Harry Potter and the Bad Haircuts
The fourth Harry Potter book is 750 pages, almost 200,000 words. It’s nearly double the length of Prisoner of Azkaban, pushing triple the length of Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. In other words, a lot of story is crammed into a movie of similar lengths to the preceding entries in the series.
Keeping this in mind helps illuminate one of Goblet of Fire’s major troubles: It is simply too damn busy to do anything properly. This is a problem from the start. By the ten minute mark, we’re about six major plot points in. By the half hour mark, my head was spinning with everything that had happened. Rarely has a movie felt so desperate for an extended edition: More time to watch characters react to all the crazy shit happening would make everything feel so much more real and impactful.
Mike Newell, in his lone entry in the series, doesn’t show much instinct in how to assemble a cohesive narrative. Story threads have odd cadences. The Yule Ball is simultaneously a drag on the movie’s pace and oddly perfunctory, while the Triwizard Tournament is episodic and draggy.
But even a perfectly-assembled Goblet of Fire would have some troubles: For all the rich content, world expansion, teen angst, and brooding, it’s on top of a remarkably rickety story. Moreso than any other Harry Potter, this entry relies on wacky hand-wave plotting. The Wizard Olympics subplot frequently pierces the veil of our suspension-of-disbelief. We meet, then discard, several forgettable one-off characters, one of whom dies with little fanfare, another of whom is the subject of one of the series’ stupidest twists (damn Polyjuice Potion). Characters’ motives and feelings seem to change on a dime. It’s just so messy, which deflates the sense of stakes and immersion.
Where Newell shines is in the film’s closing act, when he simultaneously evokes some gripping horror moodiness and finally cobbles together something resembling a theme: Harry’s earnest sense of self-sacrifice, his “moral fiber,” is manipulated against him in darkening world gone corrupt and sour. Cedric’s death is a gut punch in part because Harry’s kindness enabled it.
Newell, with cinematographer Roger Pratt, continues the color palate innovations brought from Alfonso Cuaron in Prisoner of Azkaban, a contrasting blend of steely blue-grays and warm ambers. It continues to match the increasing darkness of the series.
While this review may read pretty mixed, the movie sticks the landing and holds together quite nicely. Goblet of Fire, despite its busy plot and rushed pace, feels by the end like a great adventure with a heartbreaking conclusion, yet another enjoyable entry in the consistently watchable, increasingly dramatic Harry Potter series.