Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, November 19, 2016

RECENT WATCHES: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

The release of J.K. Rowling’s literary “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was easily when my fandom for her wizarding world burnt the brightest. I had read through the first three books in quick succession. After finishing with those, the fourth book had just been released. I immediately ate the book up. Weirdly, by the time the film adaptation was released, my interest in the series had all but entirely dried up. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Yet, I’ll admit, I still have a soft spot for this particular entry, both the novel and the movie.

Maybe my fondness for this one has a lot to do with my general enjoyment of stories based around challenges and tournaments. The Tri-Wizard Tournament provides the film with a neat structure, each of the three challenges being nestled into each act. It’s an easy way to raise the stakes, as each event is obviously more difficult then the one before it. The structure also provides some downtime between each event, allowing the pacing to flow more evenly. Making Harry an unwilling entry into the tournament provides us with a nicely conflicted hero, someone who is struggling to succeed even before the first challenge.

“The Goblet of Fire” is the Harry Potter film most about growing up. As the tagline points out, everything is going to change. Harry and Ron test the boundaries of their friendship, the two boys not speaking for a portion of the film. Both realize that Hermione has grown up into a lovely young woman. (Though Emma Watson was never exactly plain, making this transformation less believable.) By the film’s end, the characters’ innocence is gone, Harry witnessing a friend die before his eyes. They are entering a scarier world, one on the verge of war, with dark forces vying for control.

The fourth also sees a new director entering the “Harry Potter” world. If Alfonso Cuaron seemed like an unlikely choice, Mike Newell is equally unexpected. The man behind “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Donnie Brasco” hardly seems like the right choice for a special effects filled young adult adaptation. Yet Newell adapts well to the material. His visual palette is even gloomier then Cuaron’s, as he bathes the film in English fog. By painting the movie in darker colors, it prepares the viewer for the dark content. Such as the Death Eaters' attack on the Quddicth Cup or Harry’s descent in Dumbledore’s memories.

Another reason to like “Goblet of Fire” is the goddamn dragons. The fearsome creatures have been referenced throughout the prior films, with little Norbert being the only previous on-screen example. Here, we see full grown dragons, raging and breathing fire. Harry’s encounter with the Hungarian Horntail is easily the most exciting sequence in the film. The dragon, beautifully brought to life, sprays fire. The fight leaves the arena, the dragon pursuing Harry around the school. The obscuring fog makes the creature harder to see, raising the intensity in the fight. Unlike other, more easily won encounters, you feel like Harry really earns that victory.

The second challenge is almost as satisfying. Instead of the murky skies above Hogwarts, it’s set in the murky waters of the Black Lake. Surprisingly, there’s even some minor body horror tossed in, when Harry grows gills. The mermaids here do not resemble the beautiful fishtailed maidens of legend. Instead, they’re creepy, grey skinned fish monsters. Which is a nice touch. When smaller critters begin to drag Harry down, you even start to worry for the kid’s life a bit. “Goblet of Fire” emphasizes Harry’s vulnerability throughout, by showing the hero as something other then universally popular and beloved.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is, easily, the darkest film in the series up to this point. After a somewhat incoherent sequence set in a creepy hedge maze, the film barrels towards its final act. For the first time in the series history, Voldemort appears on-screen. After all that build-up, it would be easy to fumble the dark lord’s first appearance. However, Newell’s film handles the situation with the proper foreboding. Voldemort is brought to life by a clever combination of special effects and Ralph Fiennes, who slithers with sinister intent. Just to let you know he’s serious, he also offhandedly murders a supporting character. It’s certainly an effective note to end things on.

As with every “Potter” film, a new collection of talented British character actors join the cast. The best of which is Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eyed Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Gleeson plays the character as just slightly unhinged, adding enough edge to make him interesting. Miranda Richardson has a nifty supporting part as Rita Skeeter, the slimy tabloid reporter that features in a few scenes. Stanislav Ianevski as Krum and Clemence Poesy as Fleur Delacour give mostly physical performances but both are well suited to the parts. Returning cast members, like Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Snape, continue to get isolated moments to themselves.

In truth, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” may be my favorite of the film series. It’s the only film in the series were the weight of the run time – once again over two hours – isn’t felt by the viewer. The conflicts are more alive then before and the young cast continues to grow in interesting new directions. It also has a stronger climax then any of the other movies, featuring good and evil truly facing each other down for the first time. Cuaron’s “Prisoner of Azkaban” is a little more ambitious but “Goblet of Fire” is ultimately a little more exciting. [7/10]

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