Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
I praised Prisoner of Azkaban as the one that injects new life into the series and shows how these films can actually be, at its best, fine entertainment and the classiest contemporary movie franchise. Azkaban presents great thematic and stylistic developments, pushing the series away from the whimsical and frankly childish, universe of the first two movies to a darker and more mature one. Goblet of Fire continues the series in this direction, with characters that are infinitely more developed (the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron), a cohesive and driving plot, and such a foreboding climax that I bet no one expected it from Harry Potter.
It’s still an early teen movie, but if you disregard claims of derivativeness, it’s no less exciting or imaginative as The Lord of the Rings, the new Star Wars or any superhero series (with the exception of Batman Begins). It has the good sense, unlike these other franchises, to focus more on character and atmosphere than flashy action sequences, and their most dreadful, overbearing manifestation: battle scenes. These quite nearly ruined Return of the King, and were unnecessarily appended to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Potter, so far, has managed to keep his adventures simple and unpretentious. There are no hordes of subplots and minor characters to be keeping track of all the time, and the action sequences are few and central to the plot. But more importantly, it manages to be tasteful. This is probably because Potter is very nostalgic and conservative — maybe even following its precursors too closely — and the films do not indulge in flashy special effects sequences or stylistic excesses (there is a little bit of slow motion with no sound in a key moment in Order of the Phoenix though, but that’s a very weak moment). So, even for its lack of originality, occasional corniness and whimsy, they remain — especially Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire — lastingly watchable.
Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell, is Potter at the peak of its powers. The relationship between the trio of friends is taken to new levels, and during the ball sequence, one even forgets it’s a Potter film. The kids are going through the usual anxieties of adolescence, complicated relationships, and romance. Again, this is only exceptional in this context: it’s very refreshing to see real characters with real issues for a change, raising the bar of genre productions. This particular aspect of the film is miles ahead of anything offered by the adventure-fantasy-science fiction franchises and rivaling PG-13 oriented dramas. Just because it’s fantasy, it doesn’t mean it has to be populated by elves, goblins and cardboard heroes with paper-thin personalities. And this is why the Potter films are better than the books: readers do have better options, but moviegoers don’t.
Newell seems to be taking his cue from Cuarón and doesn’t depart much from the model, but that alone, in view of the fifth film, is an achievement (although it’s hard to say in the case of Harry Potter what credit should be given to the filmmakers, because J.K. Rowling is not, so I hear, a consistent writer). The plot this time is driven by a tournament, consisting of three tasks, or setpieces. As a device it’s very straightforward and even easy, but does its job well, carrying the film along better than any of the other installments. The climactic sequence ventures into territory far darker than ever before, and Harry is finally face to face with his arch-enemy Voldemort, portrayed by a noseless Ralph Fiennes. For all its buildup, it does not disappoint. It’s pretty grim, and I’m not just talking about Voldemort. Spoilers to follow. Take, for instance, the scene in which the crowd cheers when Harry and Cedric get back to Hogwarts, taking a little too long to realize something’s wrong – Cedric’s dead. It is darker than anything that’s come before because it’s played realistically. Some characters see it first, then a little later others scream in horror, but the last to go is the cheerful music. It would never happen like this in Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
All that being said, the whole tournament turns out to be a very bad MacGuffin. And in that, it hardly makes sense. Spoilers to follow. If all Voldemort needed was to get Harry to the graveyard, why, in the name of heavens, doesn’t he just kidnap him? Instead, he has the tournament trophy (as in, you have to win to get it) serve as a portal to the graveyard. Maybe he should have turned Harry’s notebook, or shoe into a portal: that would be much, much more effective. So what you get is a very manipulative device and you feel a little bit cheated. Also, in every climax the same thing happens over and over. Harry goes alone, meets the enemy, they “fight,” Harry wins inexplicably with not so much as a scratch. Same thing applies here, but usually Dumbledore explains what happened and why in the following scene. In this one, Harry goes in the right direction, mentioning some stuff about their wands, but Dumbledore changes the subject, leaving viewers without a clue. Supposedly it’s very clear to readers of the book.
OBS: Re-watching Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, it becomes clear that the Young Sherlock Holmes influence is probably due to Chris Columbus’ role as director and producer, as the echoes pretty much disappear from this film on.\