In case you didn’t know, the last Harry Potter film is coming out on July 15th. In countdown to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I will be doing a bi-weekly series called “Harry Potter as Cinema”, starting with the first film in the series and working my way up to the final film. I will take an academic approach to the Harry Potter films as pieces of cinema, examining not only their quality but also what they are saying thematically.
Written by Steve Kloves
Directed by Mike Newell
Picking up right where Alfonso Cuarón left off, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire continues the maturation of the Harry Potter franchise shown in Prisoner of Azkaban. After Cuarón’s installment, Mike Newell faced the daunting challenge of bringing JK Rowling’s doorstop to the screen and, for the most part, Newell succeeds. This was the first of the Potter films to earn a PG-13 rating and Newell takes full advantage, turning it into a Hitchcockian thriller while putting his stamp on the series.
The film is quite a bit darker than the other three films and that is on display in the first scene of the film. It is one of those creepy haunted house sequences where the first of many murders occur in the film. The pallet is pitch black and it is a welcome change from the more whimsical scenes that kick of the previous films. It is a perfect scene and, while they avoid any real gore in order to maintain the PG-13, Newell doesn’t skimp on the terror of what unfolds.
Almost immediately afterwards, we are transported to the Quiditch World Cup, another brilliant sequence. Newell gives us the awe of just how big this event is. The Death Eater attack that occurs right after World Cup ends is well handled. The sense of chaos and confusion is accurately portrayed.
This year’s narrative deals with the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Two other wizarding schools, the Bulgarian all-boys school Durmstrang and the French all-girls Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, are at Hogwarts to compete in this legendary event. Three of-age wizards are chosen from each school and selected to compete in the tournament, which includes three tasks that are highly dangerous. Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy), Cederic Diggory (Robert Pattinson), and Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) are chosen from the Goblet of Fire. However, the Goblet also spits out Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) name at random. Harry is not of age, but due to the binding contract of the Goblet, he must compete.
Taking its cue from the previous film, Harry and his friends are now starting an important new stage in their lives: puberty. They take an active interest in the other sex, including Harry’s burgeoning crush on Cho Chang (Katie Leung). Hogwarts students now have to face their biggest challenge yet: asking a girl to the Yule Ball. There is a ton of sexual innuendo in the film, most notably in the form of Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson). There is something creepy – and to the film’s credit it is acknowledged – about Moaning Myrtle making a pass at Harry, especially when she is played by a then 40-year-old Henderson.
Newell was the first British director in the franchise and there is an authenticity to this film, especially the Hogwarts scenes, missing in the previous installments. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes don’t involve special effects but instead revolve around the male rivalry that Newell keenly inserts into the film. These are themes that Newell has explored previously in his work, most memorably in the overlooked dark comedy Pushing Tin as well as Donnie Brasco.
The performances are once again a strength of the film. Radcliffe is solid as the passive hero, finally exhibits some under-the-surface anger that will show through in the character in the upcoming installments, but it’s Emma Watson’s Hermione who actually steals the show. Under the guidance of Newell, she manages to accurately portray the frustrations of teenhood. The film’s best sequence is at the Yule Ball when, after Ron has effectively ruined her evening, Hermione, tells Ron that “next time there’s a ball pluck up the courage to ask me before someone else does! And not as a last resort.” Ron tries to defend himself, and Hermione, having just burst into tears, orders both Harry and Ron to bed. In Chris Columbus’ films, a scene like this would have been played for laughs. Instead Newell plays it honestly and it is heartbreaking.
As is the tradition, the adult wizards are portrayed by some of the finest actors in the muggle world. As Mad Eye Moody, Brendan Gleeson gives a wonderfully unhinged and occasionally creepy performance. Gleeson not only captures the character’s zaniness but, once the twist is revealed that he is really Barty Crouch Jr (David Tennant) in disguise, his performance becomes even creepier on re-watch. Also, in probably the franchise’s best casting choice, Ralph Fiennes plays Voldemort in his first on-screen appearance in the franchise. Fiennes has played villains throughout his career and he is chilling here.
The problem with the film is that there are some very bizarre tonal shifts. This comes from trying to faithfully recreate Rowling’s tome as accurately as possible. It is a much more succesful adaptation than Columbus’s films, but there are several flights of fancy in the middle, including Moody turning Malfoy into a rat, that feel unnecessary. After the wonderful first 20-30 minutes, the film sort of grinds to a halt, but the film picks up with the Yule Ball and the darker plot turns that follow. It’s a successful adaptation and a very good film but it falls just short of the greatness of Cuarón’s film.