Saturday, November 19, 2005
Piss off, Harry.
NOTE: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a good movie, and the audience I saw it with went crazy for it. However, the following write-up will not be a rave by any stretch. If you loved or are still anticipating seeing Goblet, than read no further - wonder is too rare an experience to let one cranky film dork ruin.
Let's start with the good news: the last two reels of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are near perfect. When the Tri-Wizard Tournament enters the maze, the film is infused with a subtle, shivery dread that is sure to startle many a youngster (something I'm always in favor of). I don't want to spoil too much, but when the film reaches the cemetary and a ritual straight out of Hammer, and we are finally introduced to Ralph Fiennes' deliciously sick and twisted Voldemort, the labored theatrics of the previous two hours and change were all worth it.
But about those two hours...
The first twenty minutes of Goblet, which take place at the Quidditch World Cup, are chaotic and ugly. Quidditch can be, as the first three films have shown, a visually dazzling, kinetic experience. Here, we get the XFL version of Quidditch - roaringly loud, on a massive scale, but here's the thing: nothing happens. Nothing much happens for most of Goblet, which in its near-slavish devotion to its source material manages to reproduce the notes without hearing the music.
I don't mean to sound too crabby - there's a lot to like here. The adult cast is uniformly excellent, if too often shoved to the sidelines. Brendan Gleeson is a great Mad-Eye Moody; as readers of the book know, Gleeson has to play many different layers of subtext, and he does so masterfully. Maggie Smith has some nice moments, and Alan Rickman has a silent bit that is easily the greatest thing in the film. And I, for one, am a fan of Michael Gambon's Dumbledore, especially because he isn't afraid to make choices that weren't indicated in the book. He's playing Dumbledore, not just impersonating the old hippie.
The biggest problem is director Mike Newell, who doesn't seem to have any distinct perspective on the material other than possibly his paycheck. The film is technically superb, of course, but Newell constantly makes editing choices that cut away from what we want to see to some cumbersome bit of plot business. He adds a lot of small details, like the lingering close-up of the Beauxbaxton girls' bottoms, that just made me cringe. And while the visual effects are the best money can buy, he doesn't seem to have taken the time, as Alfonso Cuaron did with Azkaban, to integrate them believably into the film - for instance, look at the scenes involving the dragon. Is it ever believable that, big and loud as it is, it may actually be a threat to Harry?
Speaking of Cuaron, gone is all of the depth of character and emotional subtext that made Azkaban such a rich experience. Cuaron achieved authentic performances from his young cast, filled with adolescent uncertainty. Radcliffe, formerly the weak link, is good here, but many of the other kids (particuarly Emma Watson) are affected with a young actorly self-consciousness. I know I was the same way at sixteen, so hopefully it will pass. The Weasley twins are bloody brilliant, though.
Still, though, the final scenes in Goblet are really astonishing, and I suspect that if Newell did indeed have any real motivation for making the film, it can be found in these scenes. He doesn't shortchange us on the horror - these scenes, as they did in the books, jumpstart the series into a whole new world of fear and adventure. Even with all the problems I had with Goblet, I can't wait for Order of the Phoenix, which is also my favorite of the books (Harry is not a dick). Anyway, I'm very much in the minority in this one, which might say more about me than the film, so take my complaints with a grain of salt. This movie's gonna make a bajillion dollars, and you'll probably love it. Just don't make catcalls during the bath scene like the audience last night - for God's sake, he's a child.