Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Movie Review)

        The year was 2005 and the motion picture is “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”. This was the very first of the Harry Potter movies to be marketed to young adults, and it set the tone for what all the remaining Harry Potter movies would be like. This is where things get much darker, the storytelling becomes more serious, there are less magical charms and the scenery really starts to lose its color. This film was fairly well received by both fans and critics and is often regarded as one of the superior entries in the series, but personally ... I don't care for this one. I’ll be honest, any great series of films with a long chain of movies is bound to have at least one entry that I don’t like, and personally, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is that one entry that I just don’t do anything for me. Now even though I don’t like this movie, I also don’t think it’s completely terrible. Let me put it this way, I’ve seen bad movies that I think people should avoid for as long as they live, but this film can be perfectly okay for someone else to watch. If you like this movie, that’s great, I wish I did, however, it’s just not a film that I particularly care for, so don’t expect me to give this film the same praise that I gave to the first three movies.  

       Here’s the premise, it’s year four at Hogwarts School and most classes are put on hold to make way for a yearlong competition called the Triwizard Tournament. This competition brings together three wizard schools and a single student is selected from each school to compete in a series of obstacles. Through a series of events, Hogwarts selects two champions to compete, one of which is none other than Harry Potter himself, much to the dismay of everyone including Harry because he’s too young to participate. It’s explained later that an adult signed Harry up to compete, which I can except on some level but that still doesn’t explain why Hogwarts selected two champions, because…..oh, who cares. The point is, Harry is stuck in this tournament and has to battle all kinds of Obstacles that I’ll talk about in more detail later. My first problem with this premise is that it’s not really a story of good versus evil, instead it’s more like a good person being put in a really bad situation by the good people. The plot also gets a little repetitive but I’ll go into all my story problems later, right now I want to discuss the characters.

      I said in my review of the first movie that it never felt like I was watching actors in these parts, and it always felt like I was watching these characters alive and in the flesh. Well, beginning with this film, I started to notice the strings attached. Don’t take that the wrong way, the cast still does a very good job in their respected roles, it’s just that everyone begins to feel like stereotypes of themselves. You know Ron is going to be the butt of every joke, you know Herminie’s the only smart character that can provide plot exposition and the character of Harry Potter really loses his charm and becomes a little dull. One serious problem with the film is the new Albus Dumbledore played by Michael Gambon. I stated in my “Prisoner of Azkaban” review that all the magic and charm that characterized the original Dumbledore were sorely lacking but this movie sinks to ridiculous new lows with the character. He’s just so grouchy, bitter, depressing, angry, and even a little scary. There’s actually a scene with Dumbledore charging at Harry with full force, putting him in a strangle hold position, pushing him against a table causing lots of things to topple over and it’s just so out of character that it almost becomes self parody.    

     I suppose there’s an admirable attempt to make the characters a lot more mature and adult, their less smiley, there’s no more warm bonding scenes between them and they argue a lot. Unfortunately, the drama and heated arguments between the three lead characters suck and half the time, it doesn’t even make sense why their arguing. There’s a long part of the film in which Ron is furious with Harry, but the things said back and forth between the two characters are overly childish and even silly. What’s worse is that this little rivalry doesn’t develop the characters in any appreciable way and it all ends so suddenly that it just leaves me asking, what was the point of all that? Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good for character development to see friends argue and leave their comfort zone but it’s all handled so poorly in this film. Their reasoning behind their arguments is incredibly self-centered, childishly immature, and they just never amount to anything. With no substance to back all the characters arguments, it only adds to the films stale and depressing atmosphere.     


      Things don’t get any better with the new characters, there’s a cute little Asian girl named Cho Chang that Harry has a crush on, but the two hardly share any scenes together and when they do, the film resorts to typical teen movie clichés. The new defense against the dark arts teacher is called Mad Eye Moody, who’s played very well by Brendan Gleeson and he seems like a very interesting character at first. Unfortunately, there’s a twist at the end of the film (spoiler) that the real teacher has been held prisoner and it was an imposter the whole time, and I mean the whole time, sense scene one, which ruins all the scenes this character shared with Harry in the first place. Seriously, what was the point of establishing a teacher/ student relationship between these two if it was just an imposter, what was the point of making the character so interesting if it was never really him? The imposter himself is revealed to be nothing like the teacher at all, in fact he’s just a cartoony villain that wants Harry dead. There’s also an annoying news reporter that’s supposed to be one of those characters that you love to hate but the movie doesn’t do a thing with her. To be fare, the actress does fit the role and is clearly having fun in the part but as soon as she gets introduced, she has one other scene and then disappears completely. Oh wait, she’s seen in the background but she doesn’t have anything else to say, she contributes nothing to the plot and once again it makes me wonder, what was the point of featuring this character if she’s not going to do anything?    

     There are also those three champion characters that participate in the tournament with Harry and honestly, they are the most uninteresting and completely forgettable characters to be featured in the entire Harry Potter series. I don’t remember any of their names, I don’t remember a single line they said, and on that note, I don’t even remember if they had lines. None of these characters have distinct personalities and I feel like we never got the chance to know them. The only thing I remember is that the one French girl is played by the same actress who played Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 motion picture “Romeo & Juliet”, and she’s insanely attractive. Now these underdeveloped champions aren’t a huge problem, at least until the end of the film (spoilers) when one of them actually dies. This is supposed to be one of the big, dramatic points of the series. It’s the first time anyone dies and it’s just so hard to care when we didn’t get to know this guy, or let me put it this way, there wasn’t a thing we learned about this character that really made me chare about him as an individual. 

        Well, that takes care of all my grapes with the characters, now let’s go back to my issues with the story. However, before I continue, I do want to state that “Goblet of Fire” is perhaps the most difficult of the Harry Potter books to stream line into a movie, after all, it’s twice the size of all the other books and unlike “Deathly Hallows” this film couldn’t be split into two movies. Let me just say that by taking this big a book and scripting it into a motion picture that even non Harry Potter fans can follow is no simple task, but they did it and ... it's just a damn impressive feat. Well, there are still a hand full of moments that aren’t explained very well to people that aren’t already familiar with the Harry Potter series, but like I said, any writer faced with this kind of  challenge is going to have problems making this story flow as well as in the book. While the writers put their all into this project, I’m still not too fond of the films tone or the way the film is passed. Everything comes off as rushed, there isn’t enough time for the characters to breath, they move from one scene to the next so quickly that it makes things come off as awkward and boring. Plus, when you really look at this, “Goblet of Fire” doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s just Harry surviving this tournament and everything else in-between is dull filer. Now you can argue that there was a lot of filler in the first three movies, which is true but the difference is that the passing was so good that every scene felt like an experience in of itself and that helped liven up this films magical universe. When this movie abruptly jumps from one scene to another, you can’t take anything in as an experience and it makes this magical world feel more like a special effect rather than a place you can live and breathe in. Even the visuals are a little too cartoony, with hardly any of the practical effects that I loved in the first three films.

      Unfortunately, even if the passing in this film was done better, I still don’t think this world would feel as magical because if Harry isn’t fighting in the tournament, the movie spends it’s time focusing on scenes that feel like they belong in a bad teen comedy. Seriously, let’s look at some of the scenes that occupy this films long runtime. There’s a moment where Harry gets attacked by snack food, no joke, Harry gets attacked by killer munches. Another scene involves a ghost that’s attempting to shower shag with a naked Harry Potter, and that's just.... I don’t even know what that is, it’s not funny, it’s not cute, it’s just unsettling. There’s a 20 minuet long montage that focuses on characters picking up dates, practicing how to dance with a partner and it just goes on and on with no payoff.

      Why is there no pay off to that overly long montage, because it all leads up the Yule Ball, which is honestly one of the worst scenes ever to be viewed in a Harry Potter movie or any movie for that matter. I was actually looking forward to this part by the way, I mean after all the crap Harry goes through in this film, it would be so nice for him to just breathe and have a good time with his friends. Plus, I love the overall design of this ballroom, making Hogwarts look like a giant ice cave was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, there are three things that really ruin this scene. First of all, Harries date is some nameless girl with a stuck up attitude, so I can’t say that it’s cute or special when the two of them dance. Second, there’s this really out of place rock N’ roll band that feels more fitting for a Percy Jackson movie, except even Percy Jackson has enough decency not to feature something like this. The third and biggest reason this scene fails is because it’s just another scene for the characters to argue in. This time the arguing between Herminie and Ron gets really intense and mean. Oh and Harry, being the good friend that he is just sits there, like he could care less that his two best friends are at each other’s throats. I wouldn’t mind this so much if it amounted to something but the very next scene is a bonding moment between Herminie and Harry, focusing on how she’s concerned for his safety. In other words, the movie just continues as if that argument at the Yule Ball never happened, Harry never apologizes, Herminie and Ron never forgive one another, the film just moves on. So what was the point of building up that Yule Ball if nothing special happens or if their friendship struggles have no bearing on the film.          

        I’m so sorry you had to read all that nitpicking about a single scene, here, let me try to say something positive about this film. Well there are still the three challenges, one of which is an awesome battle with a dragon. Actually, for whatever it’s worth, this dragon fight is one of the phew scenes that even improves on the book. It doesn't just take place in an arena, instead Harry gets on a broom, pursued by the dragon and it all leads to this thrilling chase on the castle grounds. The second challenge is an underwater rescue mission as Harry has to save his friends from merpeople, but that scene is kind of dull too. In the third challenge, Harry has to navigate through this magical maze, which should be awesome, I mean it’s a magical maze, the possibilities you could do with that are endless. Unfortunately, all we get in this maze are bushes that move around a little, that's lame, the writers should have watched Jim Henson’s motion picture “Labyrinth” to get some inspiration for what to do with a magical maze.    

        To be fair, the ending starts to redeem the movie a little. Harries greatest enemy Voldemort emerges in the flesh and challenges him in a wizard’s dual to the death. Voldemort is now played by Ralph Fiennes, a great actor but he doesn’t really command the role until the next movie. To be honest, my first impressions of him weren’t that positive. I didn’t really like the characters design, it just looked like a bald Michal Jackson to me. I also didn’t like the voice, especially in comparison to the first Voldemort played by Ian Heart. That Voldemort had a sinister, snake like voice, while this guy sounded like his throat was damaged from smoking. The performance was also a little too hammy at times but thankfully Ralph Fiennes will completely redeem himself in the following films and earn the recognition for being one of Hollywood’s greatest movie villains. The climax is descent enough but will be completely upstaged by some powerhouse wizard duals in the following films. Their is one great moment in which the ghosts of Harry's parents come to his aide during the dual, and it works as one of the films more emotional highlights. The movie itself doesn’t exactly close on a high note, but at least it does a good job setting the stage for all the events that will unfold in the next film.              

       In all honesty, when this movie first came out, I had an unbelievable amount of hatred towed it, and while my opinion on the movie hasn’t changed much over the years, I can thankfully say that my attitude towed this certainly has. It’s still my least favorite entry in the Harry Potter film series but I’m actually kind of glad. With at least one film in the series that I don’t like, it makes me appreciate all the other films even more, that’s a healthy way of looking at it. Overall, this is the Harry Potter movie that I’ve watched the least, because there’s really just no joy in watching it. The premise is boring, the effects over shadow any substance, the characters come off as dull, angry stereotypes of themselves and it doesn’t add that much to the series that I care for. Personally, I’d recommend skipping right to the next film because every important plot point in “Goblet of Fire” is addressed in “Order of the Phoenix”, that way you won’t miss anything important when giving it a pass. As stated before, if you like this movie, that’s fine, it’s just not for me.

                                  I give “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” 2 stars out of 5.               

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