Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4/5)

Early on in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth adventure for Harry and his friends, longtime fans of the series will notice a distinct absence. Unlike in the past three films, The Goblet of Fire begins with Harry waking from a bad dream at his friend Ron’s house, rather than at Uncle Vernon’s suburban home. Alas, I cannot say I miss Uncle Vernon’s plump visage. Not only was he a domineering philistine, but Vernon also seemed like a cartoonish throwback to the first two installments. After the darker shades of The Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s difficult to see where Vernon might fit within the increasingly doleful series.

In many ways The Goblet of Fire fulfills the promises made by The Prisoner of Azkaban. Knowing that multiple directors have taken the helm of this series, I at first expected a radical swing in tone and style with each changing of the guard. I’ve been surprised to find that, despite the darker atmosphere in Azkaban, the evolution of the series has been deftly executed, suggesting a large amount of foresight. I’m sure much of the credit must go to the books. It is my understanding that Rowling let each installment grow along with her young readers.

The Goblet of Fire not only treads in a tenebrous atmosphere and storytelling, but it also manages to expand the scope of Harry Potter’s world outside the bounds of Hogwarts. We find that Harry is spending the night at his friend Ron’s house so that he can go see the Quidditch World Cup with the Weasley family. Here we are given a glimpse of the multitudes of wizards from around the world, from neighboring Ireland to distant Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the festivities are cut short when a legion of Voldemort’s followers, called The Death Eaters, make like quidditch hooligans and bust up the joint.

Back at Hogwarts, the school is gearing up for the Triwizard Tournament, an event where students from different schools compete in three tests of mental and physical acumen. The champions are chosen at random by a magical goblet that is perpetually ablaze. Each student who wishes to compete must write his name on a piece of paper and place it in the fire. On the appropriate day, the goblet will spit out the names of the chosen students. This year, however, only students seventeen or older may compete in the tournament (presumably getting insurance for the younger wizards is somewhat of a pain). A spell is even placed on the goblet to prevent those under seventeen from placing their names in the flame. And yet, when the time comes to choose the contestants, Harry Potter’s name is shot out of the goblet despite the fact he both never entered his name and was incapable of doing so.

How and why Potter was entered into the competition serves as the central mystery of Goblet of Fire, but, as with the other installments, Harry must also figure out the vagaries of growing up. The friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione is tested throughout. Ron becomes jealous of Harry when he is mysteriously entered into the Triwizard Tournament, and Hermione becomes miffed with Ron after he half-heartedly asks her out to the school dance. Not all of these conflicts are easily smoothed over, either. While Ron and Harry eventually come to an understanding, a similar truce is never made between Hermione and Ron. In fact Ron says a few things to Hermione that suggests he might be closet misogynist. Needless to say, strained friendships are a part of being a teenager. It’s to the film’s credit that the school dance is treated not so much as a rite of passage, but rather as the stiff and awkward social occasion that, for most, they are. Ron and Harry have difficulties finding partners for the dance, and when they do, it turns out the two boys are bad dates. Hermione attends the dance with Viktor Krum, one of the contestants in the Triwizard Tournament, but what could have been a resplendent evening turns ugly when Ron starts taunting her. Leave it to a Harry Potter film to avoid turning a middle school dance into an evening of magic.

Hogwarts once again hires a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Of all the rotating characters who have filled this position it is Goblet’s Alastar “Mad Eye” Moody who is perhaps my favorite. He gets his “Mad Eye” nickname from a false left eye that jets up and around, seemingly independent of its twin and capable of looking through the back of his skull (a useful skill for a teacher). Needless to say, he’s an eccentric character who shuffles about on a metal leg, tortures animals as a lesson for the class and brazenly takes swigs from his flask while in front of his students (my high school teachers at least hid their liquor in their morning cup of coffee). In other words, Moody seems like a fun guy to take on a night on the town.

Of course, the biggest surprise in the film is the final reveal of a fully recharged Voldermort. This time he’s not just some face on the back of someone’s head or a mystical projection. Without giving too much away, I will say that he is played with gusto by Ralph Fiennes. Interesting enough, one of the first things Voldemort does upon being released into the world is to go into a “what have you done for me lately” diatribe against his followers. When one of them protests that he helped Voldermort out of his exile, Voldermort sneers that this was done more out of fear than fidelity. I guess pure evil is codependence.

At the end of the film Hermione forlornly tells her friend, “Everything’s going to change now, isn’t it?” She might as well have been talking to the audience. As the films become increasingly bleak, it has become more difficult to tell where the story will take us. I for one, am curious to see where we shall end up.

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