Who doesn’t love a good dragon and the one Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has to deal with this time around is a ripper.
With two nozzles in its throat shooting out twin jets of fire – talk about attention to detail – the fight starts in a rocky pit and ends atop a castle tower. As Harry hangs on for dear life the dragon gingerly feels for purchase across the unstable tiles of a severely sloping roof. It’s a fabulous few minutes and a tribute to just how thrilling big-screen cinema can be.
Regrettably, that’s about the only scene of any real interest in this interminable, over-produced slog of a movie, which apparently cost $US300 million ($A406 million). You’ll see every cent of it, too, in the lavish sets and digital effects and costumes and huge set pieces. But money has never guaranteed quality and that’s what the fourth Harry Potter film appears determined to prove.
There are few trace elements of plot in the film, most of which is spent building up to various stages of some huge tournament at the Hogwarts school for child wizards. Indeed, there appears so little regard for storytelling conventions here one wonders whether Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire actually qualifies as a film at all.
Like so many other film franchises, Goblet of Fire looks like a huge, ultra-glossy merchandising show reel fuelled by a corporate marketing monolith that has conditioned its younger-than-usual demographic to swarm to the multiplexes in reverent droves.
Though Harry and his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are now entering puberty, there’s actually very little that is emotionally engaging. There is some boy-girl flirting as well as a new friendship Harry kicks up with an older boy but none of it adds up to anything more than momentary distraction from massive production pieces that follow the tried-and-true Harry Potter formula of wands, broomsticks and the occasional comic diversion in cavernous gothic sets the size of airship hangars.
The actual dramatic point of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film comes in its final stretch with the return of the noseless Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). It’s only then you learn the horrifying truth, that the entire purpose of this dirge is merely to set up the central conflict for the next film. So Goblet is really just a glorified, 157-minute teaser trailer, an empty epic of proportions that truly stagger.
There has been some low-level controversy over the M rating of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and whether the film might be too scary for young children to bear. The distributors wanted a PG but their appeal against the decision by the Office of Film and Literature Classification failed.
Well, PG – Parental Guidance – is all Goblet deserved. As fine a job as the OFLC does most days, sometimes you have to wonder about what cultural standards they use in their decisions.
Yes, there’s a bit of death, and at one point a bad guy says “I’m going to kill you Harry Potter” but the “moderate dark themes” and “moderate fantasy violence” that earned Goblet its M are so abstracted and mild it hardly warrants concern. Kids today consume all sorts of images from all forms of media. They are seasoned by South Park, The Simpsons, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, DVDs and video games. They know the difference between reality and made-up stuff. Indeed, they are probably more instinctively aware of media artifice than any previous generation.
The two nephews who accompanied me to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire certainly had no problem afterwards. Said Lewis, the nine-year old: “I didn’t think it was scary. I thought it was boring. It’s too long.” Added his six-year-old brother, Charlie (my godson): “The film didn’t work for me.” (Where do they pick up these phrases?)
They then said The Simpsons Halloween specials are filled with brain-eating zombies and scary ghouls and homicidal dolls and Homer chasing after Bart with an axe and that didn’t trouble them. Perhaps parents of particularly delicate angels should proceed with caution into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but our children definitely haven’t lost any sleep over it. If anything, it made them want to sleep.