Screening Log #60.4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Written by Steve Kloves, based on the book by J.K. Rowling
Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

 

 

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire finds itself in a very difficult position within the context of the series. This installment of the series is very much a transitional point for the narrative; the first three films established a rhythm in which Harry and company were able to mature, learn about magic (and, I suppose, life), encounter danger, and survive danger through talent and ingenuity, all the while leaving the dreary real “Muggle” world further and further behind. With this film, however, that rhythm is disrupted by the conflict towards which the series has been building.

Where the first three films each begin with Harry submerged in the murk of suburban life with his relatives, this film’s beginning is, perhaps, even more bleak. The film opens on a nightmare of Harry’s in which Voldemort’s disembodied hiss speaks to Wormtail and Dr. Who, or at least Barty Crouch Jr. who happens to be played by David Tennant, before focusing on a statue of a grim reaper. Ominous to say the least. Gone is the “real” world, replaced by dark premonitions of Voldemort’s impending return. Harry is with the Weasley’s already when he wakes, venturing with the group to the Quidditch World Cup, along with Hermione and the Diggory family. Here Harry meets fellow Gryffindorian (or is it Gryffindorite?) Cedric Diggory, pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson, charmingly wooden as ever. The Weasley’s tent is larger on the inside than out, paying another subtle homage to Dr. Who before the QWC is assaulted by Voldemort’s death eaters and Voldemort’s symbol is left in the sky. Once more, Harry’s return to Hogwarts takes place under an atmosphere of turbulence.

Following this dark beginning, however, the bulk of the film is concerned with the spectacle of the Triwizard Cup tournament, which Hogwarts is hosting this year. The tournament pits young champions from three schools – Hogwarts, Beauxbaton, and Durmstrang – against one another in perilous challenges that test their skills and wits. Despite a rule that each champion must be at least seventeen, Harry’s name is produced by the Goblet of Fire, making him the 4th wheel of the tricycle of competition. Here, again, the series’ penchant for grouping elements into fours emerges. The structure of the tournament also reflects this, with its three challenges and the cup itself rounding out the quartet. These four aspects of the tournament also engage the four primary elements as well: Harry defeats a dragon in the first challenge by flying, the second challenge takes place underwater in Black Lake, the final challenge plays out in a sprawling hedge maze, and the goblet itself represents fire.

The introduction of the tournament, and an additional two schools of wizards and witches, and the necessity of following its action crowds a lengthy run time with new faces and happenings. This film adaptation is the first in the series to feel truly constrained and hampered by its feature-length status. Watching the films in close proximity affords someone unfamiliar with the books a more forgiving posture to the clutter of The Goblet of Fire, however, many events and participants in the action of the film feel disjointed and transitory. The tournament itself, for example, receives the visual signifiers of pomp and importance, but this sense of grandeur never translates beyond the visual due to the film’s inability to linger with any character or event, or the fall out of any action. Where the previous films’ tendency to collapse a whole school year into one film never obfuscated the development of an emotional investment in the characters, here there is a persistent sense of loss and remove from the action. There is too much plot to adequately fit into the film, its peaks arrive so frequently as to refuse any tension to build and construct less a rising action than a sustained narrative plateau on which the ostensible importance of events is punctured by their rapid succession, functioning not unlike the needle of a sewing machine moving over delicate fabric at full throttle.

In addition to this glut of narrative to wade through, the film also cultivates two disparate tones that undercut whatever tension the story may build toward its conclusion. Mike Newell’s visual aesthetic functions as something like a combination of Columbus’ and Cuarón’s, mediating Cuarón’s darker palette with Columbus’ less subtle sense of the fantastic; Newell’s direction, however, lacks Cuarón’s distinct sense of space and framing. The mystery of how Harry’s name came to be placed in the goblet, and how this is all connected to Harry’s foreboding dream, builds towards the film’s climax. These elements seem to exist mechanical and contiguous to the plot of the tournament, rather than organically unified with it. As such, the film’s final reveal comes with an impact significantly beneath what it aims for. The return of Voldemort, and how this is involved in the tournament, seems arbitrary rather than earned and the emotional impact of a shockingly abrupt death, resulting from this return, hangs as an affective, rather than effective, gesture toward the dark waters Harry and, indeed, Hogwarts, will have to wade through.

Lacking even the smallest gesture toward the larger themes implied by the previous films, The Goblet of Fire is positioned as the hinge of the seven book narrative, transitioning from the youthful fantasy world of the earlier films into the more serious territory of the latter three stories. Crushed by the weight of its own narrative necessities, and at once essential and essentially out-of-place to Harry’s story, the film feels very much like a Wednesday.

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