The best Potter yet.
The Harry Potter movie series is a pretty special franchise for me. While I have to say that I am an on-and-off reader of the books, I have enjoyed the film translations immensely from day one. Up till now, my favorite has been film three, Prisoner of Azkaban, which was exceptional thanks to the darker look given by director Alfonso Cuaron, more sophisticated crafting in general as opposed to the more pedestrian handling of the first two films. When Cuaron was replaced by director MIke Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) for Goblet of Fire, I had the slight worry that things might take a step back.
Thankfully, my worries were unfounded and after watching HP4, I can honestly say it's my favorite of the series so far and perhaps the best Potter film yet.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire brings back the entire cast for the titular wizard boy's fourth year at Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizards. This year starts with the grand event of the World Quidditch Finals, a glorious contest marred by a subsequent attack on the gathered spectators by a group of masked wizards known as the Death Eaters, otherwise known as the followers of 'You Know Who.' Soon afterwards, a mysterious wizard casts a fiendish and sinister sign onto the sky, the Dark Mark- You Know Who's symbol and a message to all that The Dark One, Voldemort is about to make his terrifying return.
Well, that said, it's all back to Hogwarts for Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the rest of the young wizards and witches of their generation. But this year isn't just any year, as shown by the spectacular entrances of entourages from two other wizarding schools- the fierce Cossack-like boys from Durmstrang, and the graceful girls from the French college of Beauxbatons. As Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) informs them all, this year will see the holding of the latest Tri-Wizard Tournament, a long-standing competition of wizards for everlasting glory.
Of course, Harry is quite happy to just watch and enjoy the precedings, especially since the 14-year old wizard is far under the required age of 17 to join. However, his name inexplicably appears from the Goblet of Fire, forcing him to become the unprecedented FOURTH entrant in a contest between three wizards- something that readily puts Harry in hot water. As anyone can probably tell, there are dark forces at work in Hogwarts, and not all is as it seems.
Prior to the release of GOF, many readers expressed worry at how good a translation of the book would be, since the fourth book is a very thick chapter. Fortunately, the script is pretty tight and skims over events such as the opening World Quidditch Finals fairly quickly. From there on, it's a pretty well-paced story through to the somewhat dark ending.
And the film is dark- GOF makes Prisoner of Azkaban look like a comedy. The film starts in a shadowy and gothic graveyard, then quickly shows a magical murder of a hapless Muggle. Along with the intense action of the Tri-wizard Contests, there's the climactic confrontation between Harry and You Know Who which results in another character's demise.
Still, this all goes hand in hand with the book, and while Harry Potter 4 is definitely the darkest so far, it's also the best in many ways. Visually, it's positively SPECTACULAR. I read somewhere that director Newell chose the effects crew of the earlier two films instead of the team employed by Cuaron in Azkaban... and while there aren't as many camera works as in HP3, Goblet's use of visuals and the sheer wonder of the sights shown are nothing short of magical. Sights like the World Quidditch Finals, Harry's breakneck chase with the dragon and more are easily the most impressive in the series so far.
Aside from the effects, I have to give props to the script by Steven Kloves, which is the clearest and most concise of the Potter films, expertly cutting out extraneous plots and leaving still a gripping, well-flowing narrative. Other than being the darkest, HP4 is also paradoxically the funniest- I can't count the times I found myself just chuckling and laughing out loud at moments onscreen- Newell is able to bring out moments of good-natured humor readily, whether it's from the eternal foibles of Ron Weasley, the antics of the two elder Weasley brothers Fred and George (who are pleasantly given quite a lot of screen time to provide much of the film's comic relief), the somewhat overgrown matching of Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and Beauxbaton's headmistress Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour).
The cast of the movie certainly has that homey, familiar feel- something that has borne fruit thanks to the so far more or less consistent appearances of the actors. Of course, the three leads- Radcliffe, Grint and Watson- ARE Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, literally. I truly can't picture anyone else stepping into their roles down the line, so I really hope they stay on for the duration. HP4 gives them more dramatic chops to take on, and a bit more angst into their roles. I found Radcliffe's Potter in Goblet his best performance yet, whether it's in the physical events or just being Harry. Ron gets to have a bit of angst along with his humor, while Hermione positively blooms in an evening gown during the Hogwart's Yule Ball.
Michael Gambon's Dumbledore, for me, is solidified in this one. Others may find the more energetic Arch Wizard not as gentle or as grandfatherly as portraryed by the late Richard Harris, but I really like the more crafty, more human but certainly the more forceful Dumbledore as acted by Gambon. If I'm going to have someone to watch my back against Voldemort, I want someone you can feel has the craftiness AND the strength to back it up.
And speaking of Voldemort... Ralph Fiennes. The Potter movies have always had great choices for casting, and having Mr. Fiennes is just as inspired as the choice of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. Fiennes gives Voldemort the character and the menace he was missing (he WAS a CG character after all in the first film, and a snotty teen in Chamber of Secrets) in previous installments. After seeing the incredibly dark and scary climax of Goblet, I can't wait for him and Harry to cross wands again in the next movies.
As for the rest of the cast, they're all truly in fine form, albeit some have seriously reduced roles. Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) gets at least one scene to harass Potter, and has a hilarious classroom scene. Sadly, Sirius Black is limited to one scene, and in CG at that. Still, it's great to see that characters like Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and even Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson) are given their moments.
The new characters also pull through well- veteran actor Brendan Gleeson makes for a suitably MAD Mad-eye Moody, and he's alternately scary and hilarious to see onscreen. Miranda Richardson's Rita Skeeter loses a LOT of her teeth in the film, but she does get to be a pain for the moment she's there. As for the young 'uns, Katie Leung's Cho Chang is suitably charming and lights up the screen when she appears, while Robert Pattinson as the pivotal character of Cedric Diggory is handled well enough for the character to have the impact needed later in film's climax. Victor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) and Fleur Delacour (a lovely Clemence Poesy) don't get as much lines or screen time, but at least Mr. Krum gets the best girl on the dance floor, while Fleur gives Ron his reason to smile.
After watching Goblet of Fire, I honestly wish to see it again in theaters, something that I didn't feel with previous entries in the series. This is certainly the most satisfying, most enjoyable Potter film yet.
As the 'Empire Strikes Back' chapter of the Potter franchise, Goblet of Fire opens the door to the more mature chapters beyond. And given the excellent quality of this latest movie, I can't wait to see Order of the Pheonix and Half-blood Prince in theaters.
Watch Goblet of Fire in theaters. NOW. While it's HOT.
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