A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 514 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – July 27th, 2011

This is the last Harry Potter movie I had seen prior to this project. I have some reasons I’ll go into in tomorrow’s review but suffice it to say that beyond here the series gets dark and I have some issues with the stories themselves. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have some problems with this story too, but it’s not unpleasant to watch. It’s just a little nonsensical, which is really an issue with the book itself. I realize that this is a common theme in my Potter reviews, but I think it’s somewhat inescapable.

The thing is, I love the world that J.K. Rowling built. I love the world, I love the details, I love the characters and I love the general story. But the series follows a character as he grows up over the course of seven years and the first two books had this very young character facing off with one of the most powerful wizards in the world they exist in. So eventually he’s going to have to grow up. Rowling set up some very high stakes right from the beginning and up until the fourth story she did okay keeping things somewhat even with Harry’s abilities. But then the fourth book hits and it seemed like she really needed to advance things a lot very fast. And she had a lot of story to tell and a lot of world to build very quickly.

I feel that this story is really Harry’s last chance to be a true student. From the end of this story on it is clear that Things Are Very Grim and Harry is thrust right into the middle of it all. And while the plot of this story seems thoroughly bizarre in many ways, it’s relatively lighthearted, especially in comparison to tomorrow’s story. So while Harry is set in the spotlight against his will, until the climax of the movie it’s very clear that his direct competition is within his peer group. It’s Harry’s last hurrah, really. Which is all well and good, but sort of sad as well, and ends up having the effect of feeling somewhat uneven when it comes to the stakes for the battles ahead.

After the events of the last story things seem somewhat low key, really. Harry’s got a godfather out there who has to hide since the whole world thinks he’s a serial killer, but he’s not, so that’s cool. Voldemort hasn’t been seen in a whole movie and there’s no longer one of his followers hanging out in the Gryffindor dormitory. So of course it’s time for Hogwarts to host a huge inter-school competition with two other European wizarding schools, right? Of course it is! Now, if I’m going to be charitable, I can blame Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge for this. He turns out to be swimming laps in the river of denial later on, so let’s just run with that explanation instead of assuming that Dumbledore is a total sadist out to get Harry killed. Because that seems to me to be the other option here.

Anyhow, the competition at hand is the Tri-Wizard Tournament and it is apparently a traditionally grueling competition wherein students have been killed in the past. The judges decree that only students over the age of 17 can enter their names for consideration, so obviously Harry (age 14 in this one) will be competing. I mean, it was a foregone conclusion. You can’t introduce something like the Tri-Wizard Tournament and go on about how dangerous it is and not have your main character take part. Ridiculous? Yes. But this is the story the movie was given and to make it make any more sense would have required some fancy gymnastics so off we go, with Harry and Cedric Diggory from Hogwarts, Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons and Viktor Krum from Durmstrang all competing.

There are a variety of events in the competition, from facing off against dragons to a huge hedgemaze. The tasks require some fancy spell work and knowledge of the magical world, so Harry has to depend on his friends. But the drama here comes from a lot of the people around him assuming that he put his own name in somehow, despite being too young. He’s been put in danger and he doesn’t want to be there. Now, I recall this being somewhat lighter in the book. Perhaps it wasn’t really, or it wasn’t intended to be, but what I really like about this movie is how it uses the visuals of the tournament itself and the school and the whole environment to create a tone of peril. Yes, Harry is facing off against other students, but there’s a clear feeling here that he is well out of his depth. That something deeper is going on. And I like that. In my opinion it’s a great example of the benefit a visual medium can bring to a story like this.

By the end of the movie, when Harry is in the hedgemaze, it doesn’t feel as though he’s in a student competition anymore. It feels as though he has been pulled into something truly sinister, which of course he has been. But the movie communicates it well. Sure, there’s also the somewhat fluffy bit mid-movie where all the kids have to learn how to dance and there’s a Yule Ball and Harry utterly fails at the whole asking a girl out thing and Hermione wears a frilly dress (book-to-movie quibble: it should have been blue) and nothing terribly meaningful happens. But the rest of the movie does what I consider to be a fairly decent balancing act between the darker elements of Harry hearing about Death Eaters – followers of Lord Voldemort – and the lighter elements of him and his friends in classes and the tournament.

One major shift from the book to the movie is the beginning. If you look at the series of books on a shelf you can immediately see when someone gave J.K. Rowling the go-ahead to just write and write and write and damn the traditional page limits for children’s lit. This story in book form is a brick, largely owing to the beginning, which involves the Weasleys taking Harry to the Quidditch World Cup. Now, I love this bit for the worldbuilding it does and the introduction of several magical creatures and a number of characters who show up later. There’s a whole subplot with money that turns out to be fake and the twins betting on the game that’s totally cut out here. In fact, there’s a lot cut out. The entire Cup takes up a very small amount of time, basically showing the characters we need to see, giving us a glimpse of the culture surrounding the game, and then introducing the Death Eaters as a dangerous group. That’s all that’s really necessary and I applaud the movie for paring it down. It’s fun in the book, but it would have made the movie disjointed and interminable.

All things considered, I really do enjoy this movie. It has issues, but like its predecessors, those issues are issues I have with the story itself, and any larger departures would have drawn some serious fan ire. There’s some excellent work done in this movie to make it more even in its tone and to draw the story from the lighter works of the beginning of the series to the much darker themes later on. Once again the casting is superb, and I have to give some special credit to the costume department here for taking a minor character – Rita Skeeter – much of whose plot was taken out, and making her outfits speak so obviously to her true nature. I don’t mind what’s been taken out for precisely that sort of reason. The details that have been removed were often there in the book to create a richer world, but with the visuals afforded by a film that world is already rich enough.


July 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

July 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I realize that this movie is an important turning point. The first two movies involve attempts by Voldemort to return from the half-life to which he has been banished. The third movie is a bit of a detour, explaining in more detail about Harry’s father and his friends and hinting about the dark times during the dark lord’s last ascendancy. This, the fourth installment in the Potter series, is all about moving the grand plot arc forward. It has to conclude with Voldemort’s eventual resurrection (I hope that’s not really a spoiler to anybody reading this review) but the circuitous and convoluted route it takes to reach that goal weakens it somewhat for me.

Before Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts begins he goes with Hermione and Ron’s whole family to see the quidditch world cup. It’s a thrilling and fun look at the wizarding world and how nice it can be when things are peaceful. It’s glorious and exciting and the pinnacle of what is good about the Potter-verse. Then a bunch of Death Eaters show up and ruin everything, burning tents and spreading terror and shooting the dark mark high into the sky.

The faculty of Hogwarts naturally decide, under the circumstances, to hold a terrifyingly dangerous wizarding competition on the campus. The Tri-Wizard Tournament is, as the name suggests, a battle of wits between three wizards from three different schools who are all assigned multiple perilous tasks. It is made very clear to us us that students have been KILLED in this competition in the past. (So why does anybody think this is a good idea?)

Then things go a little pear shaped. Admission into this exclusive competition is handled by a magical burning cup (yeah, the Goblet of Fire) which is supposed to select one young wizard from each of the three competing schools. This device is also supposed not to accept any nominations for any wizards under the age of seventeen. So how, then doe Harry Potter end up getting nominated as a second wizard from Hogwarts? Clearly something is amiss.

Harry gets an awful lot of help in the Tri-Wizard Tournament from the irascible and slightly insane new defense against the dark arts teacher. I have always loved the character of “Madeye” Moody. His catch phrase (which is not featured in the movies for some reason) was also mine while I was still working at Blockbuster, where theft was a never ending problem. “Constant vigilance!” Of course in the end of the movie it’s revealed that this character you’ve come to really quite like is not all that he appears. I still find that a little disorienting.

I don’t want to mince words here: the primary plot of this movie is completely non-sensical. It always irritates me when a bad guys nefarious scheme seems to rely as much on luck as on intricate manipulations. The whole purpose of having Harry in the tournament is to get him to Voldemort using the trophy – the Tri-Wizard Cup. It’s a ludicrous plan with far too many ways that it could have gone wrong and it makes Voldemort as a villian seem a little less menacing.

On the other hand I quite like some of the side plots featured in the film. Especially the preparations for the yule ball with Harry and Ron trying to get up the courage to invite some poor girls to attend with them. There are moments that are evocative of my own awkward teenage years, although they’re much less painful here and are played for laughs. I feel a little bad for the Patel sisters, but even so the dynamics of these kids dealing with dating and teenaged angst are fun to watch.

Part of what’s so enjoyable about these movies is seeing these young actors growing up and becoming more and more adept at their craft. Even if this movie is a muddle and a confusing mess it still does manage to have a lot of great scenes for the people playing the lead roles. I almost wish it didn’t try so hard to be an action adventure film with an extended chase across the rooftops of Hogwarts between Harry and an irate dragon – the smaller character drama moments are so much better.

July 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment