Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, 2005)

As a passionate Harry Potter fan ever since I was given Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone for Christmas in 1999, I found myself eagerly awaiting each subsequent novel to hit shelves, and to an increasingly lesser extent, anticipating each new film in the franchise to hit cinemas. Having now watched the entire franchise of films several times, I still find myself the most entertained by Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I’m going to make a rather bold statement here, having re-watched The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix yesterday. The latter was much better than I remembered it to be, but the overbearing presence of Imelda Staunton still irritates me, and this is adapted from Rowling’s weakest novel. The climactic confrontation between Voldemort and Dumbledore is fantastic, however. In my opinion, Goblet of Fire is one of the best novels in the series, and it is adapted into one of the best films too. I’m going to try and explain why.

This film, though one of the best received, is often criticized for being episodic and for disregarding large chunks of the novel. This does apply to all of the films and when you consider how long some of the novels are (and this is by far the longest in the series at this point), there is always plenty to get the chop. The films also feel episodic because they are usually comprised of challenges and spectacles that culminate in a violent confrontation. There are a few awkward temporal jumps in Goblet, which are the most glaring faults, but overall I think it is a pretty effective fantasy adventure that rewards on repeat viewings.

Here are some examples of these temporal jumps included for the purposes of the trimming the film’s length. The game play during the Quidditch World Cup is completely removed, which no doubt would have been a massive disappointment for fans. I think, initially, I was disappointed too. Following the introductions of the teams and the establishing the visual spectacle of the stadium, the film jumps to the aftermath with the group celebrating at the campsite and commenting on the game. We do learn all that we need to here.

Later, in the Yule Ball sequence, there is another strange jump. Following Ron’s embittered taunting of Hermoine, she leaves alone to join Krum, who has gone to get drinks. The next shot is of Hermoine and Ron arguing again. Evidently Ron has continued the taunting to the point where Hermoine has become overwhelmed and now distraught. Harry approaches them and is scolded for having been mysteriously absent. In no way is it made clear that this is later in the night. It feels like a continuation of the previous scene. This is not coherent or cohesive storytelling. But, overall the Ball sequences are relatively effective, and a nice division between the challenges.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves, the man who is responsible for all-but one of the film adaptations, has chosen to focus on everything essential to Harry’s personal story and his involvement in the Triwizard Tournament. But it does well to further develop his relationship with Ron and Hermoine and introduce Cho Chang, Harry’s love interest. Much has been said about the performances of the children, but I think they each give strong performances here. Also, how much better is Bonnie Wright (who plays Ginny) when she is younger? Mad-Eye Moody is the film’s most prominent character outside of the three children. Played to perfection by the great Brendan Gleeson, he seems to lack a motive but assists Harry with each challenge, and is an essential part of the film’s core mystery.

Professors McGonagall and Snape have a couple of great scenes, and I much preferred Sirius Black’s appearance in the fireplace to the one in The Order of the Phoenix. Though a brief expository sequence, it more than sufficed. I think there is a whole chapter devoted to Harry visiting Sirius in the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Harry’s plunge into Dumbledore’s memories in the Pensieve reveals all we need to know about Barty Crouch Jr. and effectively trims down an entire chapter into one brief sequence. By no means are any of these films perfect. As I mentioned before, the temporal jumps feel a little clunky, but I do think Michael Gambon’s portrayal as an angrier, more aggressive Dumbledore was off the mark here.

But, I think the film does a great job in dividing up the three Tournament challenges with plot developments that play to the strengths of the cast - Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter has a couple of fantastic sequences - while the film also presents some powerful adolescent conflicts between Harry and Ron (jealousy, betrayal), and Ron and Hermoine (embitterment, frustration), who for the first time are discovering their sexual desires and facing their first challenges with interacting with opposite sex. In addition there is this ever-present, ominous feeling as the Death Eaters begin to build an unhinged fear over the Magical Realm – evident through their terrorization of the World Cup campsite and the raising of the Dark Mark. The rise of Volemort is imminent, and his followers, it seems, have penetrated Hogwarts. The death of Cedric Diggory actually packs an emotional wallop; purely through the way the reactions to his limp body are captured. The same cannot be said for the most recent installment, which left me feeling very little.

The extended action sequences with the dragon, and in the Black Lake are both tremendously exciting and visually exceptional. Is it just I, or did the dragon in Goblet look better than the recent one in Deathly Hallows Part 2? These scenes also further confirm Harry’s sense of righteousness. He is always willing to do the right thing and help others, even if it means placing his own life in danger. Unwillingly selected to compete, it is not an attempt to aid Harry in achieving eternal glory (something Harry also doesn’t desire) but to actually place his life in danger and ensure he is brought before Voldemort in a vulnerable state to play his part in his resurrection. The concluding sequences in the graveyard, and Ralph Fiennes’ awesome introduction as Voldemort, are excellent. Of course, what would a Harry Potter film be without a rousing score? While he doesn’t reach the heights of John Williams’ early scores, or the recent work by Desplat, Patrick Doyle does a great job.

I am quite surprised that this one isn’t more widely considered by Potter fans to be one of the best films. While I admired the job that David Yates did, especially considering the film I thought was his weakest, was better than I remembered, I think it is interesting to speculate what Mike Newell would have come up with. His involvement with just one film is a memorable one. I felt compelled to re-watch The Goblet of Fire after a lengthy discussion with my mother about why it was my favourite novel in the series. We immediately decided to watch the film, and because I needed to do something to fill in time during a train trip today, I decided to share my thoughts. 

My Rating: 4 Stars (B+)

What are your thoughts on The Goblet of Fire? Is it a hit or a miss in the franchise? 


  1. I don't really think any Harry Potter film is ever a miss, but since it was my favourite book till the 7th, I was a bit disappointed. But I have seen it so many times hence, that I've really grown to appreciate the action scenes and the comedy aspects. But yes, Gambon was wayyyy off in this one. And also, what a stroke of genius casting Ralph Fiennes as Voldie!

  2. Nice review Andrew. There is definitely some sizable chunks from the book missing including the whole development about Hermione fighting for the house-elves. I also found the movie to be quite jarring at times with some lack of continuity in some scenes. And Emma Watson is totally overacting in this movie that I couldn't help laughing several times, probably her worst overall performance in the series.

  3. Yeah, I really dug "Goblet of Fire" - dangerous, exciting, and a quality picture.

    Nice review.

  4. @ Nikhat - At the time, I remember it being on par with Azkaban, and a major step up from the first two. While I enjoyed Yates' ones I never found them to be as exciting or action-packed (well, except the last one). I always found The Goblet of Fire to be a great story. Yes, you're right about Fiennes. He's great.

    @ Castor - Wow, I totally forgot about the House Elves bit. It wasn't that important, really. Yeah, definitely some jarring moments. I dunno, I actually thought all of the kids were okay in this one. I felt they had improved with each film. But, yeah Emma Watson, who I usually find pretty good, was the weakest here.

    @ Sam - I think so too. But, this was just to confirm what I had always thought. The surprise was that 'Order of the Pheonix' was better than I remember haha.

  5. It's been a few years since I watched the movie, so I don't have all that clear memories from it, apart from that I wasn't a fan of the rather exaggerated entrencies in the various competitions. I guess it should somehow make fun of the Olympics but it didn't work for me. I have pretty bad memories from reading the book aloud to my kids and I've always thought of it as the by far weakest book in the series. The problem was that it took ages - about twohundred pages - before they got through the tedious quidditch match and finally got to Hogwarths. "When is the book going to start", my girls kept complaining. "soon, soon..." I reassured them. And once there... the competition thing wasn't all that compelling. I also hated the accent thing, how they make the people from other schools speak very bad English, supposedly with French and Russian influence. It gets old after a while.

    BUT all this said: This summer I've revisited all the novels, and this time I'm reading them on my own, at my own pace and in the original language. And that makes for a way better experience, including the Goblet one. I was surprised to see that I actually enjoyed it thoroughly and didn't find it boring at all. So who knows, maybe I'd find some redeeming features if I watched the movie again? Anyway, it's always nice to see a differing view on a movie that's got a lot of criticism.

  6. I understand what you mean. I always found it to be a compelling and action-packed novel. I'm glad to hear you are enjoying it on a revisit. I think the film, though it does have some flaws, is a pretty solid adaptation, and I guess I was puzzled by the fact that it wasn't as well regarded by Potter fans. I thought I would write something about a HP film - the only ones I have reviewed on here are The Deathly Hallows Parts 1 +2. Thanks for reading!