Fire-breathing dragons and a menacing Voldemort help to make the fourth entry in the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the best one to date.
The first film adapted from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books was released in 2001, with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as the three leading characters. The fourth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, came out in November 2005. Here is the first Telegraph review.
Before the first Harry Potter movie was released in 2001, many fans were concerned that the eccentric and distinctively English charms of JK Rowling’s novels would be lost in the adventure from printed page to multiplex screen.
These days, the novels are getting saggier and more bloated (at more than 750 pages in length, the last one was longer than Crime and Punishment), but ever since Christopher (Home Alone) Columbus was absent from the director’s seat, the movie adaptations have been getting more and more sharper and interesting. The latest even features Jarvis Cocker and members of Radiohead vamping it up as the Wyrd Sisters at a school ball.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire happens to be the very first Harry Potter entry to be directed by an Englishman, Mike Newell, best recognized for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco. Like his predecessor Alfonso Cuarón, he has little time for anything sappy or sugary. “Dark and difficult times lie ahead” is one of many things that Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) mentions Harry at the earlier of the film; and the entire movie, an unexpectedly dark and occasionally very frightening foray into the less fun side of wizardry and magic, entirely deserves its “12A” classification.
The characters are less goody-two-shoes than before, too. Daniel Radcliffe, playing the Harry Potter, used to look like a New Labor policy wonk or the op-ed editor of a liberal broadsheet; these days he’s more tetchy and solitary. That is absolutely nothing when comparing to the vast changes in Ron Weasley’s personality. The former freckled bumpkin (Rupert Grint) seems to have developed Tourette’s. He can’t stop yelling “Bloody hell”, spends half his airing time cursing and muttering about Harry, whom he is starting to envy. He also now shows off a lank fringe of the kind worn by guitarists of struggling Thames Valley shoe-gazing bands.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie, hormones and testosterone levels are accelerating faster than any of the alchemical mixtures brewed up by Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman). Harry finds himself flexing his blooming masculinity in a Triwizard tournament against the strapping Euro Quidditch champion Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) and complete with Hogwarts’ Most Wanted golden boy Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson).
Meanwhile, he has to bring up the courage to ask Sino-Scot beauty Cho Chang (Katie Leung) to go him to the annual Yule Ball. Hermione (played by Emma Watson), at the same time, takes her nose out of magic books long enough to dress herself up in make-up and ball gown land to such beautiful effect that she even takes Ron’s breath away.
These growing pains and Prom Night scenes nod to the last 20 years of American teen movies more than they do to the English public-school literary tradition in which Rowling’s books are steeped. Other sequences, involving those in which peroxide-blonde showbiz journalist Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson) invents sensational accounts of Harry’s post-tournament nerves (“Look! My eyes aren’t ‘glistening with the ghosts of my past!’ ” he opposes), owe more to Sweet Smell of Success than Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
But where Newell really nails is in taking a leaf out of Peter Jackson’s novel and building up the fear factor. There are moments, especially those featuring Ralph Fiennes as the cadaverous Lord Voldemort making a devilish comeback to the fray, that serve as yucky hybrids of the scariest moments in Lord of the Rings and the Garden of Gethsemane episode in The Passion of the Christ.
Even the hearty wizard-athletics at the Department of International Magical Cooperation tournament take a turn for the grotesque when Harry finds himself being lashed at and singed by a fire-breathing dragon and while, still wearing his trusty specs, he wades and flippers across the depths of a muddy green lake at the bottom of which he discovers his friends tied and almost petrified.
Best and most wonderful of all is the startling performance by Brendan Gleeson as mad-eyed Professor Moody, Hogwarts’s new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor. He gruffs, swigs from tiny flasks of booze so as to insulate himself from evil forces, and takes Harry under his wing, a place that turns out to be less secured than the schoolboy thinks. For much of the film it seems that he’s going to be another Hagrid – a growler who turns out to be a softie – but when the secret of his identity does emerge, it’s more sordid than most audiences new to the story will expect.
That in the end is the true measure of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For all its tiresome moments – and, at more than 150 minutes running time, there are quite a few stretches when it seems as we’re simply biding time until another horrible episode – it isn’t the type of movie that will appeal only to fans of the book. Of course, it should have showed a lot more of the brilliantly serpentine Alan Rickman, and it should definitely have spent much more screen time to Jarvis Cocker; he is, after all, the patron saint of exactly the same sort of misfits, outsiders and misshapes represented by Potter himself.
But it’s rare that one is able to herald the fourth picture of a franchise series as the best to date. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is saturated, to positive ends, in greater sorrow and greater depth than any of the Columbus- or Cuarón-directed films. One hopes that Rowling’s next book is half as brilliant, and as relatively concise, as Mike Newell’s brand-revitalizing current victor.