Saturday, November 19, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Maybe it's just that Alfonso Cuaron, director of the previous Potter installment, is too hard an act to follow; but for all its fire-breathing dragons and the heat of teenage angst, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire left me both cold and thirsty.

For one, the pace was maddening. With over 750 pages and three wizarding tournaments to condense, director Mike Newell was wise to kick it up a notch. But breathtaking and breathless are two different things; viewers don't get a chance to digest before being swept away to the next bit of Potter business.

End result? A sense of being dragged through the paces, hitting several markers, but no exhilaration from passing the finish line.

My 16-year-old, an unremitting Potter fan since the first Rowling book arrived, kvetched the whole way home over the movie's disappointing lack of faithfulness to storyline and character alike. Since I can't remember what I ate yesterday, let alone the details of something read three years ago, on that score the singular disturbing point to me was a decision to turn Dumbledore into a bellowing, shoving tyrant. Who did that?

Was it Newell? Michael Gambon, the replacement for the wonderful, beatific late Richard Harris? Was Rowling too busy actually giving birth to adequately oversee this production?

Whatever the cause, it sorely disrupts and undermines the character of Albus Dumbledore, who would no more shove Harry Potter (or any other Hogwart's student) then he'd conspire to take over the magical world with Lord Voldemort.

Speaking of "He-who-shall-not-be-named" Ralph Fiennes brings to life one helluva fine Dark Lord. Inspired casting and a phenomenal actor to flesh-out what will likely become the best screen villain since Darth Vader. Of course, for those of who've been drooling and enthralled since his turn as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List, no great surprise there.

Newell has a talent for human drama (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) and the scenes capturing Ron, Hermoine and Harry's foray into confusing, messy, frightening adolescence are pitch-perfect. As are those concerned with a romance for Hagrid. Interesting to watch these three kids mature before our eyes, both physically and as actors.

Maybe that's part of the problem: by the fourth Potter installment, the audience is firmly established. Conventional wisdom might be that if you haven't seen them thus far, you won't be drawn-in at this point. Conversely, if you've seen them all, as we have, you're already a big fan who'll happily fork over the cash simply to see your favorite characters put through their book-dictated paces. Perhaps true, but even we need more than a breakneck run through plot offering little in the way of depth.

More a paean to the wonders of CGI and magic than a movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is filled with visual artistry and breathtaking scenery. If only it had more heart.
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