Karen Finally Puts Her Name into The Goblet of Fire!

by Karen Gsteiger

Spoilers, as usual, but if you haven't already read the book, why on earth are you here? Get thee to a library!

So as most of you probably already know, I'm a bit of a Harry Potter fan. And after enduring Chris Columbus's merely "okay" film adaptations of the first two books, I was thrilled to see Alfonso Cuarón's masterful treatment of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuarón created a lush, romantic (to the point of being nearly un-English), and magical atmosphere that was punctuated by black comedy and moments of real menace and peril. I'm hard-pressed to think of a movie moment in 2004 that was as moving as the scene in which Harry puts his Patronus charm to good use. POA was the first screen adaptation of a Harry Potter book that knew which elements of the book to cut and which to leave intact. The pacing and direction were tight, the costumes were more stylish, and the trio of young actors at the center of the film was starting to really get comfortable in their respective roles. I could watch POA pretty much any day of the week.

Mike Newell must have sensed that he had a tall order to fill, not only because of Cuarón's shining example but also because of the enormous audience expectations surrounding any Harry Potter film and because Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is where the plot takes a turn for the irrevocably dark. Book 4 is still my favorite of the series because of the delicate balance Rowling creates between the thrilling moments of fun and adventure, the blossoming of romantic tension between Ron and Hermione, the terrifying depictions of torture and callous murder, and the sadness of lost innocence and childhood. Later books explore these themes further, but I appreciate GOF for its brave departure from what we had read before.

I myself was a little worried at the prospect of Newell at the helm, as I was not exactly impressed with his filmography, which included Mona Lisa Smile, Pushing Tin, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. But I'm here to tell you that it's all okay! GOF is a very enjoyable film that serves its source well.

Like Cuarón and unlike Columbus, Newell seemed to have good judgment in regard to which elements of the book to keep and which to cut. Purists may quibble at the loss of the Dursleys or Hermione's elf liberation campaign, but I am of the opinion that merely transcribing a novel into a screenplay format does not a good film make. Plus, with the book being 734 pages, no one would be able to squeeze that much information into one film without severely shortchanging the drama and characterization. The pacing of the film was excellent. Although the beginning of the film felt a little slow, the two-and-a-half hour running time never felt burdensome, and I was sad to see it all come to a close. I never thought to myself, "Hey, a key chunk of the plot is missing!" Nor did I feel that the proceedings were rushed. For example, ample time is given to the Yule Ball, where we learn so much about the characters' awkward adolescent desires.

The scenes involving the Triwizard Tournament were among the most exciting in the book, and I think that Newell translated them well to the screen. The scene in which Harry evades a fire-breathing dragon is a real standout. What could have been the standard "Harry flies around on a broom" scene from each film is absolutely breathtaking and probably my favorite moment from the movie. In fact, the other tournament challenges (before Voldemort's evil plot is revealed) don't seem nearly as terrifying, but no matter. Harry is in enough mortal danger as it is, and by the end of the film, things get especially bleak.

So bleak, in fact, that I will issue this disclaimer: if I were you, I'd really think twice before taking young children to see this film. First of all, I don't know if they'd be able to survive a two hour and 30 minute movie. Second, a lot of attention is paid to the characters' romantic stirrings, which may not hold younger ones' interest. Third, when Voldemort finally appears at the end, he is creepy as hell. And finally, a student (and not just an anonymous character) is murdered at the film's climax, and the grief that this event effects in the other characters feels very real. If your kids had a problem with the Dementors in POA, then yeah...I'd wait a while for them to see this.

Newell coaxes some good performances out of the cast. The adult actors are, as always, delightful. Even though (my favorite) Alan Rickman has a diminished role in this installment as Professor Severus Snape, he still makes his presence known in a hilariously misanthropic way. Brendan Gleeson seems to be having the most fun out of everyone as the mysterious and intimidating "Mad-Eye" Moody. The child actors seem to improve with every film, especially Daniel Radcliffe as Harry. I think that Cuarón probably did a better job of reigning in some actors' tendency towards overacting (I won't name names...cough, cough, Emma Watson, cough!), but at no time did the performances feel wooden. I would like to voice my request here, though, that somebody give all the boys in the cast a freaking haircut already. Even the hotter than hot Weasley twins are starting to look like Jennifer Aniston.

The cinematography is a bit dull and washed-out, but this is a "darker" film, so there you go. The special effects are, as always, top notch, and they don't overwhelm the human element (take notes, George Lucas).

So overall, I was pleased with the results. Prisoner of Azkaban is still much closer to my heart, but at least this one (unlike, say, Chamber of Secrets) is definitely good for repeat viewings. I'm looking forward to the next film, and I won't be disappointed if Mike Newell winds up directing any of the last three. However, can't they just let Terry Gilliam at one? Please, please, please? It would be best to save him for when things get really fucked up...Book 6, at least.