Tonight, I made my way out to the movie theatre to catch the IMAX-ified version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. First things first: IMAX is pretty. Secondly: There will be spoilers here, for this film, and for things that happen in books five and six. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
So, the plot summary: Harry somehow accidentally gets chosen to be in the Triwizard Tournament, even though he’s too young and didn’t want to play anyway. He has to go through a series of dangerous trials, all to win a stupid cup. And he has to do this while his hormones are raging and he’s losing sleep to Voldemort-tinged dreams. If he loses, he’ll bring shame to Hogwarts. Oh, and he might also be eaten by a dragon and die.
The film is quite successful at bringing us into the second half of this series. The first three books are dark, but they are dark in a child’s way: good and evil, with good winning in the end. In this book and film, things take a turn towards more adult turf. We start seeing people who are shades of gray. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, for instance, teaches the students important lessons, things they need to know, even if he turns out to be a little darker than a professor should be. Shady pasts are revealed for characters new and old, making us question their allegiances. And, most of all, evil gets stronger and it uses our hero to do it. By the end, he’s not innocent anymore.
The look of the film helps to convey this. The scenes are darker, drearier. There are more shadows, fewer colours. We see Harry scratched and bloodied. Rain makes frequent appearances. These elements, combined with the score, make the film extremely tense. Much of my time in the theatre was spent on my seat edge, and once I even resorted to peeking at the screen through my fingers. (It didn’t help that I knew what was coming.)
The effects are also quite good. The miniature dragons are adorable; the full-sized ones are terrifying. (The scene atop the castle, however, is a little much.) The merfolk are otherworldly. Wormtail’s hand, briefly glimpsed, is impressive. The Dark Mark is ominous. And Voldemort is creepy, with a hint of the handsome young man he was supposed to have been when he was just Tom Riddle.
Visually, watching the film in its IMAX-enhanced form was stunning. The larger screen was immersive and the images were crisp and detailed. Given the quality of the effects, I would whole-heartedly recommend catching the IMAX show if you can.
The performances from the trio of kids were quite good this time around, as well. Rupert Grint does his usual shock and horror rubber face routine, and the movie needs his comic relief. However, he finally also gets to expand out into some more serious stuff, particularly jealousy. He’s believable, and in one particular shot, he broke my heart a little by reminding me how young these characters are supposed to be.
Likewise, Emma Watson reminded me of how hard it can be to be friends with boys when you are 14. If she doesn’t make you feel her pain at the Yule Ball, you have a heart made of stone. Just go become a Death Eater and be done with it.
Finally, there’s Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe gives us an idea of how burdened Harry is starting to feel. He also portrays Harry’s confusion amid the throes of hormones; girls are a foreign language to him. And, in the film’s closing moments, watching Harry bringing Cedric back to the quidditch pitch is wrenching.
Brendan Gleeson is quite good as Mad-Eye Moody. When I first saw stills of Moody, I was wary. This was not the Moody in my head. Still, the costume worked and Gleeson really inhabits the role. Likewise, Miranda Richardson, David Tennant and Ralph Fiennes play their not-too-big, bigger and biggest bads well.
Richardson and Tennant, like much of the rest of the cast, however, are underused in the film. If you’re looking for Hagrid or McGonagall or Snape or the Malfoys in this movie, don’t blink. They each have tiny moments (Snape’s, strangely, is comic relief), but they are not part of the unfolding of the tournament, so they are mostly in the background.
It’s inevitable that a book as dense as Goblet would have to lose some of its plotlines when going to the big screen. It’s hard to have a good sense of how much of what matters most is lost when we still don’t know how the whole story ends, but I was fairly comfortable with the changes and omissions. SPEW, for example, has a point that I expect to see play out in book seven, but I don’t think omitting it from this film will lessen that story line in the seventh movie. I suspect that several of the omissions are like that: if they’re needed, they can be picked up without it seeming like a deus ex machina. (My biggest objection is to the change to who tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents. Given the setup to book six, I have a feeling that information is hardly incidental.)
It was interesting watching this film in the context of book six, as well. (Last warning: HBP spoilers ahead.)
When Dumbledore had his chat with Harry, I almost got a little sniffly, because these are the words that set everything rolling towards his death. Dumbledore’s story arc, in many ways, starts here because this is where Harry starts seeing him as a fallible human, not just a great and powerful wizard. Dumbledore’s warning to Harry about what is easy and what is right is the beginning of him passing on his knowledge, and a central theme to the ongoing story.
(Speaking of Dumbledore, he seemed off in this film. Not enough absent-mindness and a little too much anger.)
As someone who has been known to be a little bit obsessed now and again, I’ll finish with this: Five 10-words-or-less reviews of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, tailored to some common Harry Potter fixations:
Book purists: Where’s SPEW? And Percy? Bagman? And the dress is periwinkle!
Snape fans: Mmm, eyebrow arch. But why don’t you say something?
Robert Pattinson fans: NoooOOOoooooOOOOOoooooo! He’s too pretty to die!
Dobby fans: Neville stole Dobby’s screentime, sir!
Harry/Hermione ‘shippers: See? See? They are meant to be together!
All in all, the film gets four wands wingardium leviosa’d from me. Or, it would, if I weren’t a Muggle.