Monday, August 13, 2018

In Defense of The Goblet of Fire Movie

After Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban it's widely accepted among Potterheads that the films take a nosedive in terms of book-movie correlation. Massive plot threads are dropped, hundreds of pages worth of material are either condensed, changed or dropped entirely. These are undeniable facts. One of the biggest offenders in this arena is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which, many would argue, makes the most amount of changes, and this makes it the most inferior film of the franchise based off of its adaptation merit. But looking beyond that, it's quite easy to defend the Goblet of Fire as the franchise's truest translation from novel to film.

The Goblet of Fire, or the one where everyone has bad hair, often gets shamed for its odd tone, massive gaps of missing information, and just a general feel of it being a highlight reel of the book. New characters are introduced and thrown out, things are rushed, and events are going on all over the place with little time to settle. It almost feels like watching a two-hour version of a 700-page book. Weird.

Goblet of Fire, for me, has always been my favorite of the Potter films and it wasn't until recently that I realized why: it's so much its own thing, and yet it's also the summation of all things that the franchise was and would become. The Goblet of Fire is at times light-hearted but also quite dark; it deals with the awkwardness of being a teenager while also showing off the darkness of real life. There are several power scenes in this movie that define characters and moments down the line. If I were to sum up all of the Harry Potter movies into one, thematically, I would just show someone the Goblet of Fire.

Let's go through the checklist of Harry Potter films:

The Mystery: Almost every Harry Potter story focuses on a mystery in some way: What is the Chamber of Secrets? Why does Sirius Black want to kill Harry? Who is the Half-Blood Prince? What are the Deathly Hallows? Goblet of Fire has a major mystery that's not played up as much later in the film as it is the beginning: Who put Harry's name in the Goblet of Fire, and why did it choose him? It's something that plagues young Mr. Potter throughout the film as he's inundated with fortune and glory that he does not want.

The mystery allows us to really examine Harry in a way that other films really don't. In subsequent films, he's a hero, someone who stands out and is always on top of things. Here? He gets lucky in several of the challenges, requires a ton of help, and gets all the credit when, in reality, he wants none of it. It's obvious that Harry wouldn't want to even be in the tournament if he could put his name in; he doesn't want to be Harry Potter the Boy Who Lived, he wants to be Harry Potter the Seeker for Gryffindor or Harry Potter that guy that's in my Potions class. Goblet of Fire, more than most of the films, shows that Harry is really just a kid who has greatness thrust upon him and he has to use his friends and meager skills to do something of it rather reluctantly.

The Magic: Goblet of Fire arguably introduces three of the most important spells in the series, though only one comes to be of any major consequence. Other films focus on magical objects or moments, like the Sword of Gryffindor or the Horcruxes, but it's really only Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire (in terms of the films) that teach spells of major import. Beyond the Killing Curse we also get introduced to the Pensieve, a memory-viewing device that comes in handy quite a few times. Its introduction isn't all that pronounced but the film adds a scene where we see Dumbledore, early on, extracting the memory of him pulling Harry's name and storing it. It's an intriguing moment, making you wonder what's going to come of it and setting up a Chekhov's gun for the device later on.

The Romance: None of the Harry Potter films have good romance. None. It's arguable that the books don't. This one isn't much of an exception to the rule, except that this one feels a bit more genuine with its lack of romantic tension between Harry and literally everyone else in the cast. He's an awkward teenage boy that has to figure out his own feelings while also fight for his life every few months. Ron is a jerk but all teenage boys are jerks. The romance allows us to see the kids at the apex of their...dark times. It's never been that bothersome that Harry and Ron sort of ignore their dates because they didn't really want to be there in the first place; I'm just surprised they stuck around that long, actually. Neither of them are social butterflies and the romance aspect of the film plays that up a ton.

We do get some genuinely cute moments, like when Harry musters up the courage to ask our Cho only for the owls to ruin the moment and make him ask again. Then we get the pretty funny moment where a starstruck Ron is consoled by Hermione and Ginny about asking out Fleur (awkward, considering what happens later in the series, but whatever).

The Action: I mean. Come on. Dragon chase, mermaid fights, evil hedges! The duel with Voldemort, the chaos of the World Cup, it's all pretty solid stuff. Now some will complain that we don't get to see the actual World Cup and are robbed of our Quidditch quota for the film, but it's not all that necessary and I think I'd rather the effects go into things like the Hungarian Horntail that slim that budget and allow us to see the Irish fly around on broomsticks. All of the action sequences in Goblet of Fire are harrowing, and very well-executed. Everything is put into focus and we always know where the characters are and where they need to be. There's nothing quite as bombastic as what we'd see later with Dumbledore fighting Voldemort or any of the fights in the two Deathly Hallows films, but this sets a solid precedence.

The Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Everyone loves Mad-Eye. You know you do. If there's anything the films always seem to get right in terms of adaptation it's bringing that year's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to life, and this one is no exception. Mad-Eye is insane and Brendan Gleeson does an excellent job with the character. There's an interesting slope down into insanity that the character takes throughout the movie. At first he's stoic, harsh, not taking anything from anyone. Then as the film goes on he sorts of moves into the background, but it's obvious that something's up beyond just his quirks. You start to see more of David Tennant in his performance, which is good, considering that Barty Crouch (JUNIOR) is behind it all.

There are a few elephants in the room that I'd like to address. Some do complain about the overacting in the film, like the zany performance that Roger Lloyd Pack brought to Barty Crouch Jr. and the film doesn't really establish why the Crouch family is on the outs or what he'd been up to prior to the film. Then there's the major bit that EVERYONE always talks about, Michael Gambin's infamous "HARRY DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?"

Now, I hate to come off as someone who just wants to play the other side but...I don't really mind that reading of the line. I get that the Dumbledore we know from the book would never scream at Harry or lay a finger on him, but Gambin's performance from the moment he calls out Harry's name to when he pulls the memory from the Pensieve is actually quite captivating and that was just the climax of the scene.

You can see him simmering with confusion and rage at the situation. He knows that Harry, likely, is going to die in these challenges, and he is absolutely helpless. He shouts, quite angrily, for Harry, and when he hands Harry the paper, he doesn't place it in his hands or sooth him or give him a pat on the shoulder. He kind of just shoves it into his hand. Then, obviously, we get the snarly "harrydidyouputyournameinthegobletoffire" moment and based on what we saw before it was quite clear that Dumbledore was going to burst. Maybe not on Harry if given the chance, maybe on someone else. Then, in the next scene, he's exhausted, overwrought with confusion and beset by grief over what just transpired, and just accepts fate. He's mad at the Ministry, mad at himself, and just lost for who would put Harry's life in danger. It's, all-in-all, quite an intriguing portrayal of a man who just had his world upside-down. It's what makes Dumbledore an intriguing character: he isn't the perfect mentor, and he knows he can't be. So to see him snap feels almost as natural as him trying to keep Harry calm.

Let's now touch on what is, in my opinion, the best scene of any of the Harry Potter films. Bar none. It's fantastic direction, it's fantastic acting, it's just all around amazing:

The Graveyard scene.

From the moment Harry lands in the graveyard, the dread just closes in around him and you can tell from Daniel Radcliffe's performance that Harry is terrified of where he is. The succession of Cedric's death, the ritual, and Voldemort's resurrection are all so rapid and it doesn't give you a moment to breathe until Voldemort steps onto the scene in the flesh and even then, you can't breathe because now Harry is exactly where Voldemort wants him to be. Ray Fiennes's performance as Voldemort is such a delight, too. He's cocky, he's insane, he's toying with his food in a way that only a true psycho like Voldemort would. But we also get to see the darker, villainous side of him as he roasts his Death Eaters.

The Duel between Harry and Voldemort is also quite captivating. It's the first major duel of the series and the effects of the spells look just as I imagined in the book. Then there's that great moment where James and Lily appear and Harry just manages to get away and finally, FINALLY, the audience is given a moment to breathe...and to grief. The scene where Cedric's death is revealed is so heartbreaking, and we're given just enough time with it before the big reveal of Barty Crouch (JUNIOR).

The Graveyard scene alone makes the movie for me. It's got quite the good build-up and foreshadowing throughout, as necessary, and it really brings home all of the new information and magics that we learned and saw throughout the year: the Killing Curse, the Accio spell, Portkeys, Death Eaters, magical combat, the graveyard motif, DEATH. For being the first scene that involves a lasting death (since Sirius kind of, you know, died...but he got better...then died again...) it really hits a home run in terms of the emotional impact, as well as the emotional execution of the scene.

Like the other Harry Potter movies, Goblet of Fire is by no means perfect. All of the reasons I listed at the start can be genuine criticisms but I think people often take too harsh of a look at this film that is the ultimate culmination of theme and story elements from across the series. It's a harrowing mystery backed by some fun moments, some dark moments, and it all balances together to keep you intrigued through the end. It's the perfect tonal setup for what's to come, and it remains, to this day, my favorite of the Harry Potter films.

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