Over the years there have been culture phenomena I’ve avoided for various reasons. It could be as fickle as my mood, the presence of Eric Robert’s Ugly Sister (or ERUS, as Justin coined), or the fact that I just missed the entry point before the culture became saturated by the book, TV, or film series. In “Better Late Than Never,” I look past my objections to see if the culture was right or wrong to embrace the phenomenon so strongly.
Title: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
Release Date: November 18th, 2005
Objection: By this point, I was alone. All of my friends had amicable relationships with the Wizarding World. Prompted by the quality of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the remaining holdouts got caught up and waited with bated breath for the return of He Who Must Not Be Named in the film’s fourth entry.
At the time, I was also tired of seeing Ralph Fiennes in movies, so his casting as Voldemort was met by an epic shrugging of the shoulders. Like I mentioned in the last Potter entry, my ambivalence toward the series veered into antipathy with the release of a new film or book. In this instance, I armored up and told people that I hated the whole enterprise and wanted nothing to do with it.
I now own a Lego Diagon Alley. The years can be funny that way.
The Film: With the arrival of year four, Hogwarts hosts the Triwizard Tournament — a series of baffling, reportedly grueling ordeals that are undertaken by representatives of three magic academies: Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, the Durmstrang Institute, and Hogwarts itself. The contestants are chosen by the titular Goblet of Fire. After it produces the three names for each school, it bellows forth Harry’s name as another champion. His dubious inclusion sets little in motion except for Ron’s half-hearted jealousy.
Of course, other troubles abound as Voldemort’s private army — the Death Eaters — return and disrupt the Quiddich World Cup (which, really, makes them seem like an okay bunch of people). Harry also has a recurring dream about the Dark Lord making plans with a follower who bears a striking resemblance to a certain fashion-plate Time Lord of Gallifrey.
While the other champions apparently train for the first challenge, Harry is introduced to the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Alistair “Mad-Eye” Moody. He’s clearly off his rocker, but appears to take an interest in Harry winning the Tournament. Now that I think about it, I should probably tell you about the other contestants:
1. Cedric Diggory -an upperclassmen in Hufflepuff who, we’re told, is a much more accomplished wizard than Harry. He seems like a stand-up and friendly fellow as he helps Harry out on occasion and apologizes for the anti-Harry/Pro-Diggory buttons circulating around school. His resemblance to the vampiric subspecies of the American Northwest is completely coincidental.
2. Viktor Krum – Champion Quidditch player and Hermione-fancier, Krum is a man of few words. We’re told he’s more “physical,” but also appears to be a good egg — at least, from what little we see of him. He also takes Hermione to the Yule Ball, of which I’ll have more to say later.
3. Fleur Delacour – She’s female, French, and has a sister.
For reasons that are never made clear to me, the tournament will take all year; necessitating the presence of the other two schools’ delegations throughout. With them also comes hormones as the fourth year students all seem to hit puberty at the same time. Harry and Ron reveal this by growing their hair long. The Patil Sisters say “Hi Harry” in a flirtatious way whenever they pass him. A new character, Cho Chang, is introduced as Harry’s first crush. In the most pleasing development along this theme, Neville Longbottom is revealed to be a natural dancer.
While this starts out as a subplot, it quickly becomes the focus of the film following the Dragon Challenge. Harry and Ron notice how difficult it is to ask a girl out to the Yule Ball — a traditional dance that comes with the Triwizards Tournament. When Harry finds the courage to ask Cho Chang, it turns out Cedric got there first.
Ron apparently yells his proposal to Fleur while passing her in the hall. Granted, we never actually see this on-screen, so I can’t really confirm it. When the Ball arrives, Harry has secure the Patils as dates for Ron and himself. Hermione shows up with Krum and, despite the music of Jarvis Cocker, the whole thing resembles an episode of “The Facts of Life.”
After A HALF HOUR of Yule Ball business, the second challenge finds the contestants underwater as they do something that puts me to sleep every time I try to watch this movie. Honestly, I’ve gone through this film four times now and the Yule Ball sequence numbs me so much, that I disconnect from the story until the third challenge. I just watched the movie last night and I can’t tell you what happened between Harry diving into the water and the discovery that the champion’s cup is a portkey.
So … the champion’s cup turns out to be a portkey, an object that can teleport wizards to random locations, like the cemetery where the bones of Tom Riddle’s father are buried. There, Harry and Cedric find Peter Pettigrew (who is now referred to as “Wormtail” for some reason) and a snake-man baby who just might be the Dark Lord. Pete– I mean, “Wormtail” kills Cedric and concocts a spell that restores Voldemort to life. Back in form, he spends a few minutes admonishing his follows (who have shown up because their bitchin’ Death Eater tattoos summoned them to Tom’s side) when he suddenly remembers that Harry is there.
The two fight, briefly, when the ghosts of Harry’s parents and Cedric appear and give him the few seconds he needs to use the portkey and escape. Cedric also asks Harry to take his body back to his own father. Upon his return to the tournament stands, Harry is escorted back to Hogwarts by Mad-Eye Moody — who turns out to be an imposter(!)
It seems the whole time “Moody” has been Barty Crouch Jr, the son of an important ministry official and the very same person Harry was dreaming about at the start of the film. Dumbledore and the other instructors burst in, saving Harry and releasing the real Mad-Eye Moody from the prison Barty Jr. put him in at the beginning of the year. Just when everything seems wrapped up, Dumbledore tells the students that Cedric was killed by Voldemort and that they should hold onto the bonds of friendship they forged during the past year as they’ll become more important in the times ahead.
Also, the delegations from the other two schools leave amidst applause.
I’ve been told the actual Goblet of Fire novel is rather episodic and I can believe that from the film. It never seems to find a real cinematic focus. While it maintains the darker look and visual grammar established in Azkaban, the plotting, pacing, and characters all reach back to Sorcerer’s Stone for their inspirations. While I understand the novelistic reasons for J.K. Rowling to use one book as one year at Hogwarts, it’s becoming increasingly insane for the movies to do so as well. The leisurely pace of the Triwizards tournament robs it of any momentum or excitement it might contain. None of the characters — except Hermione — ever seems concerned with the challenges. This follows through into their actual depiction. Time and again, we’re told they’re supposed to be grueling ordeals that push the champions to their limits, and yet they come off as risky as the “Double Dare” obstacle course.
Add to this lack of concern the caricatures Hermione and Ron have retreated into. Our third favorite Weasley spends most of the film sulking about this or that. Ms. Granger spends a great deal the film haranguing Harry for not being prepared. In the end, both characters are far less appealing than they were in the previous film, but I find it interesting how much they track as extensions of the performances each actor gave in the first film. I’d hazard that director Mike Newell didn’t take the job all that seriously or was uncomfortable directing the young leads. I offer as evidence the crappy Death Eater costumes he approved. See also the performance of Tom Felton, who returns to being the one-note bully character of the Columbus-directed outings. While Daniel Radcliffe acquits himself well by maintaining the pitch from Azkaban, he is definitely adrift at sea towards the end when he inexplicably starts bawling over Cedric’s body.
The novel is apparently much longer than the previous books and in lieu of splitting the material into two films, the production made the rather bold choice of not committing to any storyline, character, or idea. Cedric is a perfect example of this. He appears to be Hogwart’s favorite son, but its hard to get a read on him because he is always sprinting across the screen, never stopping long enough for the audience to learn about him. I like the idea of Cedric and would’ve liked to see him as someone even Harry looks up to, but alas, there’s no time for that because we have to get to the world’s most boring dragon chase and then waste 20% of the movie on the Yule Ball.
Now, let’s get one thing straight about the Ball: I’m not opposed to it. It’s an interesting idea and jibes with the overall theme of growing up in a world of magic. My problem with it is structural. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire literally stops for a half hour while Harry Potter and the Yule Ball Jitters unspools. Why couldn’t the Yule Ball be something the kids were already talking about before the dragon challenge? Instead of Ron getting sulky about Harry’s participation in the tournament, couldn’t he be nervous about a.) whether or not he wanted he wanted to take Hermione to the ball, b.) getting the courage to ask someone to the ball, and c.) being nervous about going to the ball? If the material had been interspersed with the preparation for the dragon challenge, it would feel more like an organic element of the tournament than an episode of “The Worst Witch.”
At least the Dursleys are COMPLETELY absent from this film.
You’ll notice I short-changed Fleur in my character description. This is because she has no character in the film. I’m sure she’s great in the books and her reappearance in later films gives me the idea that she’s a person of merit, but all we see her do in Goblet of Fire is smile, cry, and scream. She has, at most, three lines of dialogue.
So, the whole point of everything is to get Harry to the portkey. This is why Barty Jr not only masquerades as Moody, but puts Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire. It seems like a lot of work with a lot of risk for something that could’ve been easily done more quickly. Now, if there’s an in-story reason why Voldemort had to wait all that time, it would be reasonable (sort of) … but why not just have Barty gain Harry’s trust and then kidnap him?
Which gets us to the weirdest aspect of the film, the low-key return of Voldemort. This sequence is just bizarre for a number of reasons. One: it starts rather dull. Two: Voldemort forgets what is happening so he can chastise his Death Eaters for not seeing the signs of his return. Three: it someone how ends up being the best scene in the movie. You’d think if one character in this series would have a sense of urgency it would be the Bad Guy.
But just as I’m ready to disconnect again, Harry shouts and Voldemort remembers where he is and the scene, surprisingly, gets good. Between Voldemort’s speech about death, the two characters actually battling for the first time, and the appearance of the ghosts — STUFF ACTUALLY HAPPENS! Imagine what it would be like if the rest of the picture was like this.
In fact, the Voldemort sequence ends up being so good that everything that follows feels like one of those sad “we’re at the Awards show post-party” broadcasts that they do here in Los Angeles. Despite the fact that a few things need to wrap up, the movie is essentially over the moment Harry says, “He’s back.” In fact, the power of that moment robs the Moody reveal of any weight it might contain. Now, I assume this is how events unfold in the book, and that’s sort of forgivable, but why end on the other schools’ delegations leaving? Like the hooray for Hagrid at the end of Chamber of Secrets, watching the kids leave strikes an odd cord.
Verdict: On top of the amount of things I would need to know going in, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a poor example of genuinely good ideas and characters. If, by some miracle, I had tried to watch it back at the time of release, it would’ve shut the door on the series for me.