This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Why on earth are you reading a review of this latest Harry Potter installment? I mean, if you’re a fan of the franchise you’ll already have read the book, more than likely already have seen the film, and even were I to loudly scream that it’s exceedingly rubbish unlikely to change these plans. If you can’t abide all of this hype you’ll currently have your fingers in your ears screaming “La la la, can’t hear you” in your continued bid to ignore it. I suppose you’re most likely to read this if, like me, you just don’t care.
I have no idea why adults like Harry Potter books. For the kids they’re nominally pitched at, fine. As something that can be read to or with your kids, fine. As works of fiction for adult? Not buying it, which going by J.K. Rowling’s bank balance makes me about the only one. If I can’t understand the appeal of the books, you’ll perhaps expect I wouldn’t like the films and you’d be correct. The first two films presented unique frustrations, as faced with a franchise that simply could not fail to attract a huge audience, Warner Brothers spunk out two charmless Chris Columbus afflicted abortions designed by accountants to maximise revenue streams at the expense of quality. How else can you explain the utterly woeful CGI effects used (see for example the revolting Quiddich nonsense of Philosopher’s Stone) other than tendering to the lowest bidder? I mean, kids won’t know any different, right? Meanwhile, The Lord of the Rings films were off redefining visual effects work while having a story approximately twelvety times better, and any comparisons between the masterful Smeagol/Gollum and that little elf nonce in Chamber of Secrets is just laughable.
The third film, Prisoner of Azkaban brings with it a better director (Alfonso Cuaron), better effects and I’d argue a far more understandable plot for someone who hasn’t read the book (hello, me!). It brought with it a cohesive directorial drive and method of storytelling rather than Columbus’ slapdash cut ‘n’ paste hackery and turned out to be … alright. Decent enough entertainment. Hardly a classic story, and hardly a classic telling of it. I’m convinced once Rowling ceases and desists the series will slowly go the way of the Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tamagotchi, but that’s beside the point. The point in this case being that Prisoner of Azkabanwasn’t a complete waste of my time. If you recognise anything of yourself, gentle reader, and are wondering whether this outing’s worth your hard earned then read on. Everyone else can take the rest of the day off.
Goblet of Fire sees this year’s danger-inducing McGuffin being the Tri-Wizard tournament, a dangerous competition between a chosen champion from each of three great Magic schools with silly names that I’ve no inclination to look up the spelling of. Hogwarts choose, or rather have chosen for them by this titular fiery cup for reasons that are never particularly clear, a bloke called Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson). The boys’ school of Russian-seeming, shaven haired, Tetris playing communists choose Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski). The bewitching (ha! see what I did there? I am cutting edge humour!) ladies of some French outfit wind up with Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy). To much shock, awe, gnashing and wailing another name spurts out, that being our Harry’s despite the fact he didn’t enter his name and is supposedly too young to compete.
Suspicious, especially given that grand high evil pubah Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)’s forces, the atrociously named Death Eaters (which at no point eat death in any meaningful way) are on the march again, wreaking havoc at the Quiddich World Cup. As always happens, despite being deeply regretful of placing Harry in danger grand high good pubah Dumbledor (Michael Gambon) decides to have Harry enter into the tourney to flush out this evil plan, because this worked so successfully every time it’s tried in all the other films. Thus the underprepared student is plunged into three dangerous trials designed to test the mettle of the special effects department. Despite this the biggest challenge HP will face comes from his own hormones.
Harry, and of course his mates Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) are growing up, filling out and there is hair where before the hair was not there. Much of the story is about the artificial wedges driven between Harry and Ron over the tournament and the usual male / female tensions that occur when body parts other than brains start having voting rights in decisions.
If you want a simple demonstration of why LotR is unarguably better than Harry Potter just look at the wizard duels. In Harry Potter‘s climactic wiz-slapping we get a third rate lightshow that looks like a WinAmp plugin, in LotR we get two old bearded geezers smacking each other against the walls with unforgiving staffs. A clear winner. A barely noticeably more complex demonstration come from comparing Frodo and Harry, or rather Elijah Woods and Daniel Radcliffe. Simply, Woods is a far better actor and as such it’s easier for the layman ignoramus to care about the little fella’s plight. Radcliffe, thankfully, shows signs of great improvement over the earlier outings and is now a perfectly adequate Potter. If you’re seeking adequacy from a film, Goblet of Fire certainly delivers.
Not enough more than adequacy to start gushing about it, or enough less than adequacy to roll the Vitriol Cannon out of mothballs, mind. Radcliffe’s younger compadres Grinch and Watson are far more likeable and accomplished than the lead, and the franchises’ usual trump card of quality supporting acts continues apace. While there’s less Alan Rickman, which can only be a bad thing, recompense is made in the form of a wildly mugging Brendan Gleeson and a no less wildly mugging Fiennes, although he’s mugging a little too much for the evilest man in the franchise.
Mike Newell’s in the director’s chair this time round, and he’d lumbered with the always difficult task of condensing an overstuffed novel into a vaguely palatable running time. The structure and pacing is odd, understandable but somewhat forced. The trial / character development / trial recursive motif doesn’t build the rising sense of tension and danger the finale would hope to command, but the alternative would be a buttock deadening middle section which wouldn’t help either. Given the near-absence of character development in the first few flicks, it’s perhaps unwise to complain about it lest they not give us any more. While the story continues a welcome turn to darker, dangerous days to come compared to the dayglo happiness of the first outing, there’s a certain sense that were the franchise a snooker game this installment would be classed a shot to nothing. The important thing plotwise to come from Goblet of Fire seems to be succinctly put as “Voldemort’s back! Aieeee!”.
So, is this teh beztezt Potter evah? No. Not much in it, but I reckon that Prisoner of Azkaban has a more satisfying story progression, although perhaps it’s a little shallower. Goblet of Fire is near-as-damnit as good as it’s immediate predecessor, and no doubt delights the legions of Potternians, or Potterites, or Potterheads, or whatever collective noun Potter fans call themselves. If you don’t care about him, Goblet of Fire is, well, alright. Not bad. Resoundingly decent. Eminently acceptable. Not essential viewing by a long chalk, but by no means offensive. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement is making a complete Potter agnostic like me almost look forward to the next film. They’ll assimilate me into the hive mind yet.