When the first Harry Potter film came out, I was still in high school. The day I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the cinema was towards the end of my first term at university, a few months full of new experiences and learning to be independent. My friends and I took a drive down to the nearest multiplex to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – and when that film was over, we spontaneously decided to stick around and see Goblet of Fire in the afternoon. At the end of the day, I considered The Chronicles of Narnia to be the better film, as Goblet of Fire – once again under a new director, Mike Newell – had felt quite clumsily adapted. Watching it again now, the flaws I recognised on the first viewing are still evident, but I do appreciate the whole thing a little more.
Given how much bigger Goblet of Fire is than the previous book, adapting it into a 2 hour 37 minute film was always going to be a challenge, and a lot of material has to be cut. There’s no Dursleys, no Winky, no S.P.E.W., no Bertha Jorkins and no Ludo Bagman. These are all non-essentials to this story so their absence is understandable, but other cuts are more disappointing. The film needs to go to the Quidditch World Cup to set up both Portkeys and Viktor Krum, but it feels jarring to cut straight from the beginning of the World Cup final to its aftermath, without so much as a montage of highlights. Sirius Black only gets one scene: much of the exposition he provides in the book is moved elsewhere, but this way we get little reinforcement of his relationship with Harry. There’s no mention of Hagrid being half-giant, and while we see him building a relationship with Madame Maxime, there’s no resolution to that.
In my re-read of the book, I mentioned how much I liked the mystery element; the film retains this, and actually does a good job of condensing it and keeping it coherent. It’s easier for the audience to make connections: there are repeated references to Crouch Jr and his appearance in Harry’s dreams, as well as hints that somebody in Hogwarts is illicitly brewing Polyjuice Potion. Professor Moody is seen drinking from his hip flask enough times for it to be suspicious; when the real Moody yells from inside his trunk, the impostor tells Harry “I won’t tell you what’s in there; you wouldn’t believe me if I did,”; and in the absence of Dobby, he successfully directs Neville to help Harry with the second task – his original, failed intention in the book. However, the brief scene where Karkaroff is seen with the Goblet – presumably inserted as a red herring – is confusing, as no actual explanation for his behaviour is given and there’s little focus on the idea that Karkaroff might have put Harry’s name into the Goblet.
Some of the other changes and reductions work: new scenes are created for stray elements (e.g. Ron receiving his dress robes) and the ‘Potter Stinks’ badges convey the student body’s attitude towards Harry being champion effectively without too much emphasis on it. Many parts, however, feel clumsy and potentially bewildering. The Death Eater attack at the World Cup is apparently organised by Voldemort and Crouch Jr as a deliberate threatening gesture: this is better in some ways than the Death Eaters just having a drunken gambol, but then wouldn’t the Ministry make a bigger deal out of the attack, and wouldn’t Lucius Malfoy and co be less surprised when Voldemort returns? Turning the first task into a drawn-out chase scene between Harry and the Horntail makes sense from a film-making perspective, but not within the film itself: upon its unplanned escape, the dragon could easily kill not only Harry, but all the students watching, and none of the adults present do anything to intervene. There is some awkward editing: the foreign students suddenly arriving at Hogwarts before any explanation is given, Harry and co randomly wandering through the forest with Hagrid in order to stumble upon Mr Crouch’s dead body (Mr Crouch being held prisoner by Voldemort and subsequently escaping to try and warn Dumbledore is another book subplot that gets left out), and Harry then going to Dumbledore’s office for no apparent reason other than to see the Pensieve. There is no explanation of how and when Crouch Jr escaped from Azkaban, and as he is not seen getting a Dementor’s Kiss, non-book readers might be left wondering why he doesn’t show up among the Death Eaters in later films.
There are some nice moments of character exploration, which are often original creations for the film. On the Hogwarts Express, for example, Ron doesn’t have enough money to pay for all the sweets he wants, and quietly refuses Harry’s offer to cover the cost: this helps to foreshadow Ron’s resentment of Harry later on. The conflict between Harry and Ron is handled pretty well, with an additional element of Ron learning about the dragons in advance and warning Harry indirectly: this both gives Harry another reason to get annoyed at Ron for not giving him a direct warning, and shows that Ron did still want to be friends before they officially make up. There’s also a scene between the teachers after Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet, which gives a proper idea of their mindset in letting events unfold. As in Prisoner of Azkaban, the students behave like real teenagers – such as egging on Fred and George when they start fighting – and casual, real-sounding chatter among the background characters creates a more immersive atmosphere.
The more grim and adult style is also quite similar to Prisoner of Azkaban – the opening on a graveyard with skull and Grim Reaper imagery warns us not to expect an overload of whimsy. However, like the book, the film does a good job of blending its darker scenes with more comedic ones like the Yule Ball. The underwater visual effects for the second task are very good, and the maze in the third task is very eerie, though the idea of it influencing the champions’ minds (rather than containing monsters and magical obstacles) isn’t really used to full effect. The Death Eaters’ robes, with their Ku Klux Klan-inspired pointed headpieces, look more silly than scary, and I’m glad that they’re redesigned in the later films.
Finally appearing in his full-bodied form, our villain Lord Voldemort is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, who I don’t think gets enough credit for this role. He gets the dangerous and arrogant attitude right, particularly as he toys with Harry during the duel, though tutting over Cedric’s body is one of a few unexpected peculiarities we see from him in the films. His appearance is great too: when I watch him, I’m definitely seeing him as Voldemort and not as an actor. Brendan Gleeson is also very good as Mad-Eye Moody, both as the straightforward, slightly threatening Auror, and when revealing the true mannerisms of Barty Crouch Jr: I liked how the mask occasionally broke when Moody looked at Harry or Crouch Sr. (I didn’t agree with the whirring noises of his magic eye, though.)
As a Doctor Who fan, it’s a pleasure to see David Tennant playing Crouch Jr in his true form: while he doesn’t get much screen-time, what we do see of the tongue-flicking fanatic is pretty memorable. Robert Pattinson, back in the quieter days before he was swarmed by rabid teenage girls begging him to bite them everywhere he went, gets the noble and decent attitude of Cedric Diggory right, and definitely makes the audience care about him enough to lament his death. Speaking of which, the scene where Harry returns to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body is brilliantly handled in terms of acting and staging, and is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the whole film series. The applause and triumphant fanfare as Harry reappears stands in horrible contrast with what’s just happened; we see the audience slowly realising one by one what they’re actually looking at; and then we get Amos Diggory howling over his son’s body with real, agonising grief and pain. It’s not easy to watch.
One performance I definitely didn’t like, however, was Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. (To be fair, the problems lie with the director and screenwriter, not just the actor.) In Prisoner of Azkaban, Gambon was fine with the limited material he had. But in this one, he turns Dumbledore into a far less pleasant character than in the books: yelling “SILENCE!” to his students, sending Hermione out of the champions’ tent with little courtesy, being snappish with McGonagall, and becoming almost aggressive as he questions Harry about his name ending up in the Goblet. This is not the Dumbledore I know and love, and it’s only with his conversation with Harry at the end that he seems more like his typical self. Meanwhile, not much can be said about the actors playing Fleur, Krum, Karkaroff and Madame Maxime, as they get relatively little to work with.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire crams so much content into its length that it’s certainly not boring, and it manages to retain most of the original story’s essential components, but there’s still a disjointed flow to the whole thing. While it’s rough around the edges, it gets the job done.
Rating as a film: 4/5.
Rating as an adaptation: 3.5/5.