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Eugene Weekly : Movie Review : 12.29.05


The Goblet is Half-Full

Harry Potter's fourth film incarnation hits and misses.


HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE: Directed by Mike Newell. Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. Produced by David Heyman. Executive producers, David Barron, Tanya Seghatchian. Cinematography, Roger Pratt. Production design, Stuart Craig. Editor, Mick Audsley. Costume design, Jany Temime. Music, Patrick Doyle. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005. 157 minutes. PG-13.

In retrospect, it probably should have been obvious: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a more enjoyable movie experience the second time around — even if that first viewing was weeks ago on opening night. It's not that it's magically better; it's that each fan of the books brings to the theater a set of expectations that will be alternately met and disappointed at first viewing. The second time, when you know not to expect things like the Quidditch World Cup and the house-elves, the movie seems fuller, better paced, more internally logical.

Harry Potter's fourth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is, plot-wise, the most straightforward of the post-Azkaban tomes. Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament, an international wizarding contest in which champions from three schools (Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) compete in three difficult, possibly deadly tasks. Eternal glory awaits the winner. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) doesn't want to enter, and in fact can't: This year, the contest is only open to students 17 and older. But the Goblet of Fire, a magical device that chooses the champions from each school, spits out his name anyway, leaving reluctant Harry with no choice but to compete — and leaving his best friend Ron (Rupert Grint) upset and resentful.

Goblet of Fire's director, Mike Newell, is new to the series, but screenwriter Steve Kloves has worked on all four films. It's tempting, watching Goblet, to rewatch the other films to see if Kloves has always been as inconsistent with J.K. Rowling's world and characters as he is here. While Harry remains noble and conflicted, and Ron is a bit of a goofball, poor Hermione (Emma Watson) has little to do but worry and wiggle her eyebrows — out of character for Rowling's resourceful, smart Hermione, the brightest witch of her year. Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy), the Beauxbatons champion, is reduced from a competent, headstrong young woman to a helpless girl who whimpers ineffectively through the third task. Even Maggie Smith's indomitable Professor McGonagall is left mostly to voice adult fears for the children's safety.

The trimming-down is understandable and necessary, but also wildly frustrating. The Quidditch World Cup ends as soon as it begins. Red herrings are planted weakly, with no follow-through. A man is found dead on Hogwarts' grounds and, apart from an overheard meeting with the Minister of Magic, there's no reaction. What makes this all the more frustrating is that other scenes have been needlessly expanded; Harry's first task, for example, becomes a whirlwind chase scene in the air above the grounds. It's a nice enough bit of CGI work, but it adds nothing to the movie, instead taking up space that could have been used for character development.

That space could also have been used to make the tournament's third task a little more exciting. The creepy, creature-packed maze the contestants ran through in the book is instead a bunch of hedges with an annoying habit of closing in on people. Likewise, the dark lord himself, Lord Voldemort, is turned from a frightful specter to a faintly campy, noseless threatener who frankly just isn't all that scary. The scene following Voldemort's appearance, though, is heartbreaking in just the right way, a harbinger of what Voldemort's return to power really means. Sadly, the movie's chatty, lightweight close does a disservice to the film. Newell seems not to realize that fans, like Harry, know things only get darker from here.

All that said, Goblet of Fire is not a bad movie; though not on par with Alfonso Cuarón's graceful, magical Prisoner of Azkaban, it is miles ahead of Chris Columbus' clunky Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Newell and Kloves make some missteps, but the movie's cast is fantastic, packed with the series' usual combination of British heavyweights and talented newcomers. The Yule Ball is a hit; Brendan Gleeson makes a great Mad-Eye Moody; Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) begins to show the spirit he'll really manifest in book five; the casting of striking Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory, the other Hogwarts champion, was a moment of brilliance; and every appearance of Alan Rickman as creepy Potions master Severus Snape is a scene to treasure. It probably would have been better had Goblet been made into two parts, but this one isn't half bad.