When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was first released theatrically in 2005 I loved it. I thought that it executed the drama and comedy and action so well that I made sure to see it twice before it hit DVD. Then I did not watch it again until just before film 7 came out. That’s five years and two movies later. Two great movies. I was genuinely excited to go back and see Goblet of Fire again and relive all the fun of the Triwizard Tournament.
And then I actually watched the movie.
Oh boy, where to begin? I suppose the first thing I need to bring up is a specific issue that arises very near the start of the film. What happened to the Quidditch World Cup? The characters go there. They take the time to set up a magical tent. They meet friends. They go to their seats. They watch the players fly out onto the pitch. And then CUT! No quidditch. Why would you take all that time to get us excited for a big league quidditch match only to cut out the actual match? This is the kind of bizarre problem that plagues Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The movie never delivers the complete package, and what it does serve up is often tepid at best.
Another example is the entire middle section of the film. So much story is cut out from the book that most of what we are left with are big action-heavy sequences. Yet right smack dab in the middle of the movie is an extended section where it becomes some kind of conventional romantic comedy. It’s like Mike Newell decided he wouldn’t make a Harry Potter movie without going back to his Four Weddings and a Funeral roots. Now, I know all ye readers are shouting at me, “Hey, Corey! All the romance was taken straight from the book!” It seems a fair response at first, but then this is a movie, not a book. And even the book had other stuff going on mixed in with the romantic stuff. I actually loved the romantic stuff in the book. It’s the way it is structured into the film that’s the problem. The movie is chugging along just fine and dandy with lots of bombast and action and then, BAM, it stops dead in its tracks to serve up a half-hour rom-com. It interrupts the flow, and then is seemingly forgotten immediately after.
None of this is really scratching the surface with this movie though. So let me backtrack and discuss the visual quality of the movie. Right from the opening frames of the movie it is clear that the visuals here will be a major step down from Prisoner of Azkaban. Newell learned from that film that Harry Potter’s world needs to be dark, and so the film looks dark. Except the daylight scenes, which offer up merely dull brightness. There is no subtlety to the cinematography. The camera moves are flashy but uninteresting, and while the film has a dark look it lacks any sense of serious atmosphere.
Newell also seems to have trouble with subtlety. Huge and loud is the name of the game in Goblet of Fire. Everything suffers from this. The Quidditch World Cup is cartoonishly boisterous. Only to be outdone by the admittedly fun but entirely preposterous dragon chase during the first task. The only thing more cartoonish is the acting. Oh god, the acting. The kids themselves are okay. They are improving, though Emma Watson’s eyebrows are at their most annoying in this movie. It’s the supporting cast that fails. And this is perhaps the biggest failure of all.
The series until now has so beautifully relied on its constant stream of brilliant supporting performers to carry the acting load of the film. Here they are almost unanimously terrible. Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody looks and behaves about as strangely as Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland. There is a charm about him, but the weird facial expressions are distractingly bad. And as though he did not want to be done, David Tennant, who made for a brilliant Doctor Who, is disgustingly bad as Barty Crouch Jr. He isn’t in too many scenes, but he is a disaster in all of them.
And then to make matters worse are all the foreigners. All of the actors portraying the students and teachers of the two other schools participating in the tournament are bad. And not just bad, but truly awful in every way. It’s as though each actor found a way to simultaneously be stiff and overact. The introduction of the two schools actually makes for the worst scene in the entire series. Each school walks in with their own prepared dance. It’s a scene that would have been more fitting in the more childish Narnia series. Here it is forced and painfully idiotic. And even the British addition to the student body falls flat. Cedric Diggory, played by the pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson, is given little else to do but stand around and look taller than Harry. Sure, he does a good job at being taller, but I hardly think that would have taken much skill.
The biggest acting sin is reserved for a character highly beloved. No, not Snape. Luckily Alan Rickman has a medical condition that does not allow him to give a bad performance. No, I’m talking about Albus Dumbledore. This is the second time Michael Gambon has played the character. He took over for the third film after Richard Harris sadly passed away. In that film he managed to give the character new life, and a childish charm that is actually much closer to the character’s representation in the books. Now, I don’t really know who to blame for his performance in Goblet of Fire, but I can’t imagine a moment as big as him yelling full on at Harry was Gambon’s choice alone. Dumbledore here is an erratic, loud adult who basically seems jerky and incompetent. I’m tempted to place blame on Newell again, because this sort of overacted and loud performance fits perfectly into his atrocious style.
In case you think I hated everything about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, let me just say that it does move at a brisk pace and there are enough scenes that kept me entertained. The aforementioned First Task. Actually, all three of the tasks could have been better, but they are all entertaining nonetheless. This pace does come at a price though, and in much worse fashion than the speedy pace of the third movie. There is so much going on in the film with the adults and with the tournament and with Ron and Hermione that Harry Potter, the title character himself, mostly gets the shaft. Harry feels like little more than a pawn in the elaborate game that is Goblet of Fire‘s plot. He rarely has any force within the plot, and the more interesting character moments are glossed over with bad acting or bad humour.
There is one scene, though, that actually nearly saves my ultimate impression of the film as a whole. That is, the climax, in which Cedric is killed and Voldemort returns. It’s actually the one scene in the film that has great cinematography, along the lines of what would be found in Yates’ films, brilliant visual effects, and a fantastic performance from the man cast as the Dark Lord. Ralph Fiennes is perfect. Absolutely perfect. He commands respect as the biggest villain in the series, and he is really damn scary. The make-up work on him is also great. He looks human, but with the flat, slitted nose of a snake. Frightening stuff, and it finally puts a face to the evil presence in all the films. The scene itself also plays out masterfully. The way Cedric is abruptly killed; the way the Death Eaters fly into the scene; the look of the spells from Harry and Voledmort’s wands meeting; it’s all great. I am not joking when I say that this one perfect scene actually saves the film from being a near-total loss.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire cannot be fixed. It will stay mostly bad and stupid forever. It will always be part of a series that in so many ways deserves better. The film does have its moments, and that climactic scene is amazing, but overall it is all a sad waste of potential. Luckily Mike Newell didn’t come back, leaving the door open for David Yates, who would go on to do the entire second half of the franchise. As for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I can say very definitely that the only times I will ever watch it again are when I watch the entire series from start to finish. There is no good reason to watch it otherwise.
(One almost completely unrelated note: Three of the actors in this film—Brendan Gleeson, Clémence Poésy and Ralph Fiennes—would later appear in the fantabulous film, In Bruges. Do yourself a favour, if ever you feel the urge to watch Goblet of Fire, just put on In Bruges instead.)