Strange Brouhaha

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

I went (finally) to see the latest Harry Potter movie. I've been putting it off, to be honest, partly because it opened while I was deep in my NaNoWriMo project--but partly because "Goblet of Fire" is not my favorite Potter book. I've spoken at length about the book before, I think; suffice it to say that "Goblet" and "Order of the Phoenix" are fairly weak sauce. They needed editing badly, and while "Phoenix" is simply boring, "Goblet" has a fatal storytelling flaw.

Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay, as he did for the first three movies. As a story, it's just not as good as his script for "Azkaban" was, but my impression of "Azkaban" may be unfairly colored by the presence of Gary Oldman. As a screenplay, though, it's probably a really good example of how to do a literary (you'll excuse the expression) adaptation: jettison, jettison, jettison. I've complained before about how the books, up until the most recent one, read increasingly like pastiches, and how the movies therefore end up being pastiches of pastiches. Kloves mostly avoids that here, moving fairly smoothly from set piece to set piece, giving us enough of the story so that we know what's going on and leaving out huge chunks of the book that turn out to be (pay attention, J.K. Rowling) totally irrelevant. There are probably some really good lessons lurking in this particular adaptation.

It was a heroic effort, but the problem is that Rowling's original story just isn't that good to begin with. The house is built on a weak foundation, and as much as he tried, Kloves couldn't really rescue the bad idea. The beginning of the movie is *really* rocky, because in jettisoning an entire subplot, Kloves had to jigger around another one and so had to introduce another character into the mix. And, unfortunately, the fatal flaw is still there: the whole thing never needed to have happened. They probably could have fixed that with one line, but there it stands.

The direction was solid, if unspectacular. Mike Newell let his actors act rather than letting CGI do it (pay attention, Peter Jackson), and while they're not the greatest actors in the world, the performances by the leads were fine. Newell's movies are about how people relate to each other, or so it seems to me, and this particular film was at its best in the moments when people were in fact relating, or not, as the case may be. The action sequences themselves were just kind of...bleh, with the blocking (or whatever the relevant term in film is) in the graveyard scene standing out for me as particularly dull and static.

A lot of people are complaining that "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Newell was a bad choice, that he ruined the movie, but I think that's unfair. If, ultimately, this movie is not very good (and it's really not), the blame lies squarely with J.K. Rowling for writing a book that was not very good. I grant this: it is definitely the case that if you have not read the book, or if you have not seen the previous films, you will be utterly and completely at a loss for most of this movie. The screenwriter and director can be held responsible for that.

Ultimately the movie isn't really that good. It serves its purpose, as the first half of a dull bridge to "Half-Blood Prince". But that's about all it does.

(Oh--one good thing: the casting was excellent! More than once, I found myself thinking that Harry and his friends looked so much smaller than the older students, and of course they're *supposed* to be. Do they have an award for best casting?)


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