Reel Opinions

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The most amazing thing I find about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not its involving story or the fact that this is by far the best entry in the series. No, what amazes me is that it's taken this long for Warner Bros. to put a British director behind the camera. Although I've greatly enjoyed the previous films, director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mona Lisa Smile) seems to have finally perfected the formula, and has given us a film that runs at 2 and a half hours, but seems to go by in about one. That's because this is a much more streamlined Harry Potter story. Gone are the pointless introduction sequences concerning Harry's Muggle family. (Good riddance, I say.) This film takes us immediately into the action, and doesn't let up until the credits roll.

As Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his fourth year at Hogwarts, there is much excitement, as the school has the honor to host the TriWizard Tournament - an event that brings various schools of magic together to compete in three dangerous competitions that test the skills of any young wizard brave (or foolish) enough to take them. One student from each school participating is selected by the mysterious Goblet of Fire which draws forth the names that will compete this year. However, this year, the Goblet releases a fourth name along with the expected three - Harry's. Harry claims to have not put his name within the cup, nor should he have been able to, as the Goblet rejects any entry who is under the age of 17 due to the extreme danger of the tests in the Tournament. Regardless, Harry must go through with the challenges, as he has been chosen.

Harry's surprise entry divides the school in two - those who support him, and those who think he is simply seeking glory and publicity. Even Harry's long-time trusted friend, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) has doubts about Harry's story of not knowing how his name wound up within the Goblet when he did not put it there. With the support of his other best friend, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the mysterious new professor Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Harry begins the TriWizard Tournament in earnest, not sure if he will even survive the dangerous trials which include everything from battling dragons to dealing with undersea mermaid-like creatures. With all of Hogwarts wrapped up in the excitement of the games, very few notice that evil dealings are going on behind the scenes as a small group of dark wizards are attempting to return the legendary Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) to power.

Goblet of Fire marks a turning point for both the characters and the series in general. Harry and his friends are now 14, and are starting to grow and mature. This, of course, also leads to more interest in the opposite sex. There is a subplot concerning a ball that is to be held on Christmas Eve, and Harry and Ron find themselves the only men without dates, due to their inability to be open with their feelings with women. Harry has his eyes on a cute young Asian wizard girl, but he can't seem to find the strength to say anything whenever he's near her. Screenwriter Steve Kloves uses the film's running time to concentrate not just on dragon battles and dark wizards returning to power, but also with Harry discovering new emotions and feelings. Even oversized groundskeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) gets to have a love story of his own in this one. The relationships, the emotions, and the characters in general all seem real and genuine. This is not "movie love" where characters hook together because they're expected to. You can see actual and real chemistry and connection, and their joining together seems logical. This helps ground the story in reality while never once forgetting the flights of fantasy that most of the audience has paid to see. It's combination of wondrous fantasy and genuine humanity is no doubt what has made the franchise so endearing to so many people, and I'm very happy to see these traits reflected in the film as well.

The other turning point is that this film goes even deeper into the "dark" territory initially explored in the last entry, The Prisoner of Azkaban. The much publicized PG-13 rating (a first for the series) allows the film to handle its more mature themes of love and an increasing dark power gaining hold in a proper tone. Yet, fearful parents need not be afraid to take their kids to this one, I personally think. The film is no more violent than other films in the series, and aside from a scene late in the film, no blood or actual violence is depicted. If a child has a good understanding of the book and the series in general, I see no problems. The film does hint at the tone the remainder of the series will take, however, and I get a strong sense that the mostly lighthearted world of Hogwarts is going to take a severe turn for the worst in the coming installments.

What makes Goblet of Fire special are the many wonderful individual moments and the performances which seem to get better with each passing film. This film contains quite a few memorable scenes including Harry's death-defying battle with a giant dragon, and of course, his fateful meeting with Lord Voldemort. There are a number of smaller scenes too worth noting, simply because of the performances. The three young leads have grown right before the eyes of movie goers since the first film back in the fall of 2001, and they are better than ever. Not only do they seem to fit their characters perfectly, but they are able to bring deeper meaning to their performances. A lot of this has to do with the story treating their characters more maturely. This allows them to do more emotionally in their performances. No longer are they children wide-eyed and innocent at the world around them. They are more experienced, and know more about themselves, while learning more every day.

The adult cast is equally strong. All of the major characters from past films make their return, though they mostly take a back seat, letting the children grow into their more adult roles. The one adult character who makes the biggest impression is series newcomer Brendan Gleeson as the eccentric professor Mad-Eyed Moody, a man with a mechanical eye. His character is all at once bizarre, funny, and strangely sympathetic with the relationship he establishes with young Harry during the course of the film. And then there's Ralph Fiennes in an extended cameo as Harry's sworn enemy. Despite a remarkable physical resemblance to classic horror villain, Nosferatu, Fiennes is able to give Voldemort an appropriately sinister and all powerful presence. His meeting with Potter is one of the more intense and powerful scenes of the year, and both actors are able to pull it off and play off each other brilliantly.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire not only joins the list of blockbusters that have gone above and beyond the call of duty, offering a wonderful and intelligent experience (Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but it is also a shining example of filmmaking in its own right. It offers just about everything we look for in a movie - Thrills, human drama, comedy, and characters that are likable and that we can root for. To find all of these traits in one film is rare enough, but to find them in a special effects blockbuster is an even more wonderful experience. True, the other Potter films have been highlights each year they've come out, but for some reason, this one seems a bit more special to me. Let's hope the studio is smart enough to get Mike Newell back for the next film. I can't wait to see what he has in store next for us.

See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at!



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger