Fourth time’s a harm
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Some Harry Potter-heads might think what I have to say in this review is a little disheartening. Just know that it comes from a guy who liked two of the first three movies, thought the third was the best and hasn’t read a page of the books.
While still a decent piece of entertainment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a lengthy chapter in the boy wizard’s ongoing adventure, is sort of a backward step for the film series. The movie intermittently comes to life through numerous fantasy sequences, but it also drags with long intervals of shallow teen drama that make it feel like Saved By the Bell at Hogwarts.
For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a brief synopsis: Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has invited some international wizards and witches to the Hogwarts School for a massive wizardry tournament. A series of dangerous, life-threatening challenges, the tournament can be undertaken only by those 17 and older, yet the underage Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself thrust into the competition when, inexplicably, the Goblet of Fire spits out his name.
The film doesn’t have the solidity and sense of completeness that distinguished its immediate predecessor, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Even though it clocks in at nearly three hours, it feels more like an overlong transitional chapter than one of essential importance to the whole saga.
The first chapter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was a big golly-gosh epic with child actors set loose on big sets, and its unneeded exposition on wizardry and magic resulted in pure sleep fuel. Chapter two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was a huge step forward, darkening the series and seeming more fully realized. The third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was, to put it simply, a masterpiece.
Goblet of Fire maintains the sinister vibe that started in Chamber and carried through Azkaban. Director Mike Newell, the first Brit to direct in the series, fails to reach the majestic heights staked out by Azkaban director Alfonso Cuarón. Newell’s film isn’t bad, but it does feel a bit choppy and meandering at times.
Harry’s battle with a dragon is a wondrous visual experience, even if it does end abruptly. An underwater sequence is appropriately creepy and probably stands as the film’s best overall achievement. One scene with Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black yields in a very strange and wonderful sort of cameo. The film’s finale, which involves a shrubbery maze straight out of The Shining and a cemetery showdown with a dark lord (played by Ralph Fiennes) is quite scary.
For each of its triumphs, the film has shortfalls. The visual effects work supremely in spots, but moments where the actors seem lost and out of sync with the effects around them are numerous. Continuity and editing also suffer at times—in one scene, Hermione Granger, played by Emma Watson, has tears in her eyes before her character actually gets upset—and little things like this are a nuisance considering the damned-near perfection Azkaban was.
Radcliffe continues to emerge as an excellent actor. All traces of the boy who didn’t really know what he was doing in the first film have fallen away. Rupert Grint manages some good laughs as the glum Ron Weasley. Watson tries a bit too hard in some of her emotionally demanding scenes, but her overall performance is a good one.
Sure, it’s nice to have Harry’s adventures arriving at such a quick pace (Azkaban was released just last year). Nevertheless, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire probably needed another couple of months in postproduction. It feels a little rushed, and although it is still a picture worth seeing, it stands as one of the weaker chapters in the Potter series.