Switching things around this week and reviewing my re-watch Potter film today instead of Sunday. Naturally I’m on the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Director Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire follows fourteen year old Harry through his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as darkness stirs in the wider wizarding world. Hogwarts hosts the Triwizard Cup, a dangerous competition between the three biggest European wizarding schools, each with their own student champion, that had not been held for many years because of the number of student deaths, and Harry somehow ends up signed up as an extra champion. His entry takes away from the actual Hogwarts champion, seventeen year old Cedric Diggory, causing a lot of people to turn against Harry (briefly including best friend Ron). As the competition goes on, this becomes the least of his problems, as he also needs to learn how to deal with girls. Oh yeah, and Voldemort might want to kill him again.
As always, there are some new characters and each are brilliantly cast. The three other champions and their mentors, though slightly different than I envisioned in some cases, are well acted and Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter is utterly perfect. Ralph Fiennes as the returned Voldemort is unsettlingly energetic and rather more disturbing because of that. The stand out performance, however, has to go to Brendan Gleeson as MadEye Moody. Though he doesn’t look quite how I imagined Moody, Gleeson’s Madeye is quirky and abrupt, quickly moving from angered shouts to child-like glee. The scene with Draco Malfoy as a ferret is just gold.
Out of all the Potter films I’ve watched so far, Goblet of Fire shows the teenage actors at their best. There is such a focus on them in this film, with the adult actors taking a step back to allow their younger counterparts to take the fore, and every one of them steps up to the task. They portray their characters perfectly, from the wicked humour of Fred and George to Neville’s awkward kindness, and they truly feel like typical high school students for the first time. Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry shows the sassiness and sarcasm of his character and no longer seems as forced as in Prisoner of Azkaban, indicating that my issues with him in the previous film were likely down to direction.
Though the other actors did well, the best performance of this film is, by far, Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley. Goblet of Fire is when he IS Ron. There are so many moments that demonstrate his friendship with Harry perfectly, making up for some of the annoyingly prevalent Harry/Hermione shipping scenes that screenwriter Steve Kloves seems to enjoy. Grint pulls of the complicated jealousy/brotherly relationship that exists between Ron and Harry, the humour and unintended selfishness of Ron’s character. He has so many scenes where he steals the show and it’s wonderful – I could watch the bit where Ron tries to ask out Hermione over and over. There are still occasions where Hermione steals Ron’s moments or shares an implied romantic moment moment with Harry but this happens far less than in any of the other later films.
One of the things I love most about Goblet of Fire is that, although the actual action/plot is well integrated, the focus of the film is really the teenagers beginning to interact with the opposite sex. It’s a rom-com hidden within Harry Potter, just with characters who ultimately suck at scoring a date and don’t know what to do when they do find someone. And the rom-com elements are threaded so well into it that it feels utterly natural and the pacing is unaffected. So many subtle touches that hint towards the burgeoning romantic/sex lives of the characters weave through Goblet of Fire, from clips of some (uncomfortably teenage) arses to slight shared smiles between Hermione and Krum. All with the beautifully portrayed awkwardness of teenagedom and first love. The scenes between Emma Watson’s Hermione and Rupert Grint’s Ron are particularly good, as Ron fails to understand how badly he is mucking up and Harry watches, horrified, from the sidelines. As a wingman, Harry sucks and it’s hilarious. It’s perfect.
Another thing that I found really impressive upon this re-watch was the subtle directorial choices that showed Harry’s feelings, particularly the use of crowds. The previous three films would tend to set the Golden Trio apart from everyone else, even in busy scenes like those set in the Great Hall. They were never well integrated. In the beginning of Goblet of Fire, however, Harry blends into the crowd in a lot of ways. There are far more crowd scenes, from the Quidditch World Cup to the Great Hall, and Harry is just there, watching everything. He doesn’t actively contribute to the action but is amused by the things happening around him. And I think that this was a good way to show Harry as he wanted to be. Not the star – just like any other student. Then his name comes out of the cup and suddenly he stands alone, even in the crowd of the Great Hall, and eyes follow him out of the hall. He stands apart from everyone for the rest of the film. It’s some wonderful, subtle symbolism for the way Harry sees himself and it works brilliantly.
The streamlining of Goblet of Fire, from large book to film, is done well. The important things are there (though I do imagine it is probably an easier film to watch as a fan than as a newcomer) but the cuts don’t feel abrupt. Unlike the first two films, it is not obsessively true to the source material, instead being slimmed and pruned to reconstruct the novel in the most efficient way possible. There is only one scene I cannot watch (“Did ya put yer name in the Goblet of Fire?!?) because it feels wrong but it is otherwise pretty much perfect from my perspective. The balance between fidelity to the source material and the economy of film makes it a joy to watch.
Overall, I think that Goblet of Fire might be my favourite of the Harry Potter film adaptations. It weaves the magic and drama of the series with the awkward hilarity of being a teenager, all while bringing in the true darkness of the wizarding world’s conflict. Just skip that one scene, yeah?