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

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

He's not a nightstalker, and it'll take a lot more than bench presses to defeat him.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) (SPOILERS) The most successful entry in the franchise, if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason . And the point at which Freddy went full-on vaudeville, transformed into adored ringmaster rather than feared boogeyman. Not that he was ever very terrifying in the first place (the common misapprehension is that later instalments spoiled the character, but frankly, allowing Robert Englund to milk the laughs in bad-taste fashion is the saving grace of otherwise forgettably formulaic sequel construction). A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasts the most inventive, proficient effects work yet, but it’s also by far the least daring in terms of plotting, scraping together a means for Freddy to persist in his nocturnal pestilence while offering nothing in the way of the unexpected, be it characterisations or story points.

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.