4/15/10

R099 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

(2005, Fantasy, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

When will he learn that everything—EVERYTHING—in Hogwarts will try to kill you and send you to hell.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell:


Harry Potter gets inducted into a dangerous wizard game.

Summary:

Diggory looks a little freaked out, there.Before we get into the summary proper I ought to note that, while the Harry Potter novels have been creeping upwards in length since the beginning, book four is the first one large enough to kill you if it fell from the top shelf onto your head. And, since you tend to lose the valuable cusp-of-puberty audience somewhere just after hour two, the filmmakers didn’t get any extra running time to smooth the transition from page to screen. Basically, if you haven’t read the series up to and including this point, you haven’t got a prayer of following it.

(I’m assuming you’re already familiar with Mr. Potter’s previous exploits, but if you aren’t, reading my reviews of the previous films in the series might help a little. Probably not very much, though. Either way, let’s press on.)

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) skips the dreary and up-to-this-point obligatory Dursley section to hang out with his terminally whimsical friends the Weasleys. This lasts for about three seconds before they’re whisked away to the World Cup of Quidditch via magical shoe. The game gets a terrific buildup in the stands, and then we shift forward in time to a gang of Death Eaters (i.e. Voldemort followers) breaking up the afterparty with a heavy metal tattoo design in the sky.

Shift forward again to Hogwarts. It’s time to host the prestigious Tri-Wizard Tournament, a dangerous contest of magical daring pitting one representative from each of the three major wizard schools against each other. No one under the age of seventeen is allowed to enter, with spells enacted to enforce this decree. On the appointed day, the eponymous Goblet of Fire selects the contestants. From Hogwarts, the fey but manly Cedric (a pre-vampire Robert Pattinson). From Beauxbatons, the flirty French Fleur. From Durmstrang, the fur-swaddled, square-headed Viktor. Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) starts to congratulate the selected competitors, but the goblet spits out an unexpected fourth name. No points will be awarded for guessing whose.

Before he learned the Bodyglitterus spell.Harry’s in trouble instantly, as there’s supposed to be only one Hogwarts competitor, and besides, he’s underage. Harry doesn’t know how his name got in there, and doesn’t want to participate, but the rules are clear (to someone, somewhere). Like it or not, he’s a contestant.

This leads to friction among his friends and a fall from grace at the school, as everyone assumes he cheated to get in. Somewhere around the middle of the first contest everyone just sort of forgets about this while Harry battles a dragon for a golden egg. He wins, of course, and survives some teenage melodrama at a school dance to move on to the second contest. This involves swimming underwater for an hour to rescue his friends from merpeople. Someone gets murdered and a crazy new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody) runs amok, but it’s not enough to put off the third and final contest—a footrace through a vicious, animate hedge maze.

Cedric and Harry fight off the bushes and the bewitched Viktor to make it to the final cup together. Turns out it’s a teleportation device to a graveyard, where Harry’s longtime nemesis Voldemort (now played by Ralph Fiennes) murders Cedric and captures Harry. Voldemort uses Harry’s blood to help him come completely back to life. Harry duels Voldemort and wins with the help of some poorly explained ghosts. He seizes the cup and drags Cedric’s body back to Dumbledore, where it we learn that the whole contest was a plot to lure Harry to the graveyard, masterminded by Mad-Eye, who isn’t really Mad-Eye but an impostor, yada, yada, rapeta, etc. On to part five!

Thoughts:

Features more dragons than Eragon and D-War combined.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire marks an interesting shift in the tone of the series. Up to now, it’s been whimsy with the occasional touch of desperation. By the end of Goblet of Fire, it’s mainly desperation, with only an occasional touch of whimsy. I’m still not sure how J.K. Rowling managed to attract so many readers with her magical schoolboy adventures, but the way she nailed us all to the floor with the dangerous quest to save the world was frightfully effective. Here’s a woman who knows how to keep an audience.

There are a few things you need to know going into the movie. Well, okay, there are a whole friggin’ lot of things you need to know going into this movie, but the vast majority of them are covered with the phrase, “read the books first”. As a film it’s fragmented, disjointed, full of ridiculous declarations and illogical plot developments. Why build up the Quidditch match so much just to leave the whole thing out? Weren’t there easier ways to get hold of Harry than to help him win a dangerous contest? What did the dance have to do with anything? Granted, many of these problems come directly from the novel, but fleshed-out characters and interesting subplots make the written version more appetizing. It’s when the movie strips the plot down to its bare bones that things stop making sense.

You don’t need to have read the books to enjoy the Rifftrax, though. A brief shot of the Weasley’s magical home inspires Kevin’s, “That house is so whimsical, I could actually fart rainbows.” At one point Dumbledore cries, “The school isn’t safe anymore!” “When was it ever?” Bill replies. When an obnoxious reporter joins the rest of the school in making light of Harry’s skill and achievements when compared with the other contestants, Mike shouts, “I HAVE SAVED THE SCHOOL THREE TIMES!” No one can resist referencing Twilight whenever Cedric appears; when he’s introduced, they yell, “Aaagh! Undead! Let’s fall in love with it! Aaagh!” With so many incongruent bits of whimsy and despair crowding each other to get screen time between plot holes, there’s never a moment that doesn’t have something to mock, and the riffers take full advantage.