Okay, okay. I've mentioned my Potterhead status before. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.
Keeping in line with it, then, the wife and I hit Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tonight. Here's what I thought:
I've been less than impressed with the first three installments, so tonight's viewing of Goblet of Fire came as a pleasant surprise. Thanks to a useful change of director, improved acting chops in our group of child actors, and some merciful edits to keep JK Rowling's many rabid fans on their toes, it's by far the most entertaining of the series.
Case in point: The opening 20 minutes of the film wisely leave out a lot of the detail that deserves to be "book only" material. The book's playful approach to the Quidditch World Cup, for example, would have been pointless on film; better to give that screen time to the darker stuff to come.
Ditto, the elimination of the house elf liberation thing. In the book, Hermione spends a lot of time and effort trying to free Hogwart's many house elves from servitude. Director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves, recognising that globe-eyed Dobby was the Jar Jar Binks of Potter movie number three, cleverly decided to write that entire storyline out, using another of this book’s shady characters to pick up the mysterious slack.
One addition to the first task in the tournament is especially likeable. Chase scenes are easier to do on celluloid than paper, and this is no different. As the Hungarian Horntail claws his way to Harry, many in the cinema were joyfully on the edges of their seats. This picture also answers a question many readers have had since book four came out: how can the tournament spectators see the contestants when they're under water or in a giant hedge maze? (The answer: they can't. Wizard spectator sports seem strangely to lean toward large gatherings of people just hanging out until a winner pops up out of the ground.)
The bad guys have precious little to do in this film, but shine when they get the spotlight. Ralph Fiennes, as He Who Must Not Be Named himself, hisses with glee during his closeup scene with Radcliffe. He’s appropriately nasty, and obviously had a tonne of fun despite acting with only a serpent’s slits in place of his nose. Radcliffe, for his part, holds fairly well with the Oscar-winner. (If only Michael Gambon was as up to snuff, now that the original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, has passed on. Gambon is too twitchy to pull off the master wizard, who for all his outward bumbling should seem unflappable.)
The biggest beef is just that; there's too much beef! These 14-year-old boys sure have big arms! They'd better make the next two films pretty quick-like if they want to get Harry through his sixth year before a full beard sets in.