(Part 5) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
After the big leap forward that was Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire marks an unfortunate step backwards for the Potter franchise. The Goblet of Fire was the sole Potter outing for English director Mike Newell and it’s fair to say he was hindered majorly by the sheer size of the source material. The Goblet of Fire book was twice the length of its predecessor, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and as a result large portions of the Goblet film feel rushed and under-developed. There also seems to be far less adventure going on in this outing as the focus is squarely on both teenage tribulations and the tri-wizard tournament. It’s only towards the film’s end that we are thrust back into the broader Potter saga with the arrival of Big Vol.
To try and accurately summarise the plot of this gargantuan film would take up a great deal of room and let’s face it, neither of us want that. So I’ll keep it as brief as I can. The movie starts at the Quidditch World Cup which gets rudely interrupted by an army of Death Eaters (Voldemort’s minions) and everyone is forced to flee. Returning for their fourth year, the usual gang are joined by students of two other schools of wizardry and withcraft from France and Bulgaria thanks to Hogwarts being selected to host that year’s Tri-Wizard Tournament. This perilous contest sees a wizard from each of the three schools undertake a trio of dangerous challenges in order to be crowned the winner. The three school champions are selected by the titular Goblet of Fire once all hopeful candidates have dropped their name into its flame. The Hogwarts representative is Cedric Diggory, a talented older wizard from Hufflepuff house. This year though, the goblet unexpectedly picks a fourth contestant in the bespectacled guise of Harry Potter. This causes much grumbling and suspicion amongst the other students as he is meant to be too young to take part (over 17’s only). The vast majority of the story then follows the Tri-Wizard Tournament and its various deadly tasks. The three amigos are also noticeably older in this film and all of a sudden hormones are racing everywhere. Harry and Ron start noticing girls, Hermione nabs her self a fella and teenage angst is never far away. At the film’s climax, the contestant are involved in the final tournament challenge which is a dangerous maze containing the hidden Tri-Wizard cup. Harry and Cedric both reach the cup simultaneously, but upon touching it they are transported to a murky graveyard where Peter Pettigrew and Voldemort are waiting for them.
Wow, that was actually surprisingly easy. In retrospect, it’s not as hard as you may think to summarise Goblet of Fire because, well, not that much of relevance really happens. The vast majority of the film revolves around a glorified sports day and teenage brooding that is so cliché it should really be called Harry Potter: the Hollyoaks years. The tournament itself has some exciting enough set-pieces, but you are constantly waiting for something truly important to happen. The focus shifts away from the big battle between the forces of good and evil and instead focuses on the personal relationships between the young students, which frankly are nowhere near as entertaining.
The movie opens at the Quidditch World Cup and there seems to be some confusion here as to who the wizards support. The gaggle of Weasley’s, Harry and Hermione all seem to support either Ireland (bloody Plastic Paddies) or Bulgaria, to the point that they have all invested in gawdy hats and scarves in their chosen team’s colour. What about the three lions ay? Get behind the lads Harry. Back the bid. Quidditch is coming home and you’re busy cheering on some stoic Eastern European manchild. The World Cup scenes could have been a really exciting sequence, but they’re far too rushed and we never even get to see any international Quidditch being played. The Death Eater attack is pretty intense, but even that is over far too soon. Right from the outset, the director was clearly pushed for time.
The central focus of the film is the extravagant Tri-Wizard Tournament which for me is excessively treacherous even by Hogwarts’ relaxed standards. The arrival of the siren-esque beauties from France (oohhhhhh Hermione doesn’t like them, does she? You can almost see her muttering “sluts” under her breath when they glide in) as well as the stereotypically muscular and tough Bulgarians, means an even greater number of teenagers under one roof. More on the problems this can cause later. The Tournament itself is really quite dangerous. I’d go as far as to say needlessly dangerous. Surely in tournaments gone by there’s been a fairly high mortality rate that raises serious health and safety issues. The first challenge has the champions fighting dragons for Christ’s sake. DRAGONS! Do the parents of Hogwarts pupils know this is what goes on at their kid’s school? The next round sees the participants thrown into a lake for an hour whilst their friends are used as live bait. Whatever happened to a good old fashioned egg and spoon race? Maybe go….. wheelbarrow race, egg and spoon and then finish with a bit of three-legged fun? This would still present them with a challenge as well as a far lower risk of accidental death. Despite some impressive set-pieces, the Tournament as a whole is a bit of a dud for me. Mike Newell is of course constrained somewhat by the source material he has to work from. After all, I assume the focus of the book is the Tournament as well. Yet it is still his job to make the tournament exciting and compelling and an alternative to the usual Hogwarts-based mystery that the other three films had thus far centred upon. He completely fails to do this for me and the Tri-Wizard Tournament seems completely out of step with the rest of the Potter Universe.
The film as a whole has a noticeably different tone to the others. Whereas previous films had focused on the threat facing Harry and the danger posed by the return of Voldemort, this one decides to focus more on the tribulations of growing up at boarding school. As a result, this is the film where Harry and Ron begin to notice girls and Ron especially becomes a brooding sack of raging hormones. He grumps about the place making no secret of his jealousy towards his best mate and at one point he even tells Harry to piss off. Woooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaah! Easy there, Rebel Without A Cause. Keep up with language like that and you’ll be smoking cigarettes and riding a motorbike before you know it. He also later calls Harry a ‘foul git’ and to be honest, it’s just cringe worthy. How many teenage boys do you know who call their mates ‘gits’? It would have added a slight bit of realism if Ron had dropped an ‘F’ bomb and then made a crude mum gag at Harry’s expense.
The teenage angst continues with the Hogwarts Yule ball. Here, Hogwarts comes across ever so briefly as being based in the real world as the Year 10’s are awkwardly forced to learn to dance and the boys are required to ask a girl to the ball. The film descends into a spot of soap opera type melodrama at this point as boys eye up girls nervously in the playground petrified they will be rejected if they pop the question. Whilst I understand again that Newell is presumably restricted by his source material, it doesn’t make this Saved by the Bell type of storyline any more interesting. I understand that it’s all part of the kids growing up, but it just doesn’t fit in with the general tone of the Potter movies thus far. The first hour or so is just schoolyard politics. Newell may have drawn the short straw book-wise, but the blame for uninteresting melodrama stil lies at his feet. Also, Viktor Krum plays for his country at an international level. He must also be at least 17 in order to take part in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He takes Hermione, aged 14, to the Yule Ball. Isn’t that just a little bit weird? No? Just me?
As I have already mentioned, the film feels very rushed and as if too much needed to be crammed in to a workable run time. The editing of the film itself was therefore clearly a bit of a challenge too and in several cases simply doesn’t work. For example, during a sequence towards the end of the ball we see Hermione storming away from Harry and Ron, the next scene we see her and Ron arguing up a flight of stairs. The film jumps from one event to another at a great rate of knots which just gives the film a very disjointed feel and ruins the flow of the film as a whole. This is the case for the entire movie as it appears like we are rushed along to the next major set-piece with little or no care for how we actually got there.
On the plus side, Goblet of Fire sees a host of new characters once again enter into proceedings and, once again, they are all fine additions. Miranda Richardson is on top form as the unscrupulous journalist Rita Skeeter. David Tennant flexes his villainous muscles as lip-smacking baddie Barty Crouch Jnr and of course Trigger from Only Fools and Horses is also well cast as his dad Barty Crouch Snr, a Ministry of Magic Official. Then of course there’s Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody. Gleeson is a firm favourite of mine and he throws himself into the role of the eccentric Auror (a hunter of rogue wizards) with gusto. Moody is known to be a bit of a nutter and a violent bounty hunter; so naturally, he’s a prime choice to be the new Defence Against The Dark Arts Teacher. You know what? I’m not even surprised any more. Mad-Eye even gets the kids to take point in a spot of animal cruelty as he tortures and kills a helpless spider. What a great lesson to teach impressionable youths.
Vol’s arrival at the end of the film is the first bit of real story we get. The scene between Voldemort and Harry in the spooky graveyard is the best bit of the film and finally injects a bit of the danger and darkness that we were introduced to in Prisoner of Azkaban. Newell finally gets his teeth into the over-arching Potter saga and gives us a powerful and dramatic scene which is both unsettling and moody, as well as being genuinely gripping. Unfortunately, it’s a case of too little too late.
Goblet of Fire has a great ending but this doesn’t make up for what goes before it. The stand alone story for this instalment is far too centred on growing pains and the Tri-Wizard Tournament, neither of which provides any real excitement.