Warner Bros. // 2005 // 157 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // March 7th, 2006
"Everything's going to change now, isn't it?"
How do you adapt a packed 734-page novel beloved by children and adults the world over in one two-and-a-half hour film? Conventional wisdom says, you don't. Yet Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire emerges as the best film in its series, adapted from the best book in its series -- a book series that easily forms one of the greatest "children's" stories ever told.
SPOILER ALERT!!! Major plot points for the fourth book and movie lie ahead.
That's right. Although I am vehemently anti-spoiler in most cases, this movie has been in wide theatrical release for months, the book it is based on has been out for years, and Harry Potter in general has been one of the most talked-about stories on the planet for the last decade. Even if you haven't caught the book or the movie yet, odds are you have some kid in your life who has talked your ear off and told you the whole thing already. So I think the DVD review, in this case, is a proper venue for talking about the whole film without worrying about revealing plot points.
Back for a fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after a thrilling visit to the Quidditch World Cup, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are greeted by crowds of visiting students from other schools of magic, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) explains that Hogwarts is hosting The Triwizard Tournament, a three-event competition that pits champions from each school against each other. Hufflepuff's Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) represents Hogwarts, but in an unexpected twist, the champion-choosing Goblet of Fire also spits out Harry's name, making him the fourth contestant. Dumbledore and Harry's godfather, Sirius (Gary Oldman), suspect foul play, but no one is sure who maliciously put Harry's name into the goblet.
The dangerous tasks involve getting past dragons, rescuing friends captured underwater from the Merpeople, and finally navigating an enormous hedge maze that "changes people" in some vague way. Let's not forget "the unexpected challenge": the Yule Ball, for which Harry and Ron frantically try to find dates, but an evil foe awaits Harry at the end of the maze, unbeknownst to the tournament's organizers. His great nemesis, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), has finally regained his body and is ready to inflict some serious damage on Harry's!
True to its tagline, the fourth Harry Potter story marks the tonal turning point for the series. The intrepid kids who have saved the day thrice before are faced with much greater, more sinister challenges this time, even during the excitement of The Triwizard Tournament. In the midst of the competition, new friendships, and budding romances, "Hogwarts isn't safe anymore. The devils are inside the walls," as Sirius tells Harry. And this time they deal in grim, real death. Alfonso Cuarón anticipated this shift in tone in his version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a beautiful film that was significantly darker than its source material, but the novel from which director Mike Newell is working provides the meaty tragedy to justify a dire atmosphere. Finding out about a long-lost godfather makes Harry grow up a little, but facing his mortal enemy in the flesh and watching a friend's murder forces Harry to grow up a lot.
Fortunately, growing up is not all darkness and death in Goblet of Fire. It also means more fraternizing with the opposite sex (yes, it does appear to be opposite for everyone, so far). This is the first book in which Rowling really allows young love to start flourishing as the students all prepare for the Yule Ball - which, I guess, is the fancy Hogwarts equivalent of a middle-school sock hop. Harry has a crush on Cho Chang (Katie Leung), which is adorable to watch because his fame and talents apparently do not translate to luck with the ladies. Also, we get our first big hints that Ron and Hermione have some kind of romantic tension between them when Ron sulks about her going to the ball with the Durmstrang champion, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski). Ron acts like a prat at the Ball, living up to his reputation among Buffy fans as the Xander of Harry Potter. And of course, the Yule Ball also gives us the moment of Hermione's transformation when she comes down the stairs in her dress. Though Emma Watson does look stunning, the problem in the films is that she has always been very pretty, unlike the bushy-haired, buck-toothed Hermione of the books. Speaking of Hermione looking stunning, I respected the fact that this film does not completely cower in the face of un-PC teen sexuality. Boys at that age stare at girls' butts and indeed we get several references to and shots of Ron's fondness for "watching [the Beauxbatons students] from behind" and Moaning Myrtle seems very keen on peeking under the bubbles at Harry in the bathtub scene. Yikes! In general, the Yule Ball is the most fun part of the film and is given ample screen time, even in this relentlessly paced installment.
This Yule Ball segment is good evidence of why the screenplay adaptors, the editors, and Newell made excellent choices on where to speed and where to linger. Would we rather see another few scenes with the Dursleys and the S.P.E.W. subplot or really be able to delve into the comedy and fumbling teenage romance of the Yule Ball? The choice is easy, for me. The pacing is dead-on for almost all of the film, far surpassing even the books, in this respect, which can occasionally feel weighed down by all the detail Rowling includes. Speeding us through the Quidditch World Cup gels with the frenetic excitement and energy of that event, and Newell employs some simple, efficient cuts that really keep the story moving: for example, when Harry is finishing the first task, he flies toward the golden egg in a point-of-view shot which then cuts to a close-up of the egg being hoisted triumphantly by Harry in the Gryffindor common room later. In this sequence, we don't need to see Harry actually pick up the egg to know that he does it and wins, nor do we need to see the stands full of fans cheering again. Cutting straight to the afterparty with the egg as our connector artfully accomplishes the same feelings and plot points in a more exciting way that also uses up less of the precious running time.
The only aspects of the film that feel too chopped up are Hermione's role and Harry's final conversation with Dumbledore. In the fourth book, Hermione has a lot of action-oriented subplots, including her activist group, S.P.E.W., her investigation of Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), and her tireless efforts to coach Harry on performing the accio spell. All of these have been cut from the film, reducing her to the role of "friend who worries about Harry," which is way too passive for Miss Hermione Granger. When Harry wraps things up with Dumbledore at the end of the film, it feels like the writers just plucked all of Dumbledore's best lines from the book and tried to squeeze them into one conversation. The line, "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy," is classic, but it doesn't really make sense when uttered right after Harry says something about his seeing his parents. One other small but significant flaw in the adaptation is the moment of transition between the maze and the graveyard. When Harry and Cedric take the cup, it should be a moment of joy and triumph which then contrasts to the immediate darkness and danger they are thrown into when they touch it. Instead, Newell keeps the action and threats of the maze going up to the last moment, rendering the contrast less dramatic. Though the corresponding moment of transition from the graveyard back to the crowd of spectators cheering for the "winners" is devastatingly realized and perhaps my favorite moment in the series thus far.
As for the challenges themselves, the film does a good job of making us worry about Harry even though we know he will pull through. When that scary, fast dragon slammed its spiky tail down a foot from Harry's head and the sound of bone smashing through rock burst out, I jumped in my seat. Most of the creatures and effects are well-realized, including the dragon, the merpeople, and The Dark Mark from earlier in the film. The Quidditch World Cup arena, too, is spectacular and really makes a strong impression in the brief time it is on-screen. The one effect that didn't do it for me was Voldemort's slitted snake nose. In the featurette on Voldemort, we see how it was collapsed not with make-up but special effects, which is impressive. But it still looks a little silly, and silly is one adjective that should never be associated with He Who Must Not Be Named. In all other respects, though, Voldemort is nicely visualized and embodied by Fiennes. His bare feet and head and the fact that he wears only a thin, wispy black robe highlight his sheer physicality, which is what is so scary about the scene. Voldemort has a body. He can do his own bidding and physically attack whenever he chooses, as chillingly emphasized by the moment when he presses a single fingertip firmly onto Harry's forehead, causing the boy to cry out in pain. Fiennes brings not only creepiness but an intense theatricality to the role, portraying The Dark Lord as exactly the kind of drama queen that anyone naming himself The Dark Lord would be.
Apart from Fiennes, there are several other actors who really stand out in this installment. Most of all, Dan Radcliffe makes a huge leap in acting ability with this film, losing his stiffness and occasional hystericality from the earlier films while maintaining the sense of Harry as a loveablely awkward guy. Though they don't have much to do in this one, series staples Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman (as McGonagall and Snape) are wonderful, as always. Miranda Richardson perfectly portrays Rita Skeeter with a kind of gossipy curiosity that is always brushing up against cruelty and journalistic ruthlessness. Brendan Gleeson shows the kind of insane but compassionate temperament that characterizes Mad-Eye Moody, and is wonderful in the scene in which he turns Malfoy into a ferret and sticks his tongue out at McGonagall. I always enjoy Michael Gambon's rendering of the eccentric Dumbledore, though it is quite different from his late predecessor's, Richard Harris's. I do think Gambon plays up Dumbledore's fallibility and fear too much and too early in the series. As much as it pains me to say it, the one notable exception to the marvelous acting in this film is the usually superb Emma Watson. As I said before, a lot of her more interesting subplots from the book were cut in the adaptation, but she still does way too much brow-furrowing and gasping. The overacting is most obvious in the closing scene when she utters the film's tagline, "Everything's going to change now, isn't it?" In the next film, I'd say we need more of the smug, clever Hermione who laughs at Fred and George's aging potion or the brave, competent Hermione who so nimbly managed her time turner in Azkaban. And speaking of Fred and George, this is the first film to really get them right. After their roles in this one, I can't wait for their big scene from book five on screen, without giving too much away.
Technically, these discs really impressed me. From the glistening silvers of the Yule Ball to the murky greens of the underwater scenes to the deep blacks of the graveyard, the colors, and picture in general, looked great. And sounds as varied as a mermaid's screech and a few lines of mumbled dialogue all came through crystal clear and in the right proportions.
As in previous Harry Potter DVDs, the extras on this two-disc edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are extensive and entertaining, though the ubiquitous commentary track is once again strangely absent. Perhaps they didn't bother with a commentary because the many featurettes basically cover the entire film in detail through interviews with tons of cast and crew members. There are four featurettes dissecting how each of the three tasks and the graveyard scene were created, concentrating largely on the make-up and special effects challenges as well as the conceptual work that went into visualizing the much anticipated Lord Voldemort. Another featurette focuses on the Yule Ball and is a great showcase for the energy, fun, and magic of working on this set, as is "Meet the Champions," which follows some of the new actors through one day of production. The half-hour "Conversations with the Cast" extra is an extensive group interview with Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, partially conducted by five lucky fans who won an audience with them. As has been often noted, these three -- and all the other young actors who are interviewed, really -- appear unbelievably grounded and pleasant. Watching them, one is tempted not to cut famous child actor screw-ups so much slack. If the kid who plays Harry-freaking-Potter can be a functional, likeable person, then all those kids from crappy '70s and '80s sitcoms should really be able to cope, right? "Reflections on the Fourth Film" feels like what's leftover after doing all the other featurettes -- it contains bits of on-set footage and interviews with a lot of the younger actors about everything from playing video games in their dressing rooms to what non-acting job in the film industry they would most like to have. The eight additional scenes are near perfect; they entertain and give you a bit more of what couldn't get squeezed into the film, but you can also understand why they were cut. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which H
arry leaves the Yule Ball and keeps running into pairs of gussied-up students making out, though the extended Yule Ball band performance scene had a rather long, tedious music-video feel. There are also four remote-control games that seem geared toward a younger audience -- fair enough, because what else about this "children's" film was? Strangely, the one perspective that doesn't get enough airtime in these extensive extras is Newell's. He has a few snippets in the featurettes, but mostly others talk about working with him instead of him talking about the film.
Let us naysayers who thought this book would have to be two movies bow down to the genius of Mike Newell. The director of Mona Lisa Smile actually pulled off the most breathtaking film in the Harry Potter series so far. Who'd have thunk it?
If The Sorting Hat plopped itself down on top of this installment of the Harry Potter films, he'd bellow out, "Gryffindor!" Like the members of that house, Mike Newell's film is brave and true, through and through.
Review content copyright © 2006 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 157 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Eight Additional Scenes
* Conversations with the Cast
* "Preparing for the Yule Ball"
* "Reflections on the Fourth Film"
* "Harry vs. the Horntail: The First Task"
* "In Too Deep: The Second Task"
* "The Maze: The Third Task"
* "He Who Must Not Be Named"
* Dragon Challenge Game
* Lake Challenge Game
* Maze Challenge Game
* To the Graveyard and Back Challenge Game
* Theatrical Trailer
* DVD-ROM EA Game Demo
* DVD-ROM Hogwarts Timeline
* Official Film Site
* Official Book Site
* Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Review
* Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review
* Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review