In my first column of the year, I asked Cal Poly a question that leads up to this very day: have you ever read a book that quenched your thirst for life so much that you went and saw its film adaptation only to be disappointed? This week marked the fourth time that a Harry Potter film has not lived up to the experience that one can have with its novel counterpart, yet still delivers a satisfying experience for any fantasy fan. How many films actually can achieve the same experience as a novel? Few to none has been my estimate in the past and when it comes to Harry Potter’s latest adventure, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the experience of the novel is actually quite unreachable because of a rushed feel and an unfitting director.
The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is back in session and this year three allegedly “17-year-old” champions are selected to compete for the eternal glory of the Triwizard Cup (the Stanley Cup for wizards). The champions selected include an untalented yet gloriously beautiful French girl, a Bulgarian beast that enjoys hitting on 15-year-old bookworm girls, and a Hogwarts student known for his charming good looks and redeeming personality. But what would a competition be without the rising 16-year-old star Daniel Radcliffe who can wear glasses underwater? I honestly don’t know and it is probably why renowned writer J.K. Rowling set the story up so that Mr. Harry Potter would also be a competitor in the Triwizard Tournament. “Goblet” is obviously about far more than a shiny cup and a highly comical cast of competitors, but more about raging hormones and the lessons learned when dealing with reborn dark lords who lack noses. All sarcastic remarks aside, the question that most of the uninformed world should be wondering, however, is how the director of “Traffic” and “Donnie Brasco” can possibly convey these themes in a fantasy film directed towards a young adult crowd?
With only two and a half hours to present a 600-page book, British director Mike Newell had quite an obstacle to overcome. The only theme that Newell tends to stress the most is how to rush a book adaptation. The first 20 minutes of “Goblet” is horribly edited and will make no sense to anyone who has not read the book. Moreover, the last 20 minutes is a disaster and is rushed to the point where the climax and resolution pass by like a roller coaster that always ends before you have time to enjoy it. While it is obvious that the film needed to reflect the novel’s darker tone, hiring a director that has made a dark film here and there is not the answer to creating a film with a far more complex atmosphere than any other of Harry Potter’s fantasy tales. Many scenes feel quite awkward in their direction and tend to end rather abruptly and with no steady flow. Newell is also anti-CGI and hoped to bring more face to the film than had been present in the past. While the visuals had certainly lessened in “Goblet,” I am not so sure he had the time or the talent to truly portray the book’s emotional and human side.
The rising stars of the Harry Potter series continue to shine (and mature rapidly) allowing many of the weaknesses to stay well hidden. Daniel Radcliffe continues to portray the most popular young adult character with ease and it is always enjoyable seeing him bring Harry Potter to life with each new film. The interactions between Potters’ friends, Hermione and Ron played by Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, respectively, bring a hat trick of spirit to the film. Once again joining the cast in “Goblet” is Brendan Gleeson (The Village, Troy) who plays “Mad-Eye” Moody, a mysterious professor who acts as Harry’s coach during the tournament and brings a comical side to the film that seemed to work well with the audience. While the regular cast of Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Michael Gambon all make their appearances, the extra half hour that many fans desire would have certainly allowed more screen time for them to help bring the quality of acting in the adults to life. Instead, the overall combination of the actors felt like a Nickelodeon show rather than a steadily growing epic fantasy. For those wondering how the new pop culture dark lord turned out in human form, Ralph Fiennes, the actor who played the serial killer in “Red Dragon,” took the role of Voldemort in a rushed seven-minute scene and made a decently entertaining attempt at recreating “he-who-must-not-be-named.”
The most enjoyable part of “Goblet,” aside from its improvement in CGI and semi-captivating action sequences, is the growing amount of mature dialogue that is now becoming more appropriate as the characters grow up and the raging hormones progress. I always feared that the characters would always be portrayed as pure thinking fantasy teenage role models. “Goblet” assures the audience, however, that even teenage ghosts will inevitably be turned on to naked wizards and that everything in the following films will be different as the hormones consume the screen.
Aside from poor directing, editing and a lack of the usual cast screen time, the most depressing feature of “Goblet” is the removal of John Williams and his brilliant scores that he wrote for the past Harry Potter films. Instead, “Goblet” consists of a score that not only adds nothing to the film (a feature that could have helped greatly when trying to convey the same emotion from a 600-page book), but it also lacks a single moment where it stands out. I can name a hundred composers who are far better than the composer who did the “Bridget Jones Diary” soundtrack, the same composer that was hired for “Goblet.” Mr. Williams, while I know you cared so deeply about creating a beautiful soundtrack for “Memoirs of a Geisha,” if you had spent an hour on the score for “Goblet,” the film would have had a more meaningful impact.
I certainly do not want any fan of the series, whether hardcore or casual, to feel as though I hated “Goblet,” for that is most definitely not the case. I enjoyed the novels and have always had some form of enjoyment when watching the films (even at the midnight showings). However, as a film, “Goblet” is simply not the most appealing piece of work due to the fact that it is nearly impossible to take a sizable novel and conform it enough to fit into a measly two and a half hour film. The rushed experience that comes with the film adaptation shows a decline in quality since its predecessors in the series and will only prove to be a larger problem in the future with the longer novels. Warner Bros. needs to select the right director and provide the time needed for the next installment, or the words “rushed” and “Harry Potter” will soon become synonyms.
The Good: classic dialogue between characters stays true to the series, improved CGI action sequences, raging hormones; darker tone builds on the slowly climbing epic feel.
The Bad: First and last 20 minutes need more time and better editing; 600-page books tend not to convert well to short films; um, what happened to John Williams?
The Word on the Screen: B-