2005: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Directed by Mike Newell
Written by Steve Kloves
For somebody who’s a big fan of the Harry Potter novels, the films left surprisingly little impression on me. I’ve seen all of them, and have to admit that they became more or less tolerable after the first two. But they were never the source of mania for me they were for so many. Still, we’re talking about a franchise that’s earned over $7 billion worldwide, so it had to have done something right along the way, right? Well, for me, that something right was the fourth film.
Part of the problem with the Potter series is that it never had a chance of capturing every single bit of magic from the books, especially once J.K. Rowling started letting the page length sprawl in the later volumes. They were simply too dense with detail to ever get everything onto the screen, but what’s more, never in the hands of people who seemed to understand that. So we got the first two films that feel more like visual guided tours of everyone’s favorite moments from the books, and the last four films that feel like a rushed synopsis that depend on our existing emotions for their scenes to create any genuine effect. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban improved things (having a talented director like Alfonso Cuarón certainly helped), but as fun as it is, the story falls prey to the convolutions of any plot where time travel plays a big part.
So if I had to pick my favorite of the films, it would be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For one, it’s relatively self-contained. It doesn’t depend too much on having seen the previous films, and while it ends on an ominous note with the return of Voldemort, it doesn’t feel like its main story has been left hanging until the next film. And while it does trim its source material pretty dramatically — the entire sub-plot with the House Elf Liberation Front is eliminated entirely, for example — it helps focus the film on Harry and the titular prize for which he and his fellow wizards are competing. Just Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films never tried to jam in every last bit of Tolkien, Goblet of Fire gets the spirit right if not the letter, something Chris Columbus’ entries totally failed to do.
Plus, Goblet of Fire just has a really good, cinematic story. The Triwizard Tournament coupled with the characters taking their first steps into puberty give plenty of opportunity for characters and action to shine in equal measure. And the introduction of the other two magical schools (as well as the Quidditch World Cup scenes) makes the world feel a little less insular, hinting at the much larger scale that would come into play in the later films. It’s as if the series is growing up as its characters are growing up, and this is the literal trial by fire for both.
I remain mostly unenthusiastic about the series, but Goblet of Fire is still the only entry I’ve seen more than once, and would probably watch again. Not that I’m in any rush to do so. The cinematic Harry Potter was something that simply passed me by, as much as I wanted to love it. Maybe if I’d seen them at the age that Star Wars gripped me, I’d feel differently. But then again, the books managed to transcend the idea of being children’s books. Too bad the films never did the same for me.