"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku



When I read the fourth Harry Potter novel I declared in all seriousness that it was better than the first three books put together. While I’d certainly enjoyed those installments, GOBLET OF FIRE was the first time the series shed its fairy tale roots and embraced the chasm of world-shaking mythos.

However, the fourth volume was also at least as long as the first three put together, and after seeing how much had to be cut from 1&2 (and especially 3), I feared the butchering needed to get GOBLET down to movie length.

Think about it: 1-3 has a combined running time of 454 minutes. If they only cut out as much as the earlier works, that’d still give us a 7 and a half hour movie!

I know, I know: I’ve preached a thousand times that you judge a movie for the movie and not for whatever work it might be based on. It’s easier said than done, and I enjoyed GOBLET so much I declared I wasn’t going to see the movie. However, my sister lured me to the theatre with promises of a free ticket and never-ending popcorn.

The problem: I have been so jacked-up busy that I had virtually no time. Then, Wednesday night a meeting with Ajax was cancelled due to his lame sense of humor1, and I had a small window. We rushed off to see Harry Potter in IMAX (which all movies should be seen in, if possible). I was so tired Thursday (that and it being American or “Real” Thanksgiving), I didn’t get to the review until this morning.

Since you know I loathe discussing plot, what I’d like to do is first address Non-Readers, then Readers (for whom plot discussion won’t ruin anything), then bring you all back for the end. I’ve clearly marked which section is which, so please respect the review’s boundaries and only read the appropriate sections. (And I’ll know!)

As I stood in line, next to me was this giant 12’x24’ poster for the film. Centrally featured were the three main characters, with an unknown girl to the left and two boys to the right. Having read the book, I thought I knew who the others were, and tried to make conversation with the people standing behind me by saying, “Let’s see if we can guess who these people are in the movie.”

They all just stared at me dumbly. “Have you not read the books?” I asked. Heads shaken all around. “Well,” I said, trying not to make them feel dumb or left out, “Maybe we can get the ones in the middle.”

One girl looked up at Harry, Ron and Hermione, admittedly taller and with different clothes and haircuts than previously, and declared solemnly, “I have absolutely no idea.”

This exchange struck home with me just how difficult it is to relate to non-reader fans of Harry Potter. Those of us who have read the books (sometimes annoyingly obsessively, which is okay for me to say because those fruit-cakes skipped to the next section) know everything that’s coming and every single thing they left out. You all don’t have that problem. For you it’s all new, and I almost envy you. Not having to worry about what they did or didn’t put in, you can just enjoy the movie for what it is.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE is the darkest yet of the films. If you have kids who grew up with the series, they should be old enough now. If your children are brand new converts, consider seeing the movie first yourself, as the PG-13 movie is well earned. (Very akin go REVENGE OF THE SITH, how they amped up the scary.) I don’t have much else to tell just you, except to try and avoid other reviews, as haters will try to give you every detail, and you folks are unique in that you can still enjoy the voyage of discovery, unlike the literary egg-heads. [Now skip down to where it reads “EVERYBODY PLAYS”]

I count it quite likely that the vast majority of you have seen the film by now (some more than once), and I’m tempted to do a detailed analysis. However, on the chance that some of you haven’t yet made the foray, I’ll save that for later2 and stick to generalities.

Like I predicted, gaping chunks of the novel are gone: Hermione’s quest to save the House-Elves, and more significantly, Dobby and Winky’s shenanigans. The Dursleys: gone. The game play of the Quidditch Cup, and all the set up in the Minister of Magic’s private box: gone. The bewitching done by the Veela: gone. Hogsmeade: gone. Majorly truncated: Ron and Harry’s riff (actually a bit changed, but nicely), Rita Skeeter and her demise, virtually any classroom time except for the Unforgivable curses with the spider, the vast majority of Hermione-Viktor interplay, the Hagrid-Maxime interplay, and the Karkaroff-Snape interplay. And on and on and on.

One Reader wrote to vehemently suggest 2 movies, and while I empathize with her frustration, it’s not economically feasible. (Nor would be the suggestion I made at the beginning, that owing to the school-year length of the books, a 12 episode per book TV series would cover the material better.)

If you think about it, how would you film GOBLET differently? As cool as the Quidditch Cup, the Dursleys or Hogsmeade were to read, are they necessary to the plot? We’ve seen it before and in movies repeating the same can be death. The house elves are always a treat, but quite a master stroke to eliminate them, thus streamlining a huge and explanation-dense portion of the plot.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that GOBLET’S adaptation ranks in the top ten ever for book-to-screen, for the sheer size of the job. (This would make a good top ten list itself.) They should easily garner an Oscar nomination in this category.

Will you like it as much as the book? I maintain that it’s virtually impossible not to like best what you experience first. It will just always be your standard of comparison. But fans won’t be disappointed.

Hyperion’s Rating System

Suspension of Disbelief: 10; obviously

Genre Grade: Is this an adaptation? A+. Harry Potter series? Not enough movies to judge properly. Part of a bigger work? That seems best; A-.

Sex/Violence: There’s still no sex (I have my fingers crossed for 7), and in the aggregate there might be less violence than before. But make no mistake: GOBLET OF FIRE is more grown up. There’s a real darkness, a menace here, which I can’t imagine little kids handling too well.

Best Moment: The Ball, leading up to it, the actual event, and the aftermath. If I had to pick an image, I’d say one of the characters coming down and then later going back up stairs. You’ll see.

Pantheon Percentile: 85

EVERYBODY PLAYS (Dun dun Dun dun dun)
For the non-readers who have rejoined us, I was telling the readers about all the cuts. It’s a two-edged sword, but the benefit is that GOBLET OF FIRE is always moving, usually quickly. The camera is almost never static, and they have so much material to get to, there’s never a lull.

On the flipside, it seemed to me that we are also deprived of the full breadth and depth of emotion the characters go through. There just isn’t time to hammer home how much pain Harry’s in every time he mind-melds with old Voldy. Pages of arguments have to suffice with a sullen glare. I’m not trying to hate, but that’s the trade-off for keeping the movie at a reasonable length. Even if you ignore the book, I might have liked a bit more lingering on how everything was affecting them, rather than always bounding off to what’s next.

(I’m not quite sure if it says something about the director Mike Newell (whose best works are one of intimate and at times painful relationships, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, ENCHANTED APRIL and DONNIE BRASCO), but the most emotionally affecting sequence is easily (easily!) the Winter Ball. Maybe it’s just because we’ve been there, but the heartbreak is palpable, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who kept expecting a Molly Ringwald cameo.)

All in all, I did enjoy HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE very much, and probably will even more when I get to see it again. Hard for me to know if it’s my favorite, because it was my favorite book, and that taints me. I liked how faithful Chris Columbus was in the first two movies, especially in 2. I loved how Alfonso Cuarón wasn’t afraid to give us a new look in part 3. Now Mike Newell (originally offered the series), again isn’t content to use the same sets, the same feel. Stairways are different, even the Great Hall. It’s a nice touch. It shows us that the Harry Potter movies are growing right along with the boy, make that young man, himself.

November 25, 2005

I dis because I love

2 The plan was to have my new website literaryhype explore and expound on the themes in each of the 6 books to date all done by now, but has this clearly hasn’t happened, we’ll hold off and hopefully I can get to it before Christmas.


cousin jonny said...

I very, very much agree with your analysis. The book was way more of a flowing piece, and flowed beautifully, while the movie was forced to be more event driven; one event to the next. all of that said, i still loved the film on its own merits, outside of the books. wouldn't you agree that alot of the character development that has been left out of the films will come back to bite them in the next few installments though?

'Jax said...

Were the biteromancy (tooth-magic) scenes cut? Evil Ginger Vitis taking over Hogwarts? Because I think that would be going too far... Unless Steve Tyler and Joe Perry (sigh) swoop in to save the day. With gnomes and pirates. :-)

scapedragon said...

Evil Ginger Vitis - hee hee, I think I have a little crush on you Ajax. :)