Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

“Difficult times lie ahead, Harry.” Difficult indeed. The kids are growing up — faster than their characters in the book(s). The directors for this franchise keep changing — not always a bad thing, but if you got someone with a specific visual style (Alfonso Cuaron), the successor (Mike Newell) should at least try to match it, or to make the differences less glaring. And finally, the adventures themselves — although they are getting darker and more menacing, thanks to heavy use of CGI and second-rate acting, they are less believable. And repetitive. The three main actors — Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermoine) and Rupert Grint (Ron) were cute and cuddly in the first movies, but in this one they’re just awkward. I don’t have a problem with their characters’ adolescence; everyone goes through an awkward stage. I mean their acting, their “too old for the characters, too young to be grown-ups” behaviour on screen. Having never read the books, I can only imagine that this awkwardness was either intentional, or the age issue is going to get worse unless the future Harry Potter screenplays are adjusted properly.

See, the challenge of a franchise this big is that you gotta keep it interesting for everyone — newbies as well as those who are familiar with the books. Goblet of Fire spends very little time on introductions to bring a new viewer into the story. But it spends a lot of time dealing with “kids growing up” issues: the silly misunderstandings, the lusty looks, the hissy-fits, and the mindless fights between closest friends. All good material, for drama as well as comic relief. Except that the kids cannot convey that. They’ve passed this age, and unless properly trained, cannot really throw a fit the way a teenager would. Blame it on the writers, on the misguided direction (why not let younger kids leer and drool, while Harry and Co. are saving the world, the viewer will understand the difficulties of growing up). Or, perhaps they just aren’t that good at acting. Of course when the supporting cast includes Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman and Miranda Richardson, anyone younger than 40 will be upstaged in any given scene. But that was the case with the other three movies, and they balanced the “kiddy” scenes with serious ones quite well.

Which brings me to another point. The books have great material for both grown-ups and kids. So why not deliver it to both audience groups (the second and third movies were much more compelling, allowing the grown-ups only in small amounts, and letting the kids do the rest of the work). In Goblet of Fire, he-who-cannot-be-named finally makes an appearance, but instead of just letting it be a brief scene, it drags on and on, overshadowing anything else that followed. What can I say, it’s Ralph Fiennes. Same goes for Brendan Gleeson and Michal Gambon — too much time on screen. Whereas Alan Rickman, who can adapt to any scene and be “fun” for kids as well as adults, he got two, maybe three lines in the whole film. Who the hell was editing this movie? Why water down great scenes, and extend ones that are weaker, just to show off an actor? I know the story is all there, I saw it on screen, but in my mind, I was re-ordering scenes, cutting them, switching characters when necessary. And it’s a shame, because it’s all there anyway, I just did’t see it in the right order, or delivered by the right actor.

I’m not being picky, just comparing this movie to others. Perhaps I shouldn’t. But not all is bad, however. The special effects are fantastic, although that one scene next to the autumn brook was so simple and beautiful that it put a lot of computer-generated scenery to shame. I’m glad they moved production to England, there’s so much landscape they can use, to show off just how beautiful a world can be created with just a camera. No computers, no designers conjuring textures and colours in front of their Macs. Back to basics, I guess. I’d like to see more of that. Just vistas.

Goblet of Fire was weaker than the previous two Harry Potter films, but if scares and frights sell tickets, it will be more successful, and if Ralph Fiennes is an attractive male (rhetorical question), more grown-ups will see it too. I thought the biggest issue with this film was the aging kids, and second-rate editing. Other than that it’s the same old adventures, new creatures, and new spells; different support characters, and different shenanigans in Hogwarts. I’m looking forward to more focused, and balanced storytelling. The story is actually there, just find a good way of presenting it so I don’t walk out of the theater fairly certain that good chunks of it were left on the cutting-room floor. And I mean “good” chunks.

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