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Friday, November 18, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire review

They just keep getting better and better. And darker and darker.

I hooked up with Darth Larry, his wife and several of their compatriots (a lot of 'em from UNC-Greensboro's music program) last night about 11 over at the Carousel Grande in Greensboro. Lots of youngish (i.e. 10-14 year olds) people. Plenty of folks in costume, including one girl who came as Moaning Myrtle, complete with toilet bowl lid around her neck: wish I'd brought my camera to get a pic of that. Otherwise it was mostly generic Hogwarts students/witch getups. Theater manager came out about five minutes before the show and asked everyone not to take pictures while the movie was playing. At 12:01 a.m. on the dot the promo slides ended and the trailers began.

The only two that really come to mind were the teasers for Happy Feet out a year from now (it looks like March of the Penguins on steroids) and Hoodwinked, which looks funny enough that I might have to check this out next month. Carousel Grande DID NOT HAVE the teaser for Superman Returns playing in front of Goblet of Fire as it was supposed to, which is a real darn shame because, I caught this trailer just before leaving for the theater and it is epic. Woulda been great to see it on the big screen :-(

And then came the movie...

Folks, it must be said early on that there is considerably much detail in this movie that went missing from the book. The opening chapters with the Weasleys arriving at the Dursley home to pick up Harry are gone, which I hated 'cuz that would have been a really funny thing to have seen on film. Prominently missing also is the entire "House Elf Liberation Front" subplot, which would have given Hermione much more to do in terms of her character. So too is the resolution of the entire Rita Skeeter thread. Maybe a few other things like that. Otherwise, if you can overlook those things, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is one heckuva good ride.

It basically does start out with the book's very first chapter, then jumps to the Quidditch World Cup, which was VERY well done: easily the most special-effects filled sequence in any Harry Potter movie to date. I'm wanting to see this movie again just to try and take in EVERYTHING that happens in these scenes. One thing I happened to notice that elicited a smile: when Minister Fudge is opening the ceremonies, take a look at Barty Crouch sitting behind him and to the right-hand side of the screen. The seat next to Crouch is empty. That detail isn't delved into anymore in the movie, but readers of the book will understand the significance of it.

Right after the World Cup final comes the Death Eaters attack. It's as scary as you might imagine it, but I'm making note of it because it's here that I first took notice of Patrick Doyle's score. The music that plays during the attack is malevolent and sinister... part of me wants to say it sounds positively Lovecraftian. This is just the first of many great pieces that are in this movie, including the later themes for Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, the music for the Triwizard events, and especially what is used for the Yule Ball. Doyle had a mighty baton to pick up after the work John Williams did for the previous three entries, but he really came through here. The Yule Ball music, that alone is going to drive me to purchase the soundtrack (assuming it has the piece by the Weird Sisters on it).

One of the real strengths of this movie is that all the characters, without any notable exception, are almost exactly as they were portrayed in the books, including the new ones. Whatever you envision as you read Goblet of Fire, that's how they will likely appear to you here. The one everyone is going to be talking about is Brendan Gleeson's portrayal of Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, which was DEAD-on from the original novel, except I always envisioned him looking even more torn-up/brutalized. Barty Crouch Sr. is precisely how I saw him in the book: right down to the icy stare he gives as he disowns his only son and sentences him to Azkaban. And speaking of Barty Crouch Jr., David Tennant does a wicked job bringing him to life: he's sort of like the Charles Manson Family member of the Voldemort crew. This is really going to be Tennant's season to shine: he takes on the role of the Doctor full-time during next month's Doctor Who Christmas special, and I'm seriously looking forward to what he does with the character.

Richard Harris was a great Dumbledore in the first two movies. And Michael Gambdon did a pretty good job taking over after Harris died. But here in Goblet of Fire, Gambdon comes into his own completely. He is Dumbledore, Lord willing now and forever, and he brings an incredible combination of both tenderness and ferocity to the role.

This is the best Hagrid that Robbie Coltrane has been since the original. It's an absolute delight watching the romance blossom between him and Madame Maxim.

Fans of Neville Longbottom: this is your movie. He has come a long way as a character, and a deeper one than most might have suspected at that. The scene in Moody's class, where we see Neville recoil in anguish at seeing use of the Cruciatus curse: we're never told why it is in the movie that he reacts this way, though if you've read the books you know better. Terrific, subtle set-up for future movies, that is. But most of all I really had to smile at how of all the leading young male student characters, it was Neville who had the best time at the Yule Ball.

Speaking of THAT, the Yule Ball might be my favorite scene in the whole movie. It's just fun to watch. Except for poor Harry and Ron, who look so wasted you'd think they're smashed on booze. Ron looks particularly horrible: that tuxedo looks like it was stolen from Liberace's corpse. In stark contrast Emma Watson looks positively STUNNING as Herminone in this scene. She has really become a very lovely young lady.

Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour... apart from Krum's appearance at the World Cup and their competing in the tournament, there wasn't nearly enough time given to these two. Or to their schools for that matter. I was looking forward to seeing more from the other two wizarding schools out there. But it's a long book and there's only time to show so much. Clémence Poésy is really sweet as Fleur in the scenes she's in though, and Stanislav Ianevski's Viktor Krum... well, he just rules, man. Of all the new characters, he's the one I would have loved to have seen more of, especially at the World Cup. There's a REASON Krum is so well renowned in the books, and we didn't really see why in the movie. But based on Ianevski's portrayal of him, I'll trust that it's there.

Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. If he had more screen time he would have out-uglied Emperor Palpatine as the year's most evil villainous creep. We see Voldemort in two forms: "Baby Voldemort" before Wormtail throws him in the reviving cauldron, and then "Mega-Gollum" full-size Voldemort. I can now finally believe in Voldemort as being the supreme bad guy of this story. We didn't see enough of him in Sorceror's Stone and that wasn't really the full-bore Voldemort we caught in Chamber of Secrets. Like so many other characters in this chapter, Voldemort has come into his own, and Fiennes brings every ounce of his ability at playing pure evil to the role. Can't wait to see what he does with the character in the Order of the Phoenix movie.

As for Harry, Ron and Hermione, the trio that this story has revolved around: they are maturing quite nicely if aging a little too quickly. Harry is maturing especially. Daniel Radcliffe is letting Harry become more and more edgy, by the end of the movie he's definitely on the path toward full-tilt grim that we know he's embarked upon by the end of Order of the Phoenix. It is going to be excruciatingly painful to watch what he does when Half-Blood Prince comes around. I'm almost dreading it, knowing the storm of you-know-what that he's yet to face.

Sirius Black is given one brief scene. In a fireplace. And that's it. I wanted to see seriously more Sirius this go-round. Especially after knowing what happens to him in the next chapter. I wanted to see more of Viktor Karkaroff and Severus Snape. Come to think of it, apart from maybe two scenes Snape has hardly anything to do in this movie. Oh well, Alan Rickman's time is coming soon enough...

The effects work in Goblet of Fire are sensational. Maybe even more beautiful than those used in Revenge of the Sith. The arrival of the two schools' contingents is exactly how I thought it would look like, and the tournaments trials - especially the dragons and the mer-people - were pure eye candy.

Geez, what else is there to say about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?

How about that it's dark. Not as overwhelming as Revenge of the Sith was, but there is real tragedy that comes into the story here. We see a really wonderful character introduced, Cedric Diggory, and he's made out to be every bit the nice, upstanding young man. The kind of young man that any father would wish his son to grow into. And he gets taken away without any damned reason why. Folks, I gotta tell you: the movie made Diggory's death hurt more than how it was done in the book. And that's saying a lot. There's a horrible sense of foreboding by the end of the movie, but a kind of hopefulness as well. I'd say that Goblet of Fire is The Empire Strikes Back of the Harry Potter saga: it ends on something of a cliffhanger in that the bad guys have apparently won this round, but it's not a horribly *lingering* cliffhanger. There's still hope to be found yet. It is here that I thought Dumbledore had his best scene in the movie. And it ends on good terms - or at least as good as you can expect things after the tragedy - for Harry, Ron and Hermione.

What else can I say about this?

Well, as I said before, it doesn't have EVERYTHING in the book that I'd wished it had. But given the constraints of time, the movie is still a very elegant dance to behold. Definitely worth catching at least twice in the theaters. I'll give it 9 stars out of 10, if I were ranking it on that kind of scale. And I'm absolutely looking forward to watching it again.