Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
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). As 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 Pattinson 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, Pattinson’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, after 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. 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.