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When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes to films based upon popular literary events – and let’s be honest, the Harry Potter books have become events in and of themselves – it’s often hard to separate the one from the other.
Even though Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film is a completely different medium when a movie has been extracted from a hugely popular book, the fans of the latter are going to enter the Cineplex with a certain amount of expectation. Rabid fans aside, the best way to approach a film based on another medium is to look at it as a singular event removed from the source material. At least in theory, that is.
All of which brings us to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth entry in the ongoing franchise. To get the obvious out of the way first, in terms of how it stacks up against the book, sadly I lost interest in the series after Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone(sacrilege to J.K. Rowling fanatics the world over, I know, but truth be known I’m more of a Lemony Snicket man myself), so I have attended each subsequent episode of the Potter films with a clean slate of a mind and have viewed each installment solely on how the most current adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione rank when placed in context with any of the previous endeavors.
From a genuinely entertainment standpoint the fourth movie of the Harry Potter film series may just be the best one yet. Differentiating itself from the auspices of the novel from which it is based on and viewing it as a movie in its own right, Mike Newell and Steve Klove’s collaboration is a brisk, darkly-tinged adventure yarn that boosts the action quota greatly and as such turns into a whirlwind blast of post-summer escapism. This is a film that comes out of the gates with a snort and a bull rush and rarely lets up on the reigns for a second. Unlike the previous two installments, which had me staring at my watch after about an hour into each, Newell’s film virtually never stops for air.
On the surface Newell looked like a strange choice to direct one of the Potter projects giving that his two best known (and received) movies have been Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Yet if you think about it for a minute you’ll realize that choosing Newell was something of a coup. Why? Well for starters Donnie Brasco is perhaps one of the best modern crime films of the past two decades. And Four Weddings and a Funeralis one of the best romantic dramas of the past two decades. Both films are worlds apart, but together they touch upon all the same aspects of plot, action, drama, and tension that fill up the storyline to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Newell appears to have a strong grasp of the characters and the changes they take in this entry, which basically showcases the young trio hitting puberty and becoming privy to the magical urges of love and longing.
Surprising, however, is how Newell grasped tightly around the darker thematics of the film’s storyline. While he has proven himself in the past to be a skillful director in terms of capturing the many nuances of the human emotions, here he engages evil and dread with a sense of righteous aplomb. The movie opens on a brooding note and while there are moments of light-hearted reprieve sprinkled throughout, for the most part it retains its brooding, malevolent tone and injects a fair amount of creepiness, to boot.
While Newell’s direction is at the heart of how the movie unfolds, there’s also a notable improvement concerning the special effects. Some may scoff at this, but I swear that the effects this time around are just a shade better and more realistic. Granted the improvement ratio on CGI turns out to be greater by leaps and bounds each year, it really wasn’t that clear between the first, second, and third movies. Here, however, the fine tuning is a boon to the overall look and feel of the story.
As for our core trio of actors – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint – they continue to hone their thespian skills with each passing chapter. Grint especially seems to be getting more and more comfortable onscreen, his nervous twitters and clumsy antics feeling more real and not as forced. Watson continues to serve as the strongest link of the trio, the unequivocal rock of Gibraltar that brings the support and strength for the other two. As for Radcliffe, he, too, is becoming more comfortable with his role and has reached the point where he is virtually indistinguishable as an actor portraying Potter, but rather fully embodies the character. At this point in the game it will truly be a shame if they have to replace any of these three as they so obviously have meshed together.
Interestingly enough, this is the first of the four films where Potter and his cohorts dominate the screen. In past efforts a favorable amount of time was spent to supporting characters like classmates and teachers. Here the only real newcomer to gain any fortitude of screen time is Brendan Gleeson as the eerily funny Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody. The odds of Hagrid, Dumbledore, and Snape, at least for now, have been relegated to the back burner as the main thrust of the story focuses on the return of the evil Lord Voldemort. That said, George and Fred Weasley (Oliver and James Phelps, respectively) and Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) enjoy some elevated screen time and make the most of it by committing some memorable color to the whole affair.
While Newell makes the most of his first swing at Harry, he’s accompanied by another newcomer in the name of composer Patrick Doyle. While Doyle may not be as big a name as John Williams, the musician has the distinction of having worked with Newell on Donnie Brasco. The clear symmetry the duo share is noticeable in the score, which unfolds as a seamless stream of sounds that blend beautifully with the action onscreen to the point of being nearly invisible.
This is not to say that it is innocuous. Quite the contrary, actually. It instead harmonizes with the events unfolding on the big screen so well that it ends up working on a near subliminal level, upbringing tension and evoking a wide range of emotions, just as a good movie score should. And yes, there’s a nice little scene in the movie featuring a super group consisted of Jarvis Cocker, Steve Mackey, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Steve Clayton, and Jason Buckle, so devout Brit Pop fans will without any doubt rejoice.
From the opening scene featuring the Quidditch World Cup on through the three trials that young Potter must participate in as part of the Tri-Wizard Tournament (of which the Goblet of Fire mainly show) down to the feeling of true awkwardness instilled in the characters as they face issues of puberty while still fighting against dragons and evil wizards, Mike Newell and the crew have crafted a whirlwind journey that will certainly appeal to those who aren’t the least bit familiar with the books. And I’m pretty sure it will end well with the hardcore Potter loyalists on a beautiful note, too.