Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

I didn’t remember much from when I saw Goblet of Fire the first time, other than maybe thinking again that the dragon fly-around of the Hogwarts ground was kind of superfluous. So I was very, very pleasantly surprised to find that this movie is actually… pretty good?

One day, I’ll actually blog about Japanese cartoons again.

[This post contains spoilers for the fourth book and movie.]

As the longest book to be adapted at the time, new director Mike Newell, for the most part, had excellent judgment in deciding what could be discarded and what needed to be filmed. To be honest, since it’s been a year or three since I last read this particular book, there were a good handful of story elements and subplots that I forgot about during the course of the movie and didn’t remember until after it was over. Nevertheless, with all the cutting, pasting, and merging of plot points, plenty of scenes are awkward and rushed, with transitions not making a lot of sense. It still blows my mind that there are Harry Potter fans that have only ever seen the films and who have never referred back to the books — how these people manage to follow and understand anything that’s happening is beyond me. The films don’t really make it easy.

The opening sequence did well to set the mood. It’s only fitting that someone dies in the opening minutes — it’s a forewarning, for sure. This is the first installment where Harry witnesses death at the end, a trend that continues in the next two parts before accumulating in numerous deaths in the finale. (And yes, seeing David Tennant as Barty Crouch Jr. after having seen his entire run as the Tenth Doctor is both delightful and hilarious.)

The Dursleys are completely absent from this film and Harry wakes at the Burrow with no explanation. From a literary standpoint, this is disappointing, as the Dursleys literally shield Harry from danger and adventure and serve as a point of consistency. From a practical standpoint, yeah, yeah, they don’t contribute much here and the decision to axe them makes sense. That there’s no mention of the Quidditch World Cup until after they get there is kind of annoying though. It’s the little things.

The entire World Cup itself is also cut, and while I don’t mind this, I think the transition could have been infinitely smoother. If you weren’t paying attention, it would have been easy to miss the fact that Ireland won, though of course, there’s no note that that was in spite of the fact that Bulgaria caught the Snitch (which would provide more basis for Viktor Krum’s fame). Along with the Cup, Ludo Bagman and Winky are both cut in their entirety. Bagman was unimportant anyway, but while I do think it was a good decision to axe Winky as well, I also think that something (not necessarily the whole, long-winded story, but something) could have been said about how Crouch Jr. escaped Azkaban. … Then again, they never told us how Sirius Black did it either.

Indeed, the fact that the mystery bad guy in all this is related to Barty Crouch Sr. is downplayed a lot. Crouch Sr. isn’t a particularly memorable character, especially considering Percy is absent the entire movie (was he even at the Cup? I don’t think so) and that entire familial drama subplot spanning all subsequent installments is killed from the start. This isn’t important, per se, but it does make these relationships less relevant, which I think is a damn shame because interesting relationships make for interesting characters, which are what make for interesting stories, even if they aren’t required for interesting plots.

The Triwizard Tournament is poorly introduced, but I would blame this almost entirely on the fact that Michael Gambon proves to be a terrible Dumbledore. Never does this man smile. The tournament is described as a treacherous, dangerous, and even wretched thing — any glory associated with it is taken away by Gambon’s somber, and sometimes threatening, tone. The darkness and foreboding comes off far too strong, and even Fred and George Weasley can’t manage to make you forget how awfully serious Dumbledore was.

It is true that Dumbledore’s morality and motives are called into question in later books, but for now, the character remains serene, trustworthy, matter-of-fact, and with an pervasive cheerfulness. Gambon’s Dumbledore is none of these things. Dumbledore might express some shock when Harry’s name is spat from the Goblet of Fire, as Bagman is not there to play that part, but in who’s deranged headcanon is it ever appropriate for calm and collected Dumbledore to grab Harry by the shoulders and shake him for answers? It was disturbing to watch, and I think that may be my one biggest complaint with the entire movie.

Meanwhile, Brendan Gleeson is a pretty awesome “Mad-Eye” Moody, even if I think the eye itself is rather over-the-top. Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory was not very noteworthy, but Pattison plays a plot device more than he plays a character anyway. Miranda Richardson is a suitably aggravating Rita Skeeter, but her subplot as an unregistered Animagus is also sacrificed, so there’s not much left worth mentioning. And if you were wondering, Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy does not improve, but his greatest contribution to this movie is as an amazing bouncing ferret, so. If the Dursleys can be cut for being repetitive aspects that contribute little in the way of story, then why couldn’t Malfoy?

The fact that Harry is exchanging letters with Sirius made for an amazingly awkward segway while the trio is on the Hogwarts Express (also, yes, let’s totally address letters to a mass-murderer fugitive without disguising them at all, but hey, does anyone even remember he’s a mass-murderer fugitive? much less Harry’s godfather?), but his appearance in the fireplace was doubly awkward. Honestly, Sirius doesn’t tell Harry he doesn’t already know, so the inclusion of Sirius at all was pretty superfluous. This is the slippery slope with cutting scenes though — Harry’s relationship with Sirius is already poorly established because of scenes missing from the previous movie, so removing Sirius here altogether would have probably made subsequent happenings less meaningful. But I don’t think the one scene did much to help that either. Interesting relationships make interesting characters make interesting stories. Two and a half hour movies, then, are very poorly suited for stories with sprawling ensemble casts — a pointless observation, no doubt.

The First Task was pretty awesome, really. My complaints are petty and purist: they did not mention that all the dragons were nesting females, which would have taken half a second and added a lot more perceived danger and ferocity, even if all the actual footage remained the same. They did not place the golden egg in a clutch of actual eggs, either. Maybe they wanted to avoid the animal cruelty aspect of this canon?

The Yule Ball, being the first official instance of lulzy romantic drama, went very well in the movie because I think every Harry Potter director believes that this is what keeps the shippers in the theatre. I’m kind of surprised Newell didn’t push the Harry/Hermione angle more, considering Skeeter’s contributions, but I guess David Yates more than makes up for that later. I think bits like Neville being a super awesome ballroom dancer (contradicts canon, btw), Ron dancing awkwardly with McGonagall (also contradicts canon), and Hagrid’s relationship with Madam Maxine were unnecessary (the latter since Skeeter’s subplot is cut and since Grawp is also cut from later movies), but I guess we can have some random fun now and again. (But if fun’s the excuse, I would have liked to hear Krum stumble over “Herm-own-ninny” instead.)

Without a half dozen subplots to distract you, the hints the movie gives regarding Polyjuice potion are much more obvious, so that’s one part of the mystery they did right. I do miss the most obvious hint — the Marauder’s Map showing Crouch in Snape’s potion stores — but I suppose they pre-preemptively used that trick in the previous movie, hm? And you know, Alan Rickman as Snape also manages to be a lot clearer in his speaking in this movie, particularly when he and McGonagall are discussing whether Harry should be able to compete in the tournament — it was very refreshing. Snape is cooler when he isn’t trying so hard to… be cool… by… pausing awkwardly between… every other… word.

The Second Task must have been a pretty boring spectator sport from the bleachers, but, with the magical movie camera, it was also pretty cool, even if it transitioned oddly to finding Crouch Sr… dead? Unconscious? They kind of just find a body and never say, lol. And then we get three Pensieve memories in one! But that worked out well enough, despite that Gambon’s Dumbledore still lacks any semblance of light-hearted charm.

And then suddenly the Third Task! It was pretty anti-climatic without the Sphinx, the Acromantula, the Boggart, or anything other than man-eating roots/bushes and a Imperius’d KrumĀ (who did not use the Cruciatus curse) to stand in their way, but I guess we maxed out the budget on the dragons.

The encounter in the graveyard was better than expected and probably made up for the pathetic Third Task, which too obviously served as nothing more than a transition. I’m glad they didn’t draw out Cedric’s death too long — it needs to be sudden and inconsequential — he is nothing to Voldemort, and the ease at which he is discarded makes it all the more traumatic for Harry.

I always felt that the ritual in the fourth book was pretty lame though, and the film only makes this more apparent. Seriously, Voldy, if all you needed was a little pinch of Harry’s blood, you could have had Crouch Jr. give him a papercut at the beginning of the school year and saved the guy a lot of needless plotting. And then you would have returned to power a whole year earlier! And hell, even if you really wanted to give your villainous monologue to Harry, was there a particular reason Crouch Jr. couldn’t have made anything else into a portkey? Like, I dunno. Harry’s DADA textbook? A quill? Anything? The whole convoluted plot kind of falls to pieces when you see how absurdly simple the ritual that (supposedly) required it is.

Moving on, Voldemort’s duel with Harry was… frustrating because they once again managed to explain nothing about it. How Harry survived the Dark Lord’s initial attack thirteen years prior is still attributed vaguely to “love” and “Lily’s sacrifice,” which is fine, I guess, since honestly, this is one of the most annoyingly inconsistent and amazingly convoluted aspect of the entire series — but logically, this explanation would make any other time Harry survives Voldemort’s attacks all the more mystifying seeing as Lily Potter is already dead. More clarification is needed! The first movie did, in fact, mention the detail about the phoenix feathers in Harry and Voldemort’s wands — would it have been so hard to remind us of this?

The light show wasn’t bad though.

The unmasking of Moody as Barty Crouch Jr. was fun too. And the end of the movie… well, it had the usual rushed feeling about it, but it was appropriate this time. Despite Dumbledore’s efforts to emphasize Voldemort’s return along with Cedric Diggory’s murder, sweet goodbyes with the visiting schools were in order, and then the credits were rolling. The Ministry will have no trouble scrubbing He Who Shall Not Be Named from the minds of the audience in time to feed them propaganda at the beginning of the next movie, hm?

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One Comment

  1. TJF588 on July 28, 2011 7:23 am

    With all the unfamiliar namedrops, I stopped reading at the shaking-Harry’s-shoulders part, deciding that I need to read the books through (having only read the first one and a half).

    However, I will be insistent on finding one of those anniversary copies of the first book, unless the plain-looking States copies of it have since had their Britishisms reinstated.