Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, the fourth in the series, contains a lot of firsts. It’s the first of the films to be based on one of the dictionary-sized later books. It’s also the first of the films to be rated PG-13, the first to be helmed by a British director, and the first film without composer John Williams. With all these changes, I’m happy that Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is actually a good movie. While there are definitely some issues to be found with this film (including a pretty major one), the performances are good and the action is excellent.
Each of the Harry Potter books/films has Harry dealing with problems on multiple fronts and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is no exception. Harry is plagued by a recurring dream involving his nemesis Lord Voldemort and when The Death Eaters (followers of you-know-who) wreak havoc at the Quidditch World Cup, it’s evident the Dark Lord may be on his way back. Despite this, Hogwarts is chosen to host The Triwizard Tournament, an international event where wizards from three wizarding schools will compete against each other for “eternal glory.” Although it’s never mentioned where the other two schools are, it’s clear that they are probably in France (Beauxbatons) and Bulgaria (Durmstrang). Only students 17 years of age and older can participate and they must enter by placing their name into the magical Goblet Of Fire. When the names are selected, everyone is surprised when a fourth name pops out…that of Harry Potter. Even though he is underage, he must participate since his name was chosen and this leads to more trouble for Harry.
Like the previous films, the presentation is top-notch. The special effects are great and even the short Quidditch World Cup sequence is gorgeous to look at. The film moves at a brisk pace, but does feel a bit sloppy at times. Patrick Doyle has the unenviable task of following up John Williams’s excellent scores for the first three films. He does a pretty good job for the most part, even if his contributions aren’t all that memorable.
The performances are good across the board. The three main actors are growing up nicely and Daniel Radcliffe handles his fourth go-round as Harry pretty well. Real-life twin brothers James Phelps and Oliver Phelps steal whatever scene they are in as Ron Weasley’s older brothers Fred and George. Michael Gambon really establishes himself as Dumbledore here and proves that he is definitely worthy of following in the late Richard Harris’s footsteps. Many of the other main adult characters are reduced to bit parts in this film, but they play them very well. I still very much enjoyed Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, even if his performance consisted more of looks and actions than dialogue.
However, two newcomers to the Harry Potter films put in the best performances. Brendan Gleeson is hilarious as Mad-Eye Moody, the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher. With an artificial leg and a magical eye that moves independently of his real eye, Moody is an unforgettable character and Gleeson plays him extremely well. The other newcomer to the Harry Potter films is Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort. He isn’t on the screen that long, but after seeing him, I am eager for him to continue playing Voldemort for the rest of the series.
While there is a lot to like about this movie, one thing really bugged me about it. What bugged me about this film is how it has no real emotional depth. In condensing the 734-page book to a two-and-a-half hour long movie, the filmmakers didn’t just eliminate unnecessary subplots and characters…they eliminated a lot of the emotional heft contained in the book. Nearly every element in this film that contains emotion feels truncated. For example, Harry has a crush on a girl named Cho Chang (Katie Leung), but we don’t really get to feel the awkwardness Harry feels as he discovers girls. The same is true of the scenes when Harry and Ron dislike each other because Ron feels that Harry cheated his way into the Triwizard Tournament and especially some scenes involving a villain that happen late in the film.
I feel that some of this could have been alleviated if there was a little more time to flesh out and stress the emotions behind characters’ actions. I think the filmmakers did the right thing in making this one film instead of two. However, I think they did punk out by holding on to the idea of “time constraints.” Given that this film is the series’ transition into darker, slightly more mature territory, why not go all the way and make the running time grown up too? Audiences ate up the three-hour-long Lord Of The Rings films at theaters (and the even longer versions on DVD) and I think they would probably support a three-hour Harry Potter film. There is more than enough story in the later Harry Potter books to keep things interesting for that length of time.
Overall, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is a solid entry in the film series. The acting, action, and special effects are good throughout and overshadow the issues of adapting such a long book to the big screen. I just hope that the filmmakers behind the next film take the necessary risks and make sure that the series’ streak of quality films continues into the future.