While Harry Potter fans will surely embrace this latest chapter in the young wizard’s journey, Mike Newell’s “Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire” fails as a faithful representation of the beloved book, or a coherent film.
The stadium for the Quidditch World Cup is a brilliant extravagance, bringing the excitement of the game without the payoff, considering that we see none of the match. The expanse of tents is impressive but does not reveal the variety within the wizarding world or the exuberance that could stand in contrast to the horror of the Death Eaters arrival. The Durmstrang boat erupts from the lake and the Beauxbatons horse-drawn carriage sweeps in from the sky as Rowling described. The students from the two schools process like a parade performing amazingly unnecessary bits of magic. The scene highlights Fleur and Krum as future champions, while telling us nothing about them. Instead of brilliant, wise and a bit mad, Dumbledore seems simply a charlatan conducting the show. Though wrapped in brilliant spectacle, there is no heart to the film and unnecessary show replaces substance. The film rushes while at the same time feeling interminable in the drawn out scenes that delve shallowly into the characters and themes of the story.
The treatment of the secondary villain is one of Newell’s major mistakes. In Rowling’s book, Barty Crouch Jr. seems innocent and inspires sympathy in Harry and the reader. Crouch appears as an impressionable boy who was the victim of an uncaring father. Only later is he revealed as the most fervent, cutthroat supporter of Lord Voldemort. In the film, his identity is revealed in the first few scenes, shedding the complexity of the book to almost Disney levels of “good vs. evil” where the malevolent forces are distinguished by their sinister looks. David Tennant portrays him with a tongue-flicking twitch, reminiscent of the serpentine Voldemort. His history is spun to make him appear irredeemably evil, neglecting a central message of the story, that evil is not always where you expect to find it.
Daniel Radcliffe’s Potter lacks bravery and coolness under pressure, the qualities that make Harry a hero. When he fights the dragon, Harry is supposed to succeed brilliantly, capturing the egg in a few moments without injury proving that he is worthy to be a champion. Instead he freezes and needs Hermione’s prompting to act, taking the dragon on a wild, supposedly thrilling, chase around the castle on his broomstick. Harry almost drowns in the second challenge in another unneeded addition of drama. At every turn Harry must be told what to do, belying his independence and talent.
Sirius Black is barely present in the film, instead of becoming a father figure for Harry and risking his life to protect his godson. Hermione comes off as a shrill bossy shrew, not an ally. Dumbledore is overly aggressive and angry failing to advise and failing to comfort. The tone is light and fails to bring home the threat of Voldemort’s return to power. The gravity of Cedric’s death and Voldemort’s rebirth is lost in the film. Harry leaves for the train unscathed and unperturbed, and the trio of friends skip off happy to be together. Voldemort’s return should be a clear break in the story, where childish things are left behind and the real battle begins. “The Goblet of Fire” is merely another chapter of a condescending lesson in morality for Potter viewers, telling kids that as long as we stick together we’ll all be safe and happy.