Thu
Jun 23 2011 2:05pm

Rewatching the Potter Films: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Unless it turns out on second viewing that the Half-Blood Prince was from Bel-Air, by far the biggest surprise in this Harry Potter re-watch will be that Goblet of Fire is the worst movie in the series. I had always thought Chamber of Secrets, with its stiff pacing and dogged insistence on putting every sentence of the book on screen (regardless of cinematic value), took the prize, but Goblet of Fire is its clear inferior.

Where the first two movie adaptations were excessively faithful to the books, and the third—to its detractors, anyway—excessively “look at me being a fancy director” on Alfonso Cuarón’s part, Goblet of Fire manages to be the worst of both worlds, an adaptation that deviates from the book for no apparent reason and features unfortunate series newcomer Mike Newell (who is a solid director of non-SFF movies) doing a cut-rate Tim Burton imitation, and making his actors do very odd things.

More than any of the other movies, Goblet of Fire is one where I have a hard time figuring out whether my problems with it are entirely because of the movie’s problems as a movie, or due to my attachment to the book. Certainly the opening scene, where Wormtail addresses the big fella as “my Lord Voldemort,” was not any kind of major cinematic flaw, even if he’d have been Crucio’d for his insolence in the book. It’s just one hastily delivered line of dialogue. But even setting that aside, there’s a much bigger and enduring problem with this adaptation: Shouty Dumbledore.

Michael Gambon is a fine actor and did well in Prisoner of Azkaban (taking over from the late Richard Harris, who passed away after playing the role in the first two movies) as a kind of ethereal hippie Dumbledore, which is a fair interpretation of the role. Dumbledore certainly has his flaky characteristics. He is, after all, the head adult (for all intents and purposes) of the Wizarding world, itself a flaky place. Despite his eccentricity, though, Dumbledore is two things if he is anything: quiet and in charge. He is this way for seven books and at least three movies (I remember him settling down once David Yates took over as director, and am pretty sure this rewatch will bear that out). In Goblet of Fire he’s shouting at the top of his lungs in every scene, deferring to others’ judgment constantly out of indecisive weakness, and even, most egregiously, violently assaulting Harry Potter.

I’m perfectly willing to accept that my problems with the way Mike Newell directed (or didn’t direct) Michael Gambon are mostly due to the fact that I would have directed the picture differently and aren’t anything objectively wrong. Even being as generous as I could be in a perfect world, Dumbledore could be as weak and equivocal as the day is long, but the scene where he throws Harry up a wall and bellows at him is instant, utter, complete failure. That moment is completely divorced from anything to do with Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. It’s a beat from a completely different movie, and one that relies on cheap melodrama as a replacement for dramatic stakes.

There are all kinds of murky dumb things wandering around in the movie of Goblet of Fire. The part where Harry has to outwit the dragon in the first Triwizard task is a perfect metaphor for the entire movie: longer than it needs to be for no apparent purpose, and the dragon coming unmoored and chasing Harry all over kingdom come breaking stuff is a dual signifier not only for the movie’s structural aimlessness, but the utter lack of disregard for its source material. Obviously, I’m not saying the movie needs to parrot the books, but there’s a way to make changes that help the movie. The main things one needs to do in adapting a Harry Potter book for the screen are these:

  1. Keep the running time down

  2. Keep the pace lively

  3. Incorporate all the truly essential elements

  4. Either cut or transliterate as much of the the “inessential” elements as you can

Discipline with 3) and 4) will make 1) and 2) fall into place. But they require thought. And this brings us back to the very first scene, where Wormtail addresses his master as “My Lord Voldemort.” This, right at the top, is a sign that insufficient thought went into the adaptation. Screenwriter Steve Kloves might have been getting burned out from five years of basically writing nothing but Harry adaptations, the director might have been nervous about tackling SFF for the first time, or Warner Bros executives might have started tightening the belt because Prisoner of Azkaban grossed under $1 billion. We may never know what caused the thoughtlessness, only that it exists.

Still, as irksome and torturous as much of Goblet of Fire is, there are some bright spots. Alan Rickman is a joy as always; I’ve been watching his performances to see if any of the choices he makes go against the ultimate (and fascinating) revelation of Snape’s true motives and loyalties—because these movies are long enough there’s a bit of time to think about stuff like this while they’re going on—and he hasn’t slipped once in four movies, two of which really suck and would have lent themselves to accidental lapses. But no. Alan Rickman is a Swiss watch of ambiguous malevolence.

Miranda Richardson is fun in a small role as Rita Skeeter, yellow journalist of the Wizarding world, and the scene where she and her self-writing quill “interview” Harry and write whatever the hell they want is well done. In fact, most of the scenes in the movie that have more to do with universal, relatable truths—like the malignance of tabloid journalism, or the amusing sequence where Harry and Ron stagger around like doofballs trying and failing to get dates for the big dance, highlighting the terrifying inscrutability teenage boys project onto women—come off rather nicely. But any scene where someone pulls out a wand or there’s a dragon or some such, forget it.

One of the dirty secrets of Prisoner of Azkaban that I was willing to overlook because I enjoyed the movie was that its special effects weren’t that good. Goblet of Fire has no such advantage, and becomes that most unfortunate of beasts: a big dumb special effects movie where the effects look as dumb as the script sounds. When Voldemort rises from his state of near death to assume his prior role as alpha bad guy, the audience should be scared, not saying, “damn, what’s his head made out of, rubber?” Then again, we’d be willing to accept that as an artistic choice if we hadn’t just had Dumbledore scaring the crap out of us for two hours by shouting and smacking Harry around, and had to watch all the insanely elaborate direction to which Mike Newell subjected poor Emma Watson (the quality of her performance changes radically from movie to movie; she is talented, but she’s raw, and is as such at her director’s mercy).

What’s weird is that I don’t remember this movie being this bad. Then again, if I’d had to write this review based on my memory of it, it’d have been one word long: “meh.” Fortunately, as with so many of these pictures, we still have the books. Speaking of which, what will become of the adaptation of the next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, known for being the longest in the series and for being the introduction (and thankfully, downfall) of “Emo Harry”? Will it be the longest movie in the series, too (spoiler alert: no)? And will “Emo Harry” completely break the medium of cinema? In the next installment of this rewatch, we shall see.


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

This article is part of Potterpalooza on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
18 comments
Desmond
2. Desmond
What should Wormtail have called Voldemort? "Eduardo?" "Margaret-Mary?" I'm genuinely ignorant of the discrepancy here.
Desmond
3. hammerlock
Names Wormtail could have used:
"Hey you!"
"Tommy Boy"
"Your Masterfulness"
"Snakehead"
"T-Riddy"
"He who I can't name"
"He who got killed by a baby"


I didn't mind this movie as much as this rewatch/review thoroughly trashes it; it was a bit more grippy than the third outing, and the pathos towards the end was fairly well done.

Plus, Pre-Who Tennant!
Desmond
4. Nightsky
What this movie DOES have, however, is David Tennant looking scruffy and disreputable. I'll give it a LOT of leeway just for that.
Stephen Dunscombe
5. cythraul
I remember really liking the Goblet of Fire movie. It may be helped by the fact that I stopped reading the books about halfway through Prisoner of Azkaban, so I'm not noticing any adaptation issues.

I don't really remember Dumbledore in the movie - well, I remember his manipulations, but not his manner.

What I remember about this movie is the spectacularly elegant image of the sailing ship surfacing from under the water - with no "magic" effects, just the simple event of the thing happening. Glorious.

The other thing that always sticks in my mind, unfortunately, is three simple words - three words that make me tear my hair out with rage: "magically binding contract".

The Goblet is nothing of the sort. If it were any sort of contract, it'd would be voided by the revelation that one of the names was forged!
Desmond
6. yasiru89
This film nearly put me off Harry Potter movies for good. It was a failure on almost all levels, and I'd much rather have the script 'parroting' the source material than have so inane a selection of scenes be included and then doted on. Some of the best scenes are altogether missing and Dumbledore comes off precisely the way the reviewer points out.
For those ignorant on the issue of Wormtail's form of address for Voldemort (likely those who have never read the books and are thus unaware of how much better than their film adaptations they are for the most part), the problem is that not even Voldemort's followers ever refer to the 'Dark Lord' by name. It sounds a bit silly, but since everyone knows the name, refraining from uttering it aloud is meant to make the skirting around of explicit mention all the more terrifying. Such nuances could have been brought alive exceptionally well with cinema for medium, but the films largely fail at that. None more so than Newell's Goblet of Fire.
Most unfortunate was that Prisoner of Azkaban was quite a decent film. As a Potter adaptation (for the most part), if not always as a film of its own merits. I actually enjoyed Chamber of Secrets nearly as well. It was quite a good telling of the story (as faithful as it was), whatever else was lacking. I was pleased that Order of the Phoenix onwards had reasonably good movies, if not anything spectacular. Come part one of Deathly Hallows though, surprise hardly describes it. The film was remarkable, an achievement on all fronts. I hope the second part will be just as good, though I've always felt that Ralph Fiennes is wasted as Voldemort. All the yelling from him in the trailer does not inspire confidence that this has been remedied. Even if it's only part one where the potential of the series is fully exploited, for me is the contentment that at least one of my two favourite books (Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows) in the series got the telling it deserved on film.
Danny Bowes
7. DannyBowes
@Desmond -- As a matter of protocol (and not wanting to get tortured and/or killed) one refers to Voldemort as either "the Dark Lord" or "My Lord" or "You Know Who" or "He Who Must Not Be Named." Almost no one actually says his name, out of fear, especially not his specifically cowardly right-hand man. I know, I know, this is kind of nerd nitpickery, but I think it's a relevant critique in terms of the movie's lack of attention to detail. Even if it wasn't specifically a thing in the books, there's still a protocol thing.
Tricia Irish
8. Tektonica
The movie was rated a "meh" from my memory of it too...except for the introduction of Michael Gambon...was this his first? I hated him! I missed Richard Harris's quiet confidence and command, and twinkly eyes. I didn't realize that Dumbledore was screaming the whole time...that could explain my dislike for Gambon.
Desmond
9. very dumb
Maybe he said it because studios wanted to have a "It's this guy remember him?" moment. He's some shrivelled thing at the beginning which we've never seen him as before and american audiences can be very dumb.
Desmond
10. sofrina
totally agree about hermione here. i ranted that she was as un-hermione as possible. seemed to be having a nervous breakdown for no reason. that unforgivable curses lesson... why was she so upset she was out of breath? everyone was supposed to leave their first class with moody blown away by how blunt he was about the dark arts. the only part the got right was harry's discomfort at being called out for surviving voldemort's attempt.

and hermione freaking out at the yule ball and telling the boys to go to bed...like she was their mom? senseless.

the thing that bugs me most is the inconsistency in the production. on the way to the world cup, they have these amazing outdoor scenes. gorgeous. then the confrontation with voldemort is held on a soundstage. the difference is glaring and jarring. that scene would have been so much more menacing if it had actually been outdoors. harry running for cover on actual uneven ground instead of astroturf. all that heavy breathing and no frost? it undermines the drama quite a bit there.
Desmond
11. Desmond
@DannyBowes:

That makes sense. Thanks.
Noneo Yourbusiness
12. Longtimefan
I am with you on the discordant note of having a "shouty" Dumbledore. He is impressive as a character because he never panics. He may have misgivings and he may be uncertain but as an old and powerful wizard he has no reason to shout, ever.

I was also annoyed by the length of the Dragon section but the actual lack of Dragons. I really wanted to see how the special effects people were going to intrepret the discription of the Chinese Fireball. The extended chase around the school was a bit much. If the dragons are chained to keep them in the arena where were the dragon handlers when it broke lose? Why would it have broken loose? Did they forget to use a magic chain? At a magic tournament, at a magic school, with hundreds of magic users? Hmmmmmm.
I do not "hate" this movie nor do I find it the weakest. (Half Blood Prince for my money, long, drifty and completely not paying attention to the major misdirection (Harry: who could it be? Ron: Dunno? Harry: oh well, cool stuff in the book though. just before movie ends Half-Blood Prince: "It is me!" Harry: "ok". ) It is a bit of a let down though when compared to the preceding film.

I find Emma Watson's performance decent given her direction. Teens are sometimes prone to lashing out and being bossy to distract from a ruined evening is probable. Not comfortable but probable.
Birgit
13. birgit
I also dislike the clueless hippie Dumbledore. Book Dumbledore is eccentric, but he always seems to know what's going on and is the most competent wizard.
Movie Trelawny makes sense as a crazy seer, but she doesn't fit the way she is described in the books as a glittering dragonfly. I imagined her more like a crazy version of McGonagall.
Desmond
14. euphbass
For what it's worth, I can't stand Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Richard Harris was perfect, and instead of making an effort to maintain consistancy in the portrayal, Gambon (or the directors) seem to have gone out of their way to make him different, and worse, completely wrong compared to the books. I had heard that Gambon gave him a (vaguely) Irish accent in tribute to Richard Harris, but Richard Harris did not play Dumbledore with an Irish accent - what a stupid decision.

New Dumbledore is by far my biggest dislike of all the later movies, without exception (I mostly like them otherwise, barring a few plot deviations). He really spoils them for me.
Desmond
15. Lsana
Your comments about the dragon scene reminded me of why I don't care for these movies. My problem with all of these movies is that it seems so much effort is spent on things that don't matter with so little effort put into the things that do.

The iconic scenes of the books are not the flashy scenes, but the small ones. The character moments, not the flashy spells.

The dragon scene in this movie is a good example of them putting a lot of effort into things that don't matter, though I think an even better one is Harry's first ride on Buckbeak in the third movie. In the book, it's a paragraph, nothing anyone even remembers about the book. In the movie, I swear we spend ten minutes on it. We show everyone how cool our special effects are, how well we have animated the hippogriff, and some nice stock footage of flying around the castle that I'm pretty sure were in all the movies before this.

Contrast that with the scarcity of time spent with the Weasley twins or the Marauders. I would cheerfully sacrifice every Quiddich match, broomstick ride, flying car, Hippogriff, and dragon for one good Fred and George prank.
Desmond
16. HP
I love Harry Potter, but the Goblet of Fire was terrible. I don't understand the praise for this movie! You people are IDIOTS!!!!! There's no magic in this, only nasty romance. Harry Potter is about magic not making out. The music is horrible. The characters are boring & way too mature for a younger audience; it's revolting! Besides that, Hermione went from a tough kick-ass chick to a boring useless dumb girly geek! She did not once use her wand in this movie. WHF!? I effing hated this dumb movie with all my heart! This movie completely ruined everything & had the worst director! All the Harry Potter movies should have been directed by fun & creative Chris Columbus & featured the wondrous whimsical magical music of composer John Williams! I really hated this movie for it's lack of magic & the bitchiness & uselesness of the characters! It was a total disaster. I would redo it completely!
Desmond
17. Cedran
I'm so glad I found this post! I was reading Goblet of Fire and watching at the same time: reading first then watching until I got as far as I'd read, then reading again. I stopped at the scene with the pensieve in the movie before reading that part in the book. When I went back to watch the scene after having read it, the impression of Dumbledore was jarring! His cool, calm, compassionate intellect in the book was in stark contrast to the frantic, desperate almost menacing Dumbledore in the movie. As just an example, in the book, Dimbledore cooly sits down next to Harry in the memory before calmly suggesting they head back out. In the movie it appears as if he has thrown Harry out, standing above him as Harry lays on the floor uttering dark words akin to "curiosity killed the cat." In the book he says the same lines but clearly with a loving concern rather than anger.

It is these choices in tone that most affect a movie. I don't care if the mechanics of how a story gets advanced in a movie is different from a book so long as the characters on screen are the same as the ones I've come to know and love in the book. This is why Dumbledore and Hermoine's portrayal are so disappointing. Hermoine's reaction to the boys at the dance is in keeping with a teenage girl but it's not our Herm-own-ninny. That is why this movie falls flat and why it is my least favorite of the adaptions.
Desmond
18. Shadow
Completely agree with you @HP - the first two movies were by far the best and true to the magic of Harry Potter though I also enjoyed Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix but the Goblet of Fire was bland, mediocre rubbish and David Heyman really dropped the ball as producer as well - also think Michael Gambon was a poor replacement for the great Richard Harris who was brilliant as Dumbledore.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment