the fact that it's a huge book squeezed into a smaller running time, despite the fact that it looked like a series destined to never take off, Newell and his cast have done it. They've made not only the best of the series by far, but also a damn fine kids film. Which is exactly what it should be.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13497&reviewer=293
originally posted: 11/22/05 21:54:08