Shiny Shelf

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By Jon de Burgh Miller on 23 November 2005

The middle chunk of a multi-film epic is always going to have an easier ride than the segments either side of it. It starts carrying the goodwill left in the audience by previous films, yet never has to provide satisfactory resolution. Questions can be raised, a sense of foreboding can pervade, and the audience is almost guaranteed to leave the cinema wanting more. It’s a recipe for success, but a ball frequently dropped by filmmakers. Not so by Mike Newell, whose ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ really showcases the potential of the franchise to be greater than its source material.

Whereas the first two Potter films were pithy children’s half-term fillers, and the third was a cooler, edgier attempt to stylise the franchise, the fourth is where everything clicks into place and the series really finds its feet.

‘Goblet of Fire’ owes a huge amount to the ‘Star Wars’ films, with many scenes evoking those. From the underwater fight with the fish people, to the duel with coloured electric wands, the huge stadium scenes and the roller-coaster speed of the broomstick riding, the influence of ‘Star Wars’, the daddy of big budget family blockbuster spectacular, is everywhere. The dark and unresolved tone and ‘middle of story’ feel means that this is definitely the ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ of the Potter films. This is the first Potter film truly made for the cinema, rather than being a straight rewriting of a book.

Rather than simply taking a few key plotlines and exploring them, as most adaptations do, they’ve instead whipped through the whole book taking a few lines from all key scenes and hurrying the viewer through, leaving little time for exposition or reflection. This gives the whole film the feel of being a long trailer, with just the highlights shown, but this is no bad thing. The previous films have tended to drag in places but ‘Goblet of Fire’ never lets up. There are places for the audience to catch their breath, but not before another sequence begins.

It’s the relentless pace of ‘Goblet of Fire’ that sets it aside from other recent blockbusters, especially those aimed at a younger audience. It’s a cliché to say that an author loses their way once they’re too powerful to edit, but with JK Rowling this is more than evident. ‘Goblet of Fire’ was the first Potter book to be launched in a multi-million pound blaze of hype, and the first to stretch over 500 pages. The sheer length of the book means it was never going to be easy to compress into 150 minutes.

It’s quite amazing to think that this screenplay is by the same Steve Kloves who wrote the previous films. Whereas they seemed to lack any sense of cinema, being simply word for word rewrites of the book, here the original source is happily abandoned and re-worked for cinematic effect. Perhaps Kloves knew there was never any hope of scripting the whole book, so instead went for a ‘greatest hits’ approach, and one that captures the feel and tone of the book without adapting it word for word. It’s an approach which has paid off.

Previous films have seen tedious Quidditch sequences or school assembly scenes drag on for minutes, whereas stripped to the bone of all padding, these scenes race along in this film. The extra credit given to the audience and lack of patronisation helps lend a more mature feel to proceedings.

The three kids may be growing up but they don’t seem to be taking many acting lessons. Daniel Radcliffe is particularly wooden, and when given some genuinely weighty material to deal with seems perplexed and confused with what to do with it. The relentless pace of the film means that this is about story and spectacle, rather than dramatic subtlety. While Newell could have got more out of his actors, the script leaves little room for anything other than moving the story from A to B.

Warners clearly know that by their stars are approaching the teen pin-up phase and spot the potential for bringing in a more adult audience and keeping the former kids who were Potter fans but by now might be feeling they should concentrate on more grown up matters. Hence ‘Goblet of Fire’ is crammed with new characters such as the fey Cedrick or the brutish Krun who are clearly played by actors significantly older than their characters, who are not only eye-candy for the adults and older teenagers but set the stage for future films when a certain amount of disbelief suspension is going to be needed when the actors are seven or eight years older than their characters.

The overarching theme in this installment is the inevitability of change and the awkwardness of adolescence. Visually this is apparent with teenagers of all ages mingling with each other and interacting with each others emotional outbursts, plus the theme of responsibility, as Harry begins to realise he needs to grow up and face his destiny. This year Hogwarts is no longer one long summer camp of magic brooms and potions, but the place where he trains for the inevitable forthcoming battle with evil. This is very much a coming of age film and by embracing and acknowledging that the actors are getting older, there’s a new air of credibility and sophistication that we haven’t seen before in the series.

Not the kids films the first two were, not the overly trendy and stylised vision the third was, but a great combination of big budget family spectacle, deep storytelling and an irresistable confidence, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is the best Potter film by far and the first one that will make everyone in the audience eager to see the next chapter.

Line Break

By Jon de Burgh Miller

Comments are closed.