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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the movie)

Alfonso, come back! All is forgiven!

Harlot PotstickerThat would be Alfonso Cuarón, director of the third Harry Potter film, Prisoner of Azkaban, which survives the release of Goblet of Fire to remain the most successful of the Potter movies. Mike Newell does his best to zip things along, trimming the fat and hitting the important plot points -- mostly -- while letting character development breathe. But like Christopher Columbus's two, Goblet feels like a film doing its best to be extremely faithful to a long book in a reasonable amount of screen time, where Azkaban really felt like a movie all on its own. Which is not to say Goblet is a bad film. It's just that we're back to constant comparisons with the source material and with the other movies. Cuarón's Azkaban let us move past that. While some things were trimmed for length -- even at 2:30 Goblet still feels short -- other events were just, well, left out, and if you didn't know the story you'd miss a few key things. Harry not getting his Triwizard winnings to give to the twins, for instance -- that's a big plot point to miss, I think, because with that money they start their joke shop, which is a large part of book V and has a small but important part in book VI. And Rita Skeeter being an unregistered Animagus has later repercussions.

There are definitely a few solid laughs in Goblet, and some real moments of fright as Harry takes one beating after another. The fourth-years are appropriately teenaged, all emotional knees and elbows, full of hormones and tempers and up and down the scale of maturity. Cedric is the cool senior, genial and casual, the guy you didn't mind cheering because he didn't use his popularity to make anyone feel less than he is. Neville takes a few crucial steps forward in building his self-esteem.

As always, the special effects are glorious. The flying-horse-drawn carriage of the Beauxbatons, the Sturmdrang ship breaching the waters, the underwater scenes in the lake looking as densely populated as Finding Nemo, the creepy Dark Marks undulating across the sky, transporting by portkey, Sirius's Abyss-like face in the fireplace (so much cooler than I'd envisioned!), the evil hedge maze borrowed from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (although we were making jokes about David Bowie's Labyrinth). Harry walks into a bitty tent which obviously learned a few tricks from a Star Trek shuttlecraft, because it's seven times larger on the inside than the outside, and blurts in delight "I love magic." So do we. Which made it disappointing that Newell entirely skipped the Quidditch World Cup -- we only saw the teams introduced, and then suddenly cut to the after-party without even knowing who won! It's not even that Newell didn't want to film an expensive flying scene with lots of CGI, because he then adds in the Horntail chasing Harry all over the campus, wrecking roof tile and destroying bridges, when Rowling had Harry snatching the golden egg faster than the other three champions got to theirs. It felt unnecessary to have Harry plummeting and bashing against things when Rowling had already provided lots of excitement in the text.

I wasn't happy about this in book VI either, but dangit, I like watching classroom action! These are kids at school; there are tests to study for and homework to do and the drudgery of sitting through a boring lecture. These repetitive actions anchor the fantastical world. It's funny to see the details of our lives turned on their heads to adapt to magical uses (such as Spellotape, which is a riff on British scotch tape, called "Sellotape"). At Hogwarts in particular are the details like the Sorting Hat ceremony and the various familiar ghosts -- we get a glimpse of Moaning Myrtle only because she gave Harry a clue, but Nearly Headless Nick and Peeves don't even get a non-speaking flyby. It's important to be grounded first before launching into the magical and difficult-to-believe. I really don't demand a slavish adherence to the text, and I know scenes had to be cut for length, but some of these things give the story richness and texture, and as any dieter will tell you, if you cut too much fat you cut out what makes it tasty. I did not miss the elf C-plots -- any of them -- nor did I miss Rita Skeeter's ongoing irritance.

Daniel Radcliffe continues to improve with each film. Of the main three, he doesn't really do much acting; his technique has been mainly a lot of yelling, appearing adorably bewildered, and looking like Mary GrandPré's illustrations. In Goblet we finally get some real reaction out of him during the various tasks. My sister (the huge Potterphile) and I both agreed that while we didn't really tear up over Cedric's death in the book, we did in the theatre, and for me at least that was from Radcliffe weeping and clinging to Cedric and sobbing his apologies. I finally felt Harry's grief and the weight of his responsibility in that moment. Rupert Grint did surprisingly well in the subtleties of Ron's growing jealousy of his best friend. The narrowed and glowering eyes, the hurt looks, the hung head -- Hermione rolls her eyes and grumbles "Boys!" in exasperation, but when Harry and Ron make up in grunts and half-sentences hiding their feelings, it felt very authentic. Radcliffe and Grint, as wombat61 pointed out, need to avoid gyms at all costs if they're going to be shirtless again before the seventh movie, because the actors are getting a bit ahead of the characters and the rather nice pecs they're both developing aren't yet appropriate.

Michael Gambon was a bit disappointing this outing -- his accent was wandering all over the place, and he shows Dumbledore's cleverness too often, and at the expense of his gentleness and mischief. Cho (with a significant Scottish accent -- okay, shoot me for insensitivity, but I laughed my head off at the dissonance) was more of a cameo than the lingering crush from the book, so I wonder if her subplot will be cut altogether from the fifth movie. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort was a total letdown. The makeup does match the description in the book, but man, he just looked like an albino Yridian on a bad day. Snape is scary. This guy was merely icky. I got no sense of menace, no evil charisma slithering out from the screen, no feeling of dread or horror, just a tallish guy in Stevie Nicks robes and a latex head making speeches at Harry. As Hitchcock pointed out, what you don't see is usually the most frightening.

One thing I really didn't get: why the strange emphasis on setting up Harry and Hermione, when that's not where everyone ends up in later books? It's not out of character, but in the book Hermione doesn't jump on Harry in a desperate hug in the tent before the first task, and the meaningful little glances and almost-touches were really supposed to be aimed at Cho, I think. This is the time in their lives when romance first appears, but you'd think the director and screenwriter would have read ahead in the series and gotten the pairings right.