Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Two-Disc Special Edition) Review
Frank Bryce (Eric Sykes) lives alone in an old cottage that's overlooked by an abandoned house, separated by an overgrown garden and an uphill path between them. One night, though, Bryce sees a light on in the house and goes to investigate, finding that an upstairs room is occupied by three men - two visible and third who's hidden within an armchair. In his trying to hear what they're talking about, Bryce doesn't notice a large snake pass him by in the hallway but he does see it whisper to the man in the armchair, who appears to understand what it is saying to him. The last thing that Bryce's eyes see are everyone turning to face him.
Meanwhile, Harry Potter's (Daniel Radcliffe) fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is almost upon him and away from the rotten Dursleys, Harry is spending the summer with his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) at Ron's parents house. Early one morning, Harry and Ron are woken before dawn and, with Hermione and the rest of Ron's family, trek across the hills to, as Harry discovers, hold on to an old boot. This boot, though, is a portkey and takes all who have a hold on it to an unnamed spot where the Quidditch World Cup is taking place between Bulgaria and Ireland but the post-match celebrations are cut short by a chaos in the camping ground as a group of Death Eaters, followers of Lord Voldemort, rain fire and destruction down on the tents. As the crowd scatters, Harry is knocked to the ground and passes out, only to see a lone figure cast a spell into the sky, out of which comes the Dark Mark - the symbol of Voldemort, which, with the pain in Harry's scar, tells of his return.
With the Ministry of Magic sorting out the mayhem at the World Cup, Harry, Ron and Hermione leave for Hogwarts at platform 9¾ at King's Cross station expecting another year of hard work enlivened by Quidditch matches and, after Professor Lupin's departure, who will snatch the Defence Against The Dark Arts position away from Snape (Alan Rickman). But following the first dinner of the new year, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) announces that Hogwarts will be the venue for the Triwizard Tournament, an infrequent contest between the representatives of the three largest European schools of wizardry - Hogwarts, Beauxbaton and Durmstrang. As Dumbledore finishes speaking their names, the girls from Beauxbaton swoon into the hall, butterflies in their wake before the boys of Durmstrang stride in, both taking their place at the front of the hall. Dumbledore explains that each school must elect a champion and that names can be entered into the Goblet of Fire but that, due to past fatalities, an age limit of 17 applies. The days pass and the entire school awaits the names of those chosen before Dumbledore announces that Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) of Hogwarts, Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy) of Beauxbaton and Victor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) of Durmstrang have been chosen. But just as the champions from each school leave to meet Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson) of the Daily Prophet, the Goblet spits out one more piece of paper and on it is written the name of the fourteen-year-old Harry Potter. It would have taken powerful magic to pass the Age Line that Dumbledore had cast about the Goblet, leading Harry to believe that maybe Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), the new Defence Agains the Dark Arts teacher, may be right when he says, "Maybe someone's hoping Potter is going to die for it". Maybe even a risen Voldemort as the pain in Harry's scar becomes unbearable...
As anyone beginning the adaptation of a book must realise, over a certain number of pages and it must get very difficult indeed. Even with a running time of more than ten hours, if you included the Extended Editions, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens had to slash entire passages out of JRR Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings to bring it to the screen whilst many novels pronounced as unfilmable must surely only be so due to their great length. To date, Steve Kloves's adaptations of JK Rowling's Harry Potter novels have often been workmanlike but they've brought the spirit as well as the events of the books to the screen in a fashion that's been largely successful. At first, Kloves and director Chris Columbus were accused of slavishly following Rowling's books but, with Philosopher's Stone, they only had a 223-page book to work with. As subsequent novels increased in length, Kloves has been efficient in his handling of what was necessary and what wasn't, realising that not only were Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban becoming increasingly dark but that they should come to the screen as nasty little horror movies for children. Alongside director Alfonso Cuarón, Kloves's handling of Prisoner of Azkaban resulted in the best of the films to date, striking a careful balance between the fun of Hogwarts with the search by the terrifying Dementors for an escaped prisoner set on returning to Hogwarts to take his revenge on the young Harry Potter.
With Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Steve Kloves and director Mike Newell look to have some trouble turning a 636-page book, in its hardback edition, into a 157-minute film. It may well have been, as Gary Couzens pointed out in his cinema review of this film, that JK Rowling became too big to edit with the publishing of her fourth book but it's what Kloves and Newell have had to do here, with their efforts only producing mixed results. There was indeed talk, at one point, of Goblet of Fire coming as two parts of a much longer film and although it's better that it hasn't, it does show up something that will concern Kloves in his coming adaptations of Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and the final, unnamed book.
The early books in the series really only showed Voldemort trifling with Harry Potter from the position of being a rather stillborn nemesis with Prisoner of Azkaban avoiding him altogether. They were well placed to mix the excitement of term time at Hogwarts, reflecting the fascination that exists with boarding schools, with a growing sense of unease, which hinted at Voldemort's growing power. Goblet of Fire was the book that tipped Voldemort out of the shadows and into the heart of the action, finally seeing him made flesh and able to attack Harry Potter without recourse to others. He could, as a grown man more powerful than Potter's teenage wizard, threaten, humiliate and finally kill Potter by magic alone and this has moved the story away from the flights of fancy of chocolate frogs, going for a butterbeer in Hogsmeade and the gentle rivalry of Gryffindor and Slytherin towards something some threatening. The books, given the length that Rowling has moved them towards, are better served to strike a balance between these facets of the story - Hogwarts, despite its attractions, wouldn't be a great deal of fun were its pupils constantly under guard from attack by Voldemort and Rowling has continued with the Eton-via-Forgotten Realms playfulness of the early books - but film, by trying to keep matters more succinct, has lost these diversions in favour of more economical plotting.
The effect this has had on Goblet of Fire is to rob it of pace, leaving it looking more rushed than an adaptation of a 636-page novel ought to do. For most of its 157 minutes, Goblet of Fire rattles on barely taking a breath, with the events of the Triwizard Tournament only being broken up by such events as the Yule Ball that surround it. With such a cast list - Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith - there's the fear that one or two of them might get underused but, Fiennes aside, all of them are with Richardson's Rita Skeeter being all but excised entirely from the film. Similarly, one of the pleasures of the past films has been the comedy that surrounds the more earnest figure of Harry Potter but Ron Weasley, having fallen out with Harry, spends most of his time looking sour whilst Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has only one scene of note when Moody transfigurates him into a ferret. The only classroom scene that's worth a mention is Moody's explaining of the three Unforgivable Curses - so next to no lightness there - whilst Hogwarts, itself something of a character in the books and in the previous films, is barely utilised. And yet Mike Newell finds the time for a thoroughly wanted cameo by Jarvis Cocker and various members of the deathly dull Radiohead as the band playing the Yule Ball, performing a song that's poor even by Radiohead's low standards.
What Newell leaves is a rather odd film that bears little resemblance to the spirit of Rowling's book. What she's always been very good at is being able to attract a wide range of children to her stories, leaving younger children excited at the possibilities of a place like Hogwarts whilst introducing such emotionally difficult concepts as love, friendship and loss to them. Famously, Goblet of Fire was the book in which Rowling killed off a major character and although that remains, it doesn't have the impact that it did in the book. Newell and Kloves juggle pieces of the book in this film adaptation but it's too patchy, rushing the events surrounding Voldemort whilst cutting the everyday events around Hogwarts almost entirely.
With Order of the Phoenix beginning with the Prime Minister confused with a visit from the Minister of Magic regarding Voldemort, there's no reason to assume that Goblet of Fire hasn't shaped the coming three films but, unless they're better balanced that this maybe difficult middle entry, Alfonso Cuarón's Prisoner of Azkaban may well be the series' best entry.
Beginning with Chamber of Secrets, the Harry Potter films have become increasingly dark, sympathetic to their stories but Goblet of Fire is so dark as to be almost murky with an impenetrable gloom about it that rarely clears. Late in the film, for example, the camera pans up to reveal a maze...or it should but, instead, there appears nothing but a rather dull CG creation, blinking through the haze of fog and of noise in the digital signal. Once in the maze, I found myself peering at the television, hoping to make sense out of the various shapes moving in the darkness but found little.
That's a pity as when the disc gets it right, such as the point-of-view shot as Harry enters the Yule Ball, wherein snow and starlight glistens over his head, it's very good indeed. But it is variable, with the live action shots having a certain clarity whereas those with greater CG elements appear softer so as not to make the likes of the mermaids stand out of the frame.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is, as you'd expect, good throughout, reaching a peak with the first task in the Triwizard Tournament as Harry attempts to take a golden egg from a dragon. Through the stadium and surrounding valleys and around the spires of Hogwarts, the action sweeps impressively around the room, sounding clear and uncluttered.
Additional Scenes (10m08s): Aside from some worthwhile characterisation that is sorely missed from the theatrical cut, the greatest portion of this is devoted to the full song performed by Jarvis Cocker's band of wizards and rock musicians. Boogie down like a unicorn indeed.
The greatest loss to the finished film is the conversation between Severus Snape and Igor Karkaroff (Pedja Bjelac) regarding their history as Death Eaters, which would have given the film a greater sense of there being lingering doubts about the professor's placing in Hogwarts and over Dumbledore's faith in him. This was one of the most memorable scenes in the book and it's good here but would have been even better had it remained in the film.
Preparing For The Yule Ball (9m03s): It could also be the return of Miss Jean Brodie as Dame Maggie Smith announces that the Yule Ball will be the occasion for some well-mannered frivolity. You'll not be surprised to hear that the girls were very eager to learn the formal dances, the boys less so, but that all of them enjoyed the dress clothes, particularly Emma Watson who is undoubtedly the star of that scene.
Conversation With The Cast (30m33s): Richard Curtis is the kindly uncle to Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint as he gently joins them in conversation, asking such incisive questions as, "Cho Chang...she was a new arrival. Did love flower on the steps?" Curtis will never cut it as a presenter of the Today programme but he keeps the three stars engaged and the conversations never reaches an embarrassing silence.
It's the sort of feature that would have popped up in the ITV Saturday afternoon schedules prior to the release of the film but young fans of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson will doubtless enjoy it. Curtis' most bizarre question concerns using a portkey to appear in the house of someone they're a fan of and thankfully Radcliffe and Grint avoid the answer one would expect of teenage boys - appearing in the girls shower room at school - in favour of, in Rupert's case, the rather more dull answer of Tiger Woods's house.
Reflections On The Fourth Film (14m12s): They all looked so young once, something the cast would doubtless agree on as they look back over the four films and how different this one was, with new cast members, another new director and the first fumblings of teen love for Harry, Ron and Hermione. Most of the main cast are interviewed with the exception of the adult members, who explain how the series has grown through this, its fourth film.
Triwizard Tournament - Dragon Arena: This section, as with all the Triwizard Tournament parts of the disc, begins with a challenge, a game that can be played via the remote control to give young viewers the sense of competing in the manner of Harry Potter. In this one, the arrow keys are used to avoid the dragon's attacks before stealing away the egg that it guards.
After that, there's a short feature, Harry vs. the Horntail: The First Task (6m08s), which sees Mike Newell and a couple of ILM interviewed about creating the dragon and ensuring that a believable one made it into the film. This is followed by Meet The Champions (13m03s), in which three of the four champions - Robert Pattinson, Clemence Poesy and Stanislav Ianevski - are followed through a few days shooting from their arrival at 6.45am to their leaving more than twelve hours later.
Triwizard Tournament - Lake: As well as the challenge - a game whereby the player must evade mermaids, shoals of fish and the Victor Krum/Shark creature to rescue their submerged friends - there's a short feature, In Too Deep (9m48s), on the preparation and filming of the scene with much training for Daniel Radcliffe in an indoors tank. Radcliffe is interviewed as are a few behind-the-scenes production designers, technical folk and Mike Newell, who not only worried about keeping the star of the film alive but also getting a good performance out of him.
Triwizard Tournament - Maze: Here, there are two challenges, one within the maze that gets the viewer to not only navigate the maze but to select various magic spells to defend against attacks from giant spiders, Dementors and confusing curses whilst the other has the viewer fighting Death Eaters and Voldemort's snake Nagini before returning home via the Goblet of Fire once again.
After that, there's The Maze: The Third Task (6m48s), which is a making-of that section of the film in which Mike Newell and Clemence Poesy talk about the malevolence of the maze. As the last piece in this section of the disc, there is He Must Not Be Named (11m08s), a feature on the Lord Voldemort finally taking physical form and how Ralph Fiennes was cast to portray him, removing the red eyes of Rowling's creation in favour of someone who looks almost human.
Finally, there is also a Theatrical Trailer (1m17s), a Hogwarts Timeline and a Playable Demo of the Electronic Arts game that accompanied the release of this film.
There still isn't much for adult viewers - no commentary, for example - but it's impressive that the Harry Potter DVDs have focused on the same audience as the books and provide them with extras that neither talk down to them nor over their heads. It's easy to laugh at Richard Curtis's gently interviewing style, as I have done here, but it's pitched just right for a eight- or nine-year-old fan of the books, who're probably overjoyed to learn of the trivia that he brings out of the stars of the movie. Similarly, the games are really a cut above those that you tend to get on DVDs and should pass most of an hour or so, leaving this DVD as evidence that the spirit of excellent evident on Warner's superb archive releases is not lost on their more modern fare.