Thursday, September 27, 2012

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I'm a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I've read all the books (the good and the bad) and have seen all the movies (the good and the bad). After seeing the superb Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban kick the living crap out of the sub-par Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the dreary Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets due to an inspired directorial choice and creative cinematography, I was extremely excited with the direction the films were taking. Azkaban was more for adults than kids, but was still accessible for children (if they don't scare easily). I liked that since that's the way the books progressed; they got more adult as they went on. So with this fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, director Mike Newell (who helmed Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco) kept with the “adult” approach and delivered one hell of a great fantasy film.

We all know the plot: The Death Eaters, Voldemort's minions, are on the march and ransack the Quiddich World Cup, and at the same time Harry is chosen to participate in the Tri-Wizard Tournament at Hogwarts even though he never volunteered to take part. Something foul is afoot as strange things begin to happen around the school, from murder to blossoming hormones, and in the end Harry is propelled toward a climactic confrontation wit his nemesis... Lord Voldemort himself.
First and foremost the young actors and actresses who are at the core of the film have improved by leaps and bounds once again. Daniel Radcliffe is no longer that wide-eyed kid being awed by all that surrounds him. His character is comfortable in this world of magic and as an actor he's settled into Harry's shoes admirably. He's believable in all his scenes, from the most comical (when he spits up his juice because his dream girl looked at him) to the most dramatic (his big scene in the finale). Emma Watson was always the perfect choice to play Hermione and she's turning into quite a fine actress, even though she tends to overdo things once in a while. Rupert Grint IS Ron Weasley, and even though his character becomes a bit of an annoyance in the story he still manages to make his character likeable and funny.

All the regulars are in fine form as well, and even though I loved Richard Harris as Dumbledore, I am quickly becoming a fan of Michael Gambon's take on the character. In the books, Dumbledore was always a wise and kindly character who always walked around slowly unless something terrible was going on. Richard Harris was so fragile he couldn't do any of that, but Gambon can. In this film he moves like a madman when the need arises and shows off his character's creepy side once in a while. Bravo. Newcomer Brendan Gleeson's Mad Eye Moody is pitch perfect. He's just as I envisioned his character from the books. The same goes for Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort. Even though he has the face of a snake-man, he makes his character entertaining and terrifying at the same time. He really seems to enjoy being the root of all evil in this series and because of that he manages to be menacing in the extreme without chewing the scenery.
A lot has been chopped from the books, and that's a good thing. How does Hermione fighting for the rights of the Hogwart's House Elves advance the main plot? It doesn't and therefore it was dropped, kind of like Tom Bombadil's scenes in the first Lord of the Rings film. In the book they're fine and dandy (even though they slowed it down to a crawl), but in a movie it's not needed to tell the story. There were a ton of subplots that were excised and I didn't miss them at all. Screenwriter Steve Kloves managed to condense a 700+ page book into a 2 1/2 hour movie, and while the first half hour moves by WAY TOO QUICKLY to make sense to those who aren't familiar with the novels, it still manages to entertain.

The FX are outstanding this time around as well. I thought that Buckbeak in Azkaban was the greatest CGI character ever, but you have to see the dragon in Goblet to believe it. It looks almost real (however real a dragon can look I suppose)! The action is awesome too, with plenty of pulse-pounding scenes to break up the character drama.
And to top it all off they left the finale unchanged. Horrific things take place and they aren't glossed over or toned down. They are depressing and shocking, very violent and dark events that will change the main character's lives forever and we get to see them in all their nasty detail. BRAVO!

When the movie ended I was glad that the film ended up being so damned good. It has to be since the next book in the series was pretty lame and therefore the movie will be too (maybe). As it stands, this is the best film in the series thus far, “Azkaban” is just behind it by a hair's length. Even if you aren't a Harry Potter fan, you owe it to yourself to see this film. It's a great ride.

4.5 out of 5

*written 11/18/05

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