It’s rare that we hear venomous arguments over the soundtrack and composer of a film, but when that film is the latest in the Harry Potter franchise, I suppose it’s believable. Beloved composer John Williams (the man behind such classic music as the themes from Star Wars, E.T., and of course, the first three Harry Potter films) bowed out for this film and Patrick Doyle, an Academy Award-nominated composer, stepped in to take the musical helm.
Doyle had the chops to handle Potter — no one could have argued that. He’s worked on such disparate films as Sense and Sensibility and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and if there was a movie based on a Shakespearean play, odds are that Doyle’s name is on the music. He’s also worked on a number on fantasy titles, such as A Little Princess (one of my favorites, and also directed by Prisoner of Azkaban’s Alfonso Cuarón) and Quest for Camelot. Perhaps these two weren’t record-setters at the box office, but they were both solid family films, and at least in the case of the first, truly stunning examples of film — both visually and musically.
Still, it’s hard to follow a legend, and there are plenty of rabid Potter fans who are cursing the day Patrick Doyle was born — and that’s a shame. He’s done a tremendous job here of taking the music to a darker place for Goblet of Fire. The opening track, “The Story Continues,” interweaves Williams’s signature Potter theme with an ominous sound that sends shivers through the audience and establishes that this will be a Potter film like no other. Rita Skeeter’s theme suits that character, brought vividly to life by Miranda Richardson, though her scenes were woefully short. The theme is playfully sinister, evoking the the journalist with the acid quill. “Potter’s Waltz” brings the film back up, shining the light on a more innocent moment — the Yule Ball and the distractions of youth even amidst a life-threatening tournament.
There are, of course, detractors who claim that this music is ill-suited to the film because it doesn’t flow. However, I can hardly blame Doyle for that; the fault lies in the film itself, which simply tried to juggle too much material in too little time. Where the music is a little too big, if you will, it only mimics those parts where the film itself is a little too much, such as the arrival of students from the other schools. “Foreign Visitors Arrive” is one of my least favorite tracks, just as it was one of my least favorite scenes (I do like Mike Newell, but he is HARDLY subtle when handling this film).
One thing Doyle does very well, that I’ve not heard much on, is that he keeps the feel that John Williams had previously established while still making the music his own. John Williams loves a good march, and the Goblet of Fire soundtrack has its share. One can almost feel the spirit of Williams during some moments, even when his themes are not present — for examples, check out “Voldemort” and “Hogwart’s March” (though the latter is somewhat lighter than typical Williams fare, it is still evocative of his style, in my eyes… or ears).
Other standouts include “Underwater Secrets,” which is a great counterpoint to a suddenly giggly Moaning Myrtle as she assists Harry with his golden egg, and “The Black Lake,” though I do not like the way the merpeople’s voices were portrayed; it just didn’t sound like it sounded in my head after reading the book. After that bit’s done with, the music swells to a thundering crescendo that captures Harry’s indecision and panic when faced with the unrescued hostages — and that single moment captures one of the key aspects of Harry Potter himself.
The best track by far is the “Death of Cedric,” in which the music weeps for a boy who was murdered simply for being near Harry when Voldemort wanted him. It’s a shame that the character of Cedric hardly comes through the in film, for in the book he was a good guy, so good that even Harry couldn’t hate him, though he was a rival for the affections of Harry’s crush, Cho Chang. This song is the only part of the film that does him true justice, and Doyle’s music really shines.
Much of the publicity surrounding this film’s music centered on the inclusion of members of the bands Pulp, Relaxed Muscle and Radiohead (Jarvis Cocker, Jason Buckle, Steve Mackey, Jonny Greenwood, and Phil Selway) as the band that plays at the Yule Ball, The Weird Sisters. All of this hype was boiled down to an extremely short scene in the movie — yet another indication that there was simply too much in this book for a single film (and it’s likely to be the only one that is that way, so we can all breathe our sighs of relief now). The songs are alright, but hardly original, despite the subject matter. To be honest, I’d have expected better from these guys than a Billy Idol ripoff (“Do the Hippogriff”) and David Bowie-esque (sorta… ) ballad (“Magic Works”). “This is the Night” is the only one of the three songs that really comes off well, and it only in the second half of the tune. But hey, when you’re resigned to a twenty second clip and a few spots on the soundtrack, what can you really expect?
All in all, it’s a great addition to the Potter super-fan’s collection, and Doyle does a masterful job of scooping up the torch John Williams left behind after Azkaban.
Editor’s note: This has been syndicated to Advance.net, a site affiliated with about 10 newspapers around the country.