Harry Potter Retrospective Part IV - "The Goblet of Fire"

With the end of the "Harry Potter" film franchise quickly approaching, I've decided to dedicate The Soap Box Office to this wonder filled series for the next week. We'll call it the "Harry Potter Retrospective" because I really like the word "retrospective." Each day, I'll briefly take a look at one of the films, compare them to each other (and possibly the books, too), and delve into my personal experience with each. I invite you to join in the discussion as we prepare for the final chapter of Rowling's wizarding world.

Goblet of Fire brought my Potter experience back to the beginning: it opened just before Thanksgiving, 2005 and I was back home to see it with my family over the break. I was right on the cusp of becoming a full-on Potterite and needed just the final push to send me head-first over the edge. It did that and then some.

By the time Goblet of Fire rolled around, I think David Heyman and screenwriter Steve Kloves had found their groove, no matter who was in the director's chair. They knew what literary content needed to be preserved and what had to be chopped, even if it meant reworking characters and settings to get the point across in less than three hours. Things like the combination of Ludo Bagman and Barty Crouch into one on-screen character may not have been popular but it was a necessary choice. Likewise, the continued exclusion of all things related to house elves required some creative plot changes, but I personally didn't feel the film lost much in its translation. Mike Newell, the third director in three films, did an excellent job of picking up where Cuaron left off in Azkaban, keeping the dark themes and setting the stage for what was to come. Kloves also added in a fair amount of humor and a number of one-liners and I think this is a great addition to the Potter universe. Rowling is an exceptional writer with a tremendous understanding of her characters, but her books are almost devoid of jokes. Goblet of Fire (the film version) delivers some genuinely funny moments and I think it is better for that.

Goblet of Fire struggles in two areas. First of all, the book is slightly (and I do mean slightly) tedious. I love the themes of this book so much but at times the narrative feels stretched, something I am still amazed Rowling was able to avoid for the most part through the course of this series. “Goblet of Fire” is 300 pages longer than "Azkaban" and it is the only book in the series that I feel has unneeded filler. I think this put Heyman, Kloves, and Newell in a difficult position in that they have to stay as true to the book as possible but there's not quite as much to work with despite the added length. Second, Emma Watson regressed between Azkaban and Goblet of Fire. I wrote in my last entry that Watson made huge strides in the third film and was no longer the weak link. Well, she re-assumed that role in the fourth film. She re-finds her stride in Order of the Phoenix, I think, but for whatever reason, this film highlights her inconsistencies as an actress and some of those moments stick out a bit too much.

Despite those issues, Goblet of Fire excels in several places. The special effects are tremendous. The Hungarian Horntail that Harry is forced to battle against in the tournament is one of the very best movie dragons I've ever seen. Goblet of Fire displayed just how much the franchise benefited from the time Cuaron spent on set in the previous film. In addition, Heyman somehow, once again, added to his already incredible cast by bringing on Brendan Gleeson and the ever-impressive Ralph Fiennes. Seriously, best cast ever. Gleeson perfectly personifies the Mad Eye Moody copycat and that's a vital part of the story's tone. And Fiennes provides an incredible payoff for the three and a half film/book build up to the reveal of the fully reborn Voldemort. In any sci-fi, fantasy, comic book, or otherwise epic film or series, the villain is unquestionably the MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTER. It is SHOCKING how many directors, writers, and producers forget this. A hero will only go as far as his nemesis will push him and if you really want to excel, you have to create a villain that will carry the hero to the very brink of his ability and then some. Rowling understood that and made Voldemort that type of villain and Fiennes took up that mantle and carried through brilliantly

The final act of Goblet of Fire is both the best and the most excruciating of the series to this point. Everything, and I mean everything, in word and on screen, builds to this moment when Voldemort is restored, and the wizarding world is thrown back into flux. When Harry and Cedric are transported to the graveyard where Voldemort waits, I knew from the second their feet touched the ground that something horrible was about to happen. (Remember, I hadn't read the books at this point.) That entire scene, the killing of Cedric, the ritual rebirth of Voldemort, the battle between good and evil, and finally, Harry's return to Hogwarts with Cedric's body is exquisite and it perfectly, PERFECTLY, matches the tone of the book. When Harry and Cedric hit the ground and the crowd realizes what has happened, it's a true gut punch and takes the series into new territory. This death and the casualness with which it is carried out marks the end of innocence and the loss of youth in this world. To top it all off, the wails of despair that Amos Diggory (Jeff Rawle) lets out as he sees his fallen son...truly sobering. It's a scene that I both look forward to and dread every time I watch Goblet of Fire because it is remarkable acting but it also breaks my heart and brings a tear to my eye every single time. When I walked out of Goblet of Fire, I was dying to know what would happen next. I picked up the first book the next day and within a week, a genuine love for the Potter world had begun.

Rank in the "Potter" canon: 4th of 7