11/29/2005

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

There is always a certain amount of trepidation when going to see movies based on dearly beloved books. The Harry Potter franchise has been no different. The first two movies while good were both mildly disappointing. It wasn't until Chris Columbus could be pried out of the director's chair with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that the series realized its potential for cinematic representation. While the first two movies were enjoyable enough they lacked the emotional impact of the books to have any staying power. One only had to compare them to Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings to see their shortcomings. The Harry Potter books have fast achieved the same iconic status of Professor Tolkien's work and merited far better treatment than received by the first two books. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire looked to be an almost impossible task to bring to the screen. A myriad of plot lines and twists and turns that would need to be addressed; a vast array of characters, and the descent of the wizard world into the darkness of Lord Voldemort's return. Would the new director, Mike Newell, and the script writer Steve Kloves be able to find a way to adapt this massive book as successfully as Alberto Cuaron did with Prisoner of Azkaban? The answer in my mind is an almost unequivocal yes. Wisely choosing to streamline the plot and eliminate characters where able, Newell and Kloves bring the two important themes of The Triwizard Cup and the return of Lord Voldemort into sharp focus. From the opening dream sequence through to the end of the movie we are carried along on Harry's emotional whirlwind. Like Harry we can only react to whatever new obstacle is thrown into our path and hope for the best. Whether it’s the terror of facing a dragon or almost every young males nightmare of asking a girl you like out for the first time (those scenes were far too real for my emotional memory, talk about cringe moments from my own past) we are walking with Harry. Although all the previous movies have of course been about Harry, this one seems to be far more isolated to his perspective. When his best friend Ron temporarily deserts him, and the rest of the school has turned against him save for Hermione, the loneliness is palatable. By tracking Harry's movements through a crowd of students the filmmakers are able to convey his shunning with a few quick scenes. That scene exemplifies the economy the filmmakers have used throughout the movie. Taking full advantage of the expressive nature of the media Mike Newell is able to compress what would be pages of writing into a few moments on screen and not cheat the viewer of their emotional power. This enables him to devote the majority of the screen time to the moments that truly drive the story. With movies like Into The West under his belt where he worked with children, Mike Newell has a proven track record of eliciting performances from young actors. While both Rupert Grint and Dan Radcliffe turn in their expected performances as Ron and Harry respectively, it's Emma Watson as Hermoine Granger who seems to have benefited the most from him. This has to be her best performance to date in the series, as she shows an emotional range and depth far beyond what one would expect from an actor of her age. Watch her crumble in the scene at the end of the Yule Ball after she has yelled at the boys. Why can't her friends be happy for her? Why if Ron didn't want to go with her is he ruining her night? Why does she care what Ron even thinks? Emma may not be expressing each of those thoughts, but they are there for us to read if we want. Aside from all the usual stalwarts the cast has a couple of new additions. The three most notable new characters are of course Alastor 'MadEye' Moody played by Brendan Gleason, Rita Skeeter by Miranda Richardson, and Lord Voldemort finally brought to life by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is completely unrecognizable as the Dark Lord and almost has too much fun being the personification of evil. He only just manages to pull himself back from going right over the top. What really saves his performance is his magnificent use of body language; taking full advantage of his robes and long limbs he swoops magnificently through the frame like some horrible marriage of a bat and a snake. Combined with his casual use of violence against Harry he ends up being bone chillingly perfect. The character of Rita Skeeter, yellow journalism personified, is another role that an actor with less restraint would end up chewing the scenery beyond repair. Miranda Richardson never crosses the line. Dripping insincerity she oozes her way across the screen and into our hearts as the person we most love to hate in the movie. But it's Brendan Gleason as Alastor 'MadEye' Moody who almost steals the movie. From his entrance to his final moments on screen he dominates every scene that he's in. While other actors may have relied on the physical enhancements of the character; facial scars, magic false eye, and artificial leg, to carry their performance, Mr. Gleason creates a full character. (Spoiler alert for the next paragraph) What is truly astounding is that not only does he create a wonderful Moody he also manages to convey the conflicting motivations of a man doing something for ulterior reasons. Without telling us, or even giving broad hints, those of us who already know that he isn't really Moody can see the clues subtlety on display. While everything he does can be justified as something Moody would do, they also have the double meaning of fulfilling the impostor's aims. I always judge a movie by its residual effect. How long does it stay with me? Once I have gotten over the impact of the overwhelming sensations of being in a movie theatre does the film itself have the resonance to be more than an afternoon's entertainment? I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Sunday and it is now Tuesday morning when I'm writing the review. It has taken me this long to order my thoughts about the movie to something resembling cohesive. While there were some flaws; the characters of Fleur Delacour and Victor Krum were not developed very well, and there were not enough breathing spaces to quite properly absorb the action, it lives up to the standard set by The Prisoner of Askaban. This is a marvellous adaptation of what looked like being a book that would be almost impossible to turn into a film. It captured the spirit of the world Joanne Rowling created, and brought it to life in a visually stunning manner. Let's hope as the series progresses that this standard is maintained; Harry deserves it.

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