Skip to main content

When it comes to the Dark Arts, I favour a practical approach.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(2005)

(SPOILERS) Significant, ante-upping events occur in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but so much of the movie is filler, or prelude, that it would have taken a director truly worth their salt to make it seem something more than it was. Mike Newell wasn’t that director. The best you can say about his work is that it’s serviceable, efficient, and you wouldn’t know his ballpark hitherto resided mostly in romcoms. He plays with the second unit and the effects department surprisingly well, never a given in the history of journeymen embarking on spectacles beyond their ken (see the Bond movies for much of their history), and as an actor’s director, pulls decent performances from all concerned. But you’re never in doubt where the joins between the overarching plot and incidentals lie, making it less successful and engrossing than its predecessor.


The lion’s share of the movie is concerned with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and it really need a dab hand at action to fire up these sequences, to make them as important and diverting as the main mystery, but at no point are the magic sports so immersive that you are as invested in them as you are in He Who Shall Not be Named or whatever is going on with Mad Moody and his potion.


And there’s another problem. There’s a strong whiff of recycling. While Rowling spends more time getting to know the characters and developing their interpersonal issues, the tournament provides easy scores of a sort we previously saw in Philosopher’s Stone’s end game. It also borrows from that movie’s “Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher is an agent of Voldemort”, which is plain lazy.


Harry: It was you from the beginning!

Having said that, Brendan Gleeson is a winner as MadEye Moody, even encumbered by a ridiculously cartoonish ocular prop, and – for those unfamiliar with the source material – whatever is up with him is effectively sustained. In contrast to Philosopher’s Stone, the signs of the villain being the villain are effectively concealed, albeit there are clues for the alert. Even the inevitable exposition works better, with a switch to David Tennant for enunciating the detail (he’s the Johnny Depp of Goblet of Fire), one of two future franchise bearers on the cusp of stardom. Tennant had already played his first scene as the Doctor when Goblet of Fire came out, but this and the more recent Jessica Jones show off a largely untapped knack for villainy.


Robert Pattison was still a few years off from Twilight, and the straight good guy role of Cedric Diggory is accordingly less interesting than Tennant’s Barty Crouch Jr. Indeed, Pattison’s had to actively fight against the pigeonhole of poster boy looks since Edward Cullen characterised him as bland and one note (unfairly, since he’s a more than decent actor). Cedric’s most notable aspect is that he surprisingly turns out to be as honest, honourable and well-intentioned as Harry, and then gets killed off. Credit to Rowling, this is a great moment, particularly the casualness of the “Kill the spare” instruction.


I’m less keen on the Harry’s parents ex machina (or ex-Voldemort’s wand), which probably seemed less without precedent in the novel but is rather too convenient. And, such an extended build up, Newell maybe fails to make Voldemort quite as intimidating or fearsome as he might have done. The design is solid, and Ralph Fiennes is expectedly note-perfect, but the danger he poses, not only to Harry but to his followers Lucius Malfoy and Peter Pettigrew, might have been further underscored.


Part of the problem with Goblet of Fire is the manner in which it actively pauses to explore teenage rites of passage, some of its diversions proving more effective than others. Cumulatively, it feels like it’s going overboard in this area. Harry’s more engaging when he’s trying to figure out his recurring Voldemort dream than mustering the courage to invite Cho (Katie Leung) to the Yule Ball. Likewise, his falling out with Ron, which even though it’s suitably silly and petty, isn’t nearly as interesting as the prefacing sequence itself, in which his name is put forward for the tournament and he is labelled a cheat. The willingness of Dumbledore and Snape to use Harry as bait also makes for an effective twist (certainly, when the former apologises at the end, saying “I put you in terrible danger this year, Harry. I’m sorry” the kneejerk response would be, “Well, if you cared that much, you’d never let him back to Hogwarts, as he’s put in terrible danger there every year”).


Radcliffe’s competent as Harry, desperately in need of a haircut (perhaps Newell instructed the stylists to think ‘70s), but his co-stars are consistently eclipsing him by this point. Grint has the comic timing of a natural (his pulling up the bedsheets when Hermione wakes him is worthy of Norman Wisdom covering his nipples while getting a medical). My only reservation is that I just don’t buy that Hermione fancies Ron; it feels entirely as if Rowling is self-consciously trying to fight the tide of how she knows these unrequited passions go (perhaps she never got over the ending of Pretty in Pink, and vowed to right such Duckie wrongs).


There’s also a feeling that this is a reversion to not cutting the fat, after the relatively brisk Prisoner of Azakaban; I can’t see any good reason for retaining the romance between Hagrid and Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour, who it’s always good to see, even when the giant effects are very variable; generally Newell doesn’t have Cuarón’s eye for seamlessness), or the Rita Skeeter subplot, really (again, Miranda Richardson is a marvel, particularly when given a chance to shine in a comedic role, but Rita’s inessential to moving the story forward).


The Tri-Wizard Tournament sequences are competent but never quite as enthralling as they could be; the best is probably the underwater challenge, showcasing Harry’s “moral fibre”, but it makes very little sense that he’d be awarded second place, having come in third, but not first, if it was Dumbledore’s view that he would have won if he hadn’t chosen to save both Ron and Gabrielle.


Perhaps it’s just being spoilt by Cuarón, but one can’t help think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire could have been better, and that’s while readily recognising it’s dramatically far superior to the first two movies. For every sinister allusion to Snape (that he remains faithful to the Dark Lord – the flashback scenes when Harry peers into the Pensieve are particularly engrossing, there’s Jarvis Crocker singing “Can you dance like a hippogriff?” (not merely on the nose, it practically severs it). Newell can handle dramatic atmosphere, but comes rather unstuck with a broader canvas (the Death Eaters attack on the Quidditch World Cup is exactly what you’d expect from someone with no prior experience of action choreography). I’d hazard Newell’s employment might be the problem of not wanting a filmmaker to overwhelm the material. I know Cuarón was asked back for Goblet of Fire, but there’s a lurking suspicion he was a little too much his own person for Rowling and David Heyman. Hence sticking to someone who could provide sufficient style and do what they were told when David Yates came along.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.