When one has the keys to the hottest literary properties in the modern world, it’s easy to get lackadaisical when making the transformation from novel to screenplay, and perhaps make choices on which parts to beef up and which to cut down (or completely out) based more on marketing decisions than genuine storytelling aesthetics. To know most of your audience already knows what should be happening next, so you can gloss over an important line which doesn’t matter in this story but will gravely matter in the sixth film, because you’re not there yet. To leave out the explanation as to how a young wizard with only some formal training could match a powerful dark lord, because a bit of the reason was given three years ago but those who’ve read every word within the 3,365 pages published thus far will know. To cut a sequence that takes up a good fifteen percent of the novel to a few moments of screen time, so you can beef up another less developed section which should keep a certain segment of fans happy because it deals with dressing up and dancing and having that perfect moment with that boy you’ve been dreaming about for months.
Or at least, that is why my Potterhead screening companion informed me of, as we left the theatre, me in a daze not quite understanding what I just saw and he not happy about the many missed opportunities to make the film the strongest in the series. An opinion that, as I did a bit of research to find out more in the one day I had between seeing the film and needing to have this review completed, I discovered might not have been that far from the truth. An entire Quidditch World Cup reduced to a few moments of screen time. Two months of time between the start of that year’s schooling and the arrival of the Beauxbatons and the Durmstrang students compressed so their arrival coincide with the annual “Welcome to Hogwarts” dinner. More duels with Harry and Draco Malfoy completely excised. Hermoine being a great asset to Harry’s training for the Triwizard Tournament, gone. All the stuff with the House Elves, gone. Clandestine meetings with and messages shared with Sirius Black, gone. But the Yule Ball, which only seems to confirm Ron might have feelings for Hermoine and vice versa, and the worrying and preparation for the Ball, lasts for fifteen or twenty minutes, despite only containing about fifteen to twenty seconds of information relevant to the story as a whole. Which is pretty much how the entire film is set up: present a series of major set pieces which don’t really seem to add much to what the story will eventually come down to (Harry’s final duel with Voldemort) but will hopefully satiate the fans enough to keep them coming back for more.
It’s clear that, in the books, there are many characters who have some real involvement with moving the storyline further but are shunted to glorified cameos in the films to keep their fans happy. Although, judging solely from the movies, I can’t imagine Draco Malfoy having any fans. After four films, Draco remains a worthless character who has yet to deserve even one second of screen time, despite his clearly being Harry’s most immediate nemesis. In the films, we simply know Draco as the snippy little Aryan child of a wealthy and snotty wizard of some regard, who makes a few smart-alecky remarks at Harry about his not being a full-blooded wizard, and gets some kind of minor comeuppance each film for his snide attitude. One must also wonder how much more important characters like Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall are in the books compared to their limited time in the movies, as they appear to be teachers of some importance, yet the last thing that seems to happen at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is any kind of educating (Harry’s going to have to learn some major wizardry in the coming three years in order to defeat Voldemort). And what is the big deal about Viktor Krum, who is allegedly the greatest Quidditch player around, yet we barely get to see him in action in either the Quidditch World Cup or the Triwizard Tournamentr I’m sure all these things are answered in the books, but the books cannot matter when it comes to the films. Each medium must stand on its own, and if the only way to know what is going on in the film is to continually refer to the book, then the film has failed to do its job properly.
On a technical standpoint, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is a visual treat, with outstanding cinematography, set design and construction, costume design and visual effects. Mike Newell’s direction is strong and assured, and all the returning actors are now so comfortably settled into their roles, they hit their characters proper emotional points with ease. But in the end, “Goblet” only varies minutely from the pattern set before with the previous Potter stories (slight adventure with Ron getting to Hogwarts, welcoming dinner with Dumbledore in the main hall where the main crux of that year’s story and that year’s guest professor who will undoubtedly have more importance to the story than he or she initially should is revealed, Harry gets involved in some kind of tournament, Hagrid and the kids bond, SOMEONE IS TRYING TO KILL HARRY!, the plot is exposed and Harry survives, and a goodbye dinner in the main hall), and that is simply not good enough for us non-Potterhead Muggles.Rating: D