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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.