Monday, December 05, 2005

You've lost that lovin' feelin'.

Last night I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And was unpleasantly surprised to find that the HP book I thought would translate best to celluloid, didn't.

Perhaps what I missed most was the sophistication. Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a stunning step up from the kiddie frolics of the first two films. The first two books, in fact. Prisoner of Azkaban committed to a deeper, moodier interpretation of JK Rowling's work, a sensibility I assumed would continue in later films. That clearly wasn't to be.

Goblet of Fire is moody, oh yes. Its emotional range encompasses all of three different moods. The banal Oh-look-what-fun-boarding-school-is mood. The garden variety raging hormones I-never-noticed-she's-a-girl mood. And the stagey, unrealistic, utterly plastic (alright, computer-generated) Triwizard Tournament mood.

In fact, the Tournament is the principal reason the film didn't work too well for me. In the book, all four characters (with the possible exception of Fleur Delacour) are real champions. Each is the very best in their school. Each, utterly capable of rising to the challenge. And, most importantly, each is equally deserving of the trophy. Harry, in fact, is the underdog -- the underage, angsted-out wizard who is too busy grappling with his own nightmares to even conceive of overcoming the tasks before him.

In the film, however, it's clearly Harry who is at the centre of all the action. Instead of wishing he wins, you find yourself expecting him to. Which is so, so far off from the sense of the book.

Goblet of Fire was a change-of-mood book, signalling the return of Voldemort as fact, not belief. Even though it opens on the spectacular Quidditch World Cup, and plays its way through the drama of the Triwizard Tournament, its heart is Harry's very private, very agonising struggle against his connection with Voldemort. It is JK Rowling's favourite theme, hinted at as early as the first book (the wand, the scar, Parseltongue, need I go on?). It grows to overwhelm the two books that follow. In Newell's film, the only sign of this bond is the most overt one -- the use of Harry's blood in Voldemort's rebirth.

Any redeeming points? Well, Goblet of Fire is exceedingly well cast. Ralph Fiennes is an inspired choice. Daniel Radcliffe is beginning to look quite dishy. Alan Rickman continues to spook one out quite a bit. And Robert Pattinson (I had to look his name up) is the perfect Cedric Diggory.

Still not enough to make me want to see it again. Ever.

Good luck, David Yates. You have till 2007.

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