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Old July 14th, 2011, 7:31 am
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Re: The Harry Potter Movie Marathon Thread

Mike Newell has a very diverse range of films – from Enchanted April to Four Weddings and a Funeral to Donnie Brasco to Love in the Time of Cholera – but the man is no director-for-hire hack. Newell brings a very different energy and sensibility to the proceedings than Alfonso Cuarón, but he tries to do some of the same things: expand this world, broaden its boundaries, make it more realistic and more lived-in, give our core characters more dimension, and raise the stakes to where you feel every threat in a much more visceral, palpable way. But then, any director would want all of that. Newell gets the boarding school atmosphere and camaraderie; Hogwarts is far more believable and alive as a school. Newell also takes Cuarón’s lead and presents the younger cast as authentic teenagers, and the movie is kind of a teenager. It’s a challenging (for the filmmakers, I mean) mixture of thriller, action-adventure, and romantic comedy – the overarching threat of Voldemort’s return, intensifying with new “dreams” Harry’s having, the question of who entered Harry in the Triwizard Tournament, and the suspense of seeing who will make it through the tournament and how, are interspersed with the painfully awkward first steps into dealing with the opposite sex, the first serious fight with your best friend that feels like it’s the end of that friendship, and the strange combination of hopelessness and limitless possibility that can come with being a teenager. Goblet of Fire could certainly be a more effective mystery, and Newell’s strategy for directing his actors is, almost across the board, seems to be to keep them at an overcaffeinated pitch of anxiety or anger, which can be frustrating. He gets some great performances out of some people, some bad ones out of some people. In general, Newell does a great job; the fact that he captures the tone so well is his greatest achievement.

Again, I think this is a very good screenplay. I’m impressed that this movie doesn’t feel like it suffers much under the weight of all that it has to compress, all that it has to do. I love what he does with the first, but especially third tasks; I came out of my first viewing preferring Goblet of Fire the movie to Goblet of Fire the book because the tasks were so much more exciting as cinema. You could argue that the chase scene with the dragon is nonsensical because, well, why would the dragon leave that egg that it’s supposed to be protecting? Because if that turns into an aerial chase around the castle, it becomes thrilling, so we sacrifice logic a little bit. The third task is totally fresh, it’s going for something different than the book, it’s trying to be a mental and psychological challenge rather than another magical-creature extravaganza. That notion alone is more successful than the execution of it – the sequence is isn’t all that interesting – I get really tense when the third task starts, every time I watch it, but that’s because I know what’s coming at the end of that maze. Kloves had the unenviable task of simplifying the elaborate Barty Crouch Jr. plot, but he’s pretty successful. There’s not a lot to it in the film; Barty Crouch Jr., a Death Eater who’d notably tortured Neville’s father (more on that in the next one), was sent to Azkaban by his father, he later escapes and takes on the identity of Mad-Eye Moody to enact the mission Voldemort’s given him. There’s one problem with that: The previous year, Sirius escaped Azkaban and it was huge news, because no one had ever done it. This year, Barty Crouch Jr. escapes and no one notices. Such lax security. The Dementors really have checked out of that joint. This is the point where the books are so complicated or intricate that whole characters and storylines have to be cut, and Ludo Bagman was a very obvious character to lose; he’s fun, he’s amusing, but that character doesn’t contribute anything that would have justified his inclusion in the film. The removal of the S.P.E.W. subplot has always been a much more controversial choice, and I understand that, because that is big character development for Hermione on the page – but I don’t miss it in the film, not at all. It’s a fairly significant subplot, but one that doesn’t affect Harry, so it had to go. It means that Dobby isn’t reintroduced here, though, which will prove to be a bit problematic, later on. I absolutely love that, instead of Dobby, it’s Neville who suggests Harry use gillyweed; we heard several times throughout the books that Neville’s a gifted Herbology student, but I don’t recall that it was ever really utilized. In the movie it is.


An exponential improvement from two out of these three. Dan Radcliffe knocks it out of the park; he expands his emotional range in a big way. It’s a performance of real substance, it has nuance, it’s full of subtle little touches that say a lot (for example, stopping himself before the word “normal” when he’s telling Ron that he didn’t put his name in the goblet). He’s particularly strong in the two best stretches of the movie – the buildup to the Yule Ball and Voldemort’s graveyard resurrection; perfectly awkward in the former, perfectly terrified in the latter. It’s an impressive turn all around, great pleasure to see Dan’s development from film to film. Meanwhile, Ron finally gets to be more than either comic relief or charming best pal (he got to show more than that in the climax of Sorcerer’s Stone previously as well), which gives Rupert his own opportunity to stretch, mainly in the first act. Ron handles his jealousy and resentment pretty poorly, and he’s not especially likeable during that time, but you can see where he’s coming from, because Ron up until this point has occupied a limited role – again, I wouldn’t say he’s one-dimensional, but still, it’s easy to underestimate him. Rupert walks that fine line nicely. His best moment is surely that look on his face when Harry starts to walk up after his name is called, such a feeling of hurt and betrayal on that great face. Surprisingly, Emma is the one who doesn’t noticeably improve this time. Newell just works her up too much at times – particularly in the Defense Against the Dark Arts scene, where she’s too upset too quickly. I’m not saying it’s a bad performance, far from it. I think she’s good, just not as good as we’ve come to expect. She’s at her best in the Yule Ball scene.

Now we’re getting somewhere! I can only bow down in complete adoration and admiration for Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. He’s not exactly the Voldemort of the books – that’s a more consistently calm, reserved personality, whereas the Voldemort we’re introduced to in this film fluctuates, in such a captivating way, between that reserve and a live-wire ferocity. You’re never entirely sure how he’s going to move from one second to the next, so you’re never entirely sure where you stand with him. I think that was a brilliant choice. Voldemort is an amazing role, but it’s also one that could allow an actor who can demonstrate any menace at all coast. It’s very easy to say he’s evil incarnate, but if you’re an actor on the level of Ralph Fiennes, you have to go deeper. You have to strip the scene down to its essence and recognize that this is a killer with no conscience or capacity for mercy capturing a 14-year-old boy and trying to kill him. That’s brutal stuff, and, by Newell’s lead but also his own marvelous instincts, Fiennes does not pull any punches, and he allows the scene to be as intense as it needs to be. And it is nightmarish. The most effectively chilling line Voldemort has said in the films has to be, “Don’t you turn your back on me, Harry Potter! I WANT YOU TO LOOK AT ME WHEN I KILL YOU! I WANT TO SEE THE LIGHT LEAVE YOUR EYES!” And it’s the words themselves, not just that they’re shouted. Truly chilling. Voldemort’s resurrection scene, top to bottom, marks the turning point of the series, and a huge progression in emotional and thematic maturity.

Brendan Gleeson’s a fantastic Mad-Eye, or…well, you know who he is. He’s a bit over the top (again, Mike Newell directs his Goblet of Fire cast to be a bit big), but that fits to me, because it’s Barty Crouch Jr. playing Mad-Eye, so I like that he exaggerates it. Gleeson nails it, making Fake Mad-Eye menacing, intimidating, funny, and, seemingly, a compassionate teacher and protector. I don’t think he gives away the big secret, not even with that tongue thing and the consistent swigging from that flask (really, you should just assume that the man’s a functioning alcoholic before you assume anything more villainous). There’s a good connection between Brendan Gleeson as Fake Mad-Eye and David Tennant as Barty Jr., though, which serves them both well.

Oh, Lord. What happened here?

Oh, right, Mike Newell happened. I have to believe that Michael Gambon is one of those actors who relies almost entirely on his director, which is not necessarily a bad thing…but here it is, because Newell’s choices with Dumbledore are all wrong. So he’s modeled after Mike Newell’s own schoolhood teachers or Headmasters, fine – but the warmth, the wit, the sense of humor, are entirely absent (minus a crack about – accidentally – setting curtains on fire late in the film), and it’s sad to see Albus Dumbledore turned into a stock gruff Headmaster with a chip on his shoulder. The problem is not so much that it’s a drastic departure from the book, the problem is that it’s a drastic departure from the previous film (even from Gambon’s own Prisoner of Azkaban characterization). I don’t recognize this guy, even at the beginning, where he’s prattling on about eternal glory and standing alone should you be entered in the tournament. Now, Goblet of Fire the book does show us a Dumbledore, who, for the first time, does not appear completely in control at all times. The thing is, that’s supposed to build as the story goes on. Dumbledore loses all control straightaway after he picks Harry’s name out of The Goblet of Fire, and there’s no development – it’s not only that infamous shoving-Harry-against-the-trophy-stand moment, although that is the hardest to watch – he’s short-tempered with Maxime and Karkaroff as he charges (really, charges) into the room, he’s short-tempered with Cornelius Fudge when Harry walks into his office. There is one moment where he should be as out-of-control angry as he is for so much of this movie, and that’s when he goes after Barty Crouch Jr. at the end. That moment doesn’t register, though, because it hits the same notes we’ve been seeing. This is an endlessly frustrating performance for me, (A) because Dumbledore is my favorite character in the books and was up to this point my favorite character in the films, and (B) because Michael Gambon is so winning in Prisoner of Azkaban. What’s worst is that I feel no connection between Dumbledore and Harry in their scenes together, and not enough trust from Dumbledore to Harry. That, “DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?!” moment may be just that, a moment, but the aggression of it goes against the point, which is ostensibly that Dumbledore will simply trust Harry’s word, where the others are more suspicious. If you have the same words, delivered with authority but concern, instead of outright suspicious anger, that intent would have come across. Michael Gambon is a fine actor, and this is not an example of bad film acting, but it is an example of a poor performance as this character.

It’s not a role of complexity or more than one dimension, but the Rita Skeeter character does allow an actor to come in and have fun, and boy, does Miranda Richardson have fun. She really makes the most out of every second she has to make an impression, and she does indeed make an impression as your worst nightmare of a headline-hungry, fame-seeking, fake-news-is-good-news tabloid reporter. I wish there was a spin-off just for her. Or I wish that Rita’s Deathly Hallows plotline was one that gave her a chance to actually appear. Or both. I wish both.

Goblet of Fire brings in so many new faces, so I want to mention some more even if I didn’t think I had a paragraph of things to say on each. Frances de la Tour as Madame Maxime is an excellent bit of casting, and she and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid are truly adorable together. Katie Leung’s actually kind of adorable herself in this one; you see why Harry develops such a major crush on her. She’s so painfully sincere when she’s turning Harry down, it’s hard to watch, but very well-played. I can’t not think, “Hey, it’s the Tenth Doctor!” when I see David Tennant as Barty Jr., but I do like what he does with the part, the manic, rabid-dog energy he has. As Barty Sr., Roger Lloyd-Pack is usually grating to me, with the exception of his conversation with Harry just after the second task. That’s a fine bit of acting; he really comes across like a broken man. As Cedric, Robert Pattinson is fine; there’s not much “there” there with Cedric, we don’t get to know who he really is, even if we’re told he’s a lot of things in Dumbledore’s eulogy. If we feel sorry that Cedric dies, and not just that a student dies, then that’s due to Pattinson investing him with some charisma and an air of basic decency. Finally, Jeff Rawle as Amos Diggory, who demonstrates the truth of the phrase, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Amos’ wail of pain and despair after seeing his son lying dead is agonizing, and it’s a standout moment.

I was so uncomfortable with not having the musical presence of John Williams the first time I saw Goblet of Fire that it took me a while to come around and realize how wonderful Patrick Doyle’s score is. It’s a beautiful, memorable collection of music, from “Neville’s Waltz” to “Harry in Winter” to “Rita Skeeter” to “Potter Waltz” to “Voldemort” to “Death of Cedric” to, my favorite, “Hogwarts Hymn,” it’s one terrific melody after another. Doyle’s work really supports everything onscreen, and never becomes too manipulative. It’s outstanding. You gotta love the songs created for The Weird Sisters, too (or, at least, you should) – “Do the Hippogriff” is pure goofy fun, but “Magic Works” is by far the best of the three, a genuinely good song, and one that, if you pay attention to the lyrics, is actually a kind of summation of Ron and Hermione’s relationship.

Roger Pratt’s a great D.P., and this is his second go-round in that role, after Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. He’s allowed to do a lot more this time, both because of having a story that calls for darker, more evocative visuals, and because of a director who has a more distinct presence. The cinematography plays a huge part in keeping the tension as high as it throughout. The art of cinematography is one that I haven’t learned to discuss as well as I’d like to; I can never quite articulate exactly what I want to say about why it works or doesn’t. But I do know that Pratt’s camera is a big contribution to the feeling in GoF that we’re on the edge of some huge, terrible change.

-I still stand by the widely derided – or shall we go stronger, “infamously hated” – “I love magic” line. Yes, Harry is 14, but Book Harry could still stand back and appreciate something new and awesome, even at 14. Don’t we all have moments sometimes when we have to stand back and say, “This is really cool?” Even with something we’re very accustomed to. I certainly know I’ve had plenty of those moments with Harry Potter. I still do. That’s what that moment is.

-“Well, the devil with Barty!” Maggie Smith, you are one awesome Dame.

-I love the way the Pensieve looks: entrancing, ethereal, slightly menacing.

-There are two stretches of this film that are absolutely perfect to me – seriously, would not change a frame – the Yule Ball and buildup before it and Voldemort’s graveyard rebirth. I would list my favorite funny moments of the former, but that would turn into me simply transcribing.

-Harry, drifting oddly far away from Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione, comes across Mr. Crouch lying dead in the middle of the forest. Harry goes to Dumbledore’s office, presumably to tell him of this, but we overhear Dumbledore barking at Fudge about it. Okay, so they know. And that’s the last of that. Boy, was that poorly handled. There’s a nice deleted scene with the trio reacting to Crouch’s death, that I believe would have taken place in between these two scenes. It shouldn’t have been deleted.

-Another scene that shouldn’t have been deleted: Harry overhearing Snape and Karkaroff talking outside at the ball. We do have a very brief exchange with Harry stumbling upon Karkaroff showing Snape his Dark Mark, but that barely registers.

-Boy, Harry’s really numb at that point, huh? Not even finding out that Snape was a Death Eater who (allegedly) turned spy for Dumbledore fazes him. No reaction at all…

-Dumbledore’s eulogy for Cedric has no business being as powerful as it is – because we don’t know that Cedric is any of those things Dumbledore tells us he is. We’ve had no evidence of any of them. And yet, largely due to Michael Gambon’s delivery (he's excellent here), it is rather moving.

-Either explain what “Priori Incantatem” is and/or why Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands connected that way or don’t bring it up at all. “Priori Incantatem…You saw your parents that night, didn’t you? No spell can awaken the dead, Harry, I trust you know that,” is not a satisfying answer.

-The final scene is too upbeat, it is, but I don’t have as much of a problem with it as I think most do. The last line of the book, if I’m not mistaken, is Harry recalling something Hagrid had said earlier in the chapter: “What would come would come, and they would meet it when it did.” That’s not entirely upbeat, but it’s not entirely bleak either. There’s a spirit of false hope to it, of trying to keep that darkness at bay while you maybe still can, and the final scene of GoF the movie goes for that same thing. It doesn’t entirely succeed, but it doesn’t entirely fail.

In spite of some severe shortcomings, Goblet of Fire was my favorite Harry Potter film for quite a while. It holds up. It finds that tricky balance of moods, and, as grandiose as this may be to say, it feels like adolescence. It's a divisive movie among fans, but I think it's pretty great.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me.
(And her movie is available now!)

Last edited by IenjoyAcidPops; July 14th, 2011 at 7:59 am.
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