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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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J.K. Rowlings spends much time building up cute, little bits and reiterating all that has gone before in the Harry Potter series. One supposes this is to help out young readers who might have forgotten or to invite new readers into the world. In the fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” is about the Harry entering an adult world and the wizard world heading toward war. The fourth movie sometimes adds more action at the expense of character development and tends to be choppy.

The movie almost depends upon fans knowing the books and yet has some surprises in store. Director Mike Newell who directed the 1997 Donnie Brasco and the 1992 Enchanted April and the 1994 Four Weddings and a Funeral is able enough. The screenwriter, Steve Kloves, who wrote the other three installments, again adapts J.K. Rowling’s novel with a Hollywood shorthand. Layered performances aren’t really required, particularly in this installment.

In both the novel and the movie, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) sees Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in a nightmare. He wakes up with his lightning shaped scar hurting. Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Harry join most of Ron’s family to see the Quidditch World Cup. There, Ron and Harry are impressed by a player named Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) whose team loses despite his spectacular play to catch the snitch. Afterward, former followers of Lord Voldemort, the Death Eaters, begin to create havoc and his sign is seen in the sky. The threesome return to Hogwarts. The new Dark Arts teacher is Mad-Eyed Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a former hunter of dark wizards.

Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) announces that instead of having a quidditch match, the school will be hosting a TriWizard Tournament. Three schools will be competing: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. The competitor from each school will be chosen by the eponymous goblet of fire. There should only be three (Durmstrang’s Viktor Krum, Beauxbaton’s Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy) and Hogwart’s Cedric Diggery (Robert Pattinson)), but there is four–Harry Potter being the fourth. The challenges are: passing a dragon to get a golden egg, saving a hostage guarded by the merpeople and getting past the obstacles in a hedge maze to the trophy.

Kloves has thankfully left out some parts, such as the slightly xenophobic characterization of Krum and his inability to pronounce Hermione’s name. Yet he also makes Harry a hero of happenstance and Ron is a hero by mistake only. Although Ron displayed great courage in his wizard chess game in the first book and movie, he is often afraid and whimpering. In the second movie, he is shielded by Hermione who announces that Sirius Black must kill them all if he wants Harry. In the book, this line originally was Ron’s.

In the movie version of “Goblet of Fire,” Harry is shown to think differently–even from Hermione and Ron. In the second challenge, Harry has taken an herb which transforms him into a gilled creature. Ron and Gabrielle don’t actually need Harry’s assistance to reach the surface after he has cut their bindings because Harry is caught by the grindylows after he frees them (as opposed to before he finds them as in the novel). In the novel, Harry must struggle because he has transformed back into an air-breathing creature. In the novel, Hermione and Ron think his attempt to save all of the hostages is silly until the judges mostly rule in his favor. Harry’s intention is still noble, but Ron doesn’t get a chance to help Gabrielle (Fleur Delacour’s little sister) back to the surface and out of the water as in the novel.

The movie has some logic problems. The first one is that an all boys school (Durmstrang) would compete with an all girls school and either would compete with a co-ed school. Most all girls schools, such as Catholic schools, partner regularly with an all boys school for social events. They would not, however, compete with them. They would compete in sports, etc. against all girls schools. This isn’t a problem in the novel, but in the movie Durmstrang is portrayed as an all boys school and Beauxbaton as an all girls school.

In the movie, one wonders: Why the dragons need to be chained and why unchained the dragon would follow only Harry Potter and not attack others or just fly away is not explained. Where were the controllers or monitors when the dragon frees itself from its chains then flies after Harry and damages the school? Where are the precautions against death of competitors?

Yet part of Harry’s maturation is his growing understanding how minor actions have consequences. His freeing of Dobby in “Prisoner of Azkaban” brings him an ally in his time of need in the novel. Dobby’s situation and that of all house elves raises Hermione’s awareness and indicates that even in the good wizard world there is injustice. The movie doesn’t bring back Dobby or introduce any other house elf.

The prejudice against giants is also raised in the novel, but it is not clearly delineated in the movie. One wonders how this will be handled in the next movie since both sides woo the giants and the threesome’s friendship with Hagrid hints at future possibilities and also increases Hagrid’s importance to Harry and the others in their fight against Lord Voldemort.

The Beauxbaton champion, Fleur Delacour, isn’t identified as a Veela and also, a half-blood. So the threat to Veelas also isn’t going to be an important part of the next movie installment one guesses.

In the movie, Neville’s role is enlarged. Supposedly clumsy and plump in the novel, in the movie he is slender and a better dancer than Harry and Ron. Sirius Black’s role is diminished, making him seem a distant parental figure while in the novel, he risks capture in order to protect Harry by coming to the school in the shape of a dog. In the movie, he only appears in the fireplace. Fans know that the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” depends upon Harry and Black’s relationship.

As much as J.K. Rowling attempts to show good moral teachings, there are troubling aspects to the Harry Potter series such as the question of race, slavery and British history. I suspect the movie attempts to extract and distract from these, but it doesn’t quite work. By itself, the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is really aimed at Harry Potter fans and leans too heavily on that knowledge.

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