Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2005

Take a swig from the 'Goblet of Fire'

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Mike Newell
Screenplay: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Stanislav Ianevski and Ralph Fiennes
Rated PG-13/2 hours, 37 minutes
Opened Nov. 18, 2005
(out of four)

How far we've come since the days of Chris Columbus. After a modest-but-unspectacular beginning to the cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling's world-famous "Harry Potter" books, the series has really come to life over the last two years. While the first two films were delightful in their own right (in particular Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), they also suffered from Columbus' un-ambitious, completely pedestrian directorial style. Last year, however, Alfonso Cuarón opened things up, visually and otherwise, with his brilliant take on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and this year's entry, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, has continued that trend. Like Harry himself, this series has indeed come of age.

Directed by Mike Newell (who helmed Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral, both excellent), the first British director to take a crack at this series, Goblet of Fire is a ridiculously entertaining film from start to finish, thanks in no small part to Newell's work behind the camera and a pair of standout performances from Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes.

Having discovered the truth about, and saved the life of, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) at the end of the last film, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and friends embark on Year Four at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and, as per the film's tagline, difficult times do, indeed, lie ahead. First of all, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are troubled with the complications of adolescence. Second, Harry has become an unwitting participant of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, during which he will have to battle a treacherous (and visually impressive) fire-breathing dragon, breathe under water for an hour while being attacked by...well, some sort of water creature, and navigate a perilously hypnotic maze. Oh yeah--and did I mention this all takes place as the impending rebirth of the Dark Lord Voldemort grows closer and closer? Not good times. Bad times.

As is the case every year, the school has a new teacher for the Defense Against the Dark Arts--this time it's Alastor Moody (Gleeson, in a gleefully eccentric, pitch-perfect performance), who is made up of all kinds of spare parts, most noticeably a distinctively independent left eye with a zoom lens.

But the film's real prize is--finally!--the first concrete on-screen appearance of the oft-whispered-about, never-seen Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). While his appearance in this film is limited, Fiennes and the entire filmmaking team make the most of it. Not only does Newell find the perfect visual look, but Fiennes completely embodies the villainous character. I can't wait to see Voldemort in upcoming Harry Potter films.

While it would be close to impossible to match or surpass the stunning visual aesthetic that Cuarón brought to the third film, Newell does a fantastic job in his own right. The special effects are nicely done, and Roger Pratt (Brazil, Batman, 12 Monkeys) takes advantage of all his greatest strengths as a cinematographer. (Just look at his lighting during the hazy maze scene, especially that distorted close-up of Harry as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel looms in the distance.)

I'm not sure if Rowling had it in mind when she wrote this, but the scene in the hedge-filled maze is strikingly reminiscent of the climax of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The maze sequence is one of the most brilliant in the movie, perhaps bested only by the scene in the cemetery, which I will just keep quiet about for now. Suffice it to say that Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves not only keep us on the edge of our seats, but leave us begging for more.

I am a relative novice to the Harry Potter universe. I have not yet read any of the books, but I don't think that does or should matter. I completely reject the notion that a film's success is contingent on how closely it follows its source material. I think that such a viewpoint illustrates a refusal to see a film on its own merits, or for what it really is. Some fans of the novels were disappointed in the third film because, apparently, it didn't follow the book as well. But I think that's only minimally significant.

In terms of the cinematic experience itself, last year's Prisoner of Azkaban took this series to new heights (Cuarón pulled off visual feats that Columbus could have never dreamed), and the films have taken on a life of their own, apart from the books. Goblet of Fire is an extension of that. Like Cuarón last year, Newell has created a phenomenal moviegoing experience.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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