Harry Potter on Film: ‘The Goblet of Fire’ As Time Goes On

Harry Potter’ as a story on film turned 20 on November 14th, 2021. I’ve grappled with my relationship with this story. In 2005, This world felt like it was transforming, and now, on 4K Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range, I‘m continuing to revisit this fantasy to see whether it lives beyond the real-world problems surrounding it and explore how we might, as consumers, change the way we think about sharing stories that matter to us.

“This dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one. In light of recent events, the bonds of friendship we made this year will be more important than ever.” (Michael Gambon as Dumbledore)

Mike Newell was the director brought in after studios decided not to split ‘Goblet of Fire’ into two movies. He attempted to follow the vision set by Alfonso Cuaron, but between the script needing to streamline a bulky narrative and the distinct difference in function of this story, Newell had a difficult task of balancing fan expectations, carrying forward the story set-up, honoring the tone of the larger-than life gaming events of the “Triwizard Tournament” in contrast with the festering rebirth of evil that haunts the dreams of the protagonist, and continuing to set-up a future of success for the following chapters.  

Film grain and inky black bleed into the film’s opening, but in 4K, as the lead characters are reintroduced and attend a wizarding-sport celebration, colors are DISTINCT in a way that changes the tone from previous viewings, in my opinion for the better. Through the first act of the movie, HDR allows the brighter parts of the world and story to contrast with the darker. However, by the time the titular goblet is introduced, most sets are rainy or over-cast, and from that point things retain blue-gray overtones as one would be familiar with previous releases of the movie. 

There are choices made in the sound design and music composure that cause this to feel ominous and, in some cases, mysterious. For example, familiar choices to use music cues to show time passing or re-establish locations like Hogwarts are abandoned in favor of thematic cues to direct tonal shifts from threats to romance. Often times no music is playing while character’s interact, which is an unfamiliar sensation after three installments underscored by John Williams (Patrick Doyle composed for this movie).

‘Goblet of Fire,’ despite a strong singular story surrounding the Triwizard Tournament, is the first ‘Harry Potter’ movie that cannot stand on its own. If other entries are discounted Harry is introduced with Ron’s family and his is never discussed until his parents suddenly appear towards the end. After being attacked by dark wizards, the main characters are suddenly on a train to a boarding school. On its own, it would be a magic world one would have to accept works by magic with no more specified rules than it just being a story about a fantasy-based tournament and a continually growing presence of evil. 

Harry’s dreams and the Riddle house tease concepts and approaches one might take to “Order of the Phoenix” and elements like the Riddle House in “Half-Blood Prince,” but it’s hard to be excited for that future when distracted by pacing issues.

Consistent, thick snow-fall precedes the Yule Ball, then characters are still dressed for cold when Hermione notes it is two days prior to the Second (Lake) Task. After this task, while walking in a forest, Harry finds Barty Crouch dead. He visits Dumbledore, sees into the Pensive, and is pulled aside by Snape on the way back from this encounter, all on this one day. 

Then we cut immediately to the Third (Maze) Task. By the editing language, the third task is only as far from the second as it would take for Harry’s injuries from creatures below the lake would take to heal (it’s the only visual indicator of time passing). A year passes without seeing much of anything beyond the tournament, giving a shorter runtime than ‘Chamber of Secrets’ to a book over twice the length of that installment.

A scene could’ve shown time passing while resolving conflict between Ron and Hermione, since after the ball she’s left crying on Hogwarts steps and they simply continue to see each other with no resolution. It could also address Ron and Hermione’s interest in information learned by Harry or developed Harry and Ron’s relationship over Harry’s fears (Ron, directed to play more resentful and angry much like Hermione in ‘Azkaban,’ delves into a sort of resentment of Harry’s fame, but it’s never mentioned again after the First (Dragon) Task).

I do have to mention one book-based gripe to account for personal bias. The dragon challenge is directed very well, but in the book, once Harry has his broom, he shows a surprising amount of talent and so he completes the task.

In the film, the dragon breaks its restraints, which, by all visual indicators, makes this no longer a task within reason or the rules established. Nonetheless, the teachers and game-runner, Barty Crouch, literally stare at the sky rather than transport to help in any way. How long would they have sat before going to look for Harry’s body? It changes an arc, developed in the book, away from Harry seeing his potential as a wizard before falling out of his depth by the third act.

The Triwizard Tournament is referred to as a sporting event, but across its three tasks, Harry fights a dragon mostly away from people, they’re under a lake for the second, and no one can see inside the maze for the third. Harry also doesn’t dance after the Yule Ball begins, making this potentially most boring spectator-sport in the history of time, in-universe.

People criticize the focus on humor and romance in “Half-Blood Prince”- and while in this movie it is compartmentalized to a chapter surrounding the Yule ball, it’s still a fundamental part of the relationships and story and handled with a similar level of competence. I don’t feel this meshes tonally with the story being told, but it serves to have the characters grow and feel alive. 

Additional odd moments:

Angelina Johnson’s dazed look when Hermione is exasperated over Harry and Ron ending their fight

Nigel (an original character, for some reason) is promised an autograph from Harry by Ron… who is supposed to be resenting Harry’s fame.

Fred and George trying to say “Babbling Bumbling band of baboons” five times fast

-Harry reads the Daily Prophet and we hear Rita Skeeter voice-over. It is unclear if the paper reads to Harry or if he just imagines her screaming when he discards it. 

-Harry’s nod when Ron says “you know how I like it when they walk.”

-“Sharp,” candy from Dumbledore.

-Harry referring to Pettigrew as “Wormtail” despite that not being clarified in ‘Azkaban’.

Voldemort referring to Pettigrew as Wormtail despite that being an affectionate name from his friends who are Voldemort’s enemies.

-Harry shouting “expelliarmus,” for a red special effect to be cast at Voldemort, yet Dumbledore shouts the same spell towards “Mad-Eye Moody”/ Barty Crouch Jr. and the original special effect from ‘Chamber of Secrets’ is used.)

The new cast includes complex additions. Brendan Gleeson embodies Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody through a weird dynamic of being another character trapped inside one being newly introduced. The movie still finds room to let secondary/background characters shine (Neville, Krum, Moaning Myrtle, Voldemort, Cedric– even Harry’s Parents, who speak to him for the first time). These moments do help the world to feel lived in if you know who these people are.

Barry Crouch’s (Roger Lloyd Pack) role is unclear. He seems to be security at the opening ‘World Cup,’ but provides game rules for the Triwizard Tournament, then is a judge at Igor Karkaroff’s trial when Harry views Dumbledore’s memory. Miranda Richardson performs Rita Skeeter as just shy of annoying and doesn’t serve much of a function beyond pushing Harry towards fame he doesn’t want.

Gary Oldman briefly returns as Sirius Black, trying to play a support role, but comes off as more of a harbinger of doom. His fireplace-head appears nonsensical considering no rules are explained for the audience (But hey…magic.). Alan Rickman gives a more subtle performance in his overarching story, showing some minimal concern for Harry’s life while contemplating having to return to a position the audience will never know in this movie alone. Michael Gambon almost infamously appears as “angry” Dumbledore, yet he still expresses a distressed wearied mentor grasping at hope.

Ralph Fiennes lives up to the reputation set by other performances in past movies (references, fear, etc.) and I have to say despite many flaws, the climax of this movie carries a lot of emotional weight, with Harry stepping out in a way he will eventually mirror in ‘Deathly Hallows pt2’, “Priori Incantatem,” and the most successful use of music as Harry speaks to his parents for the first time.

As a building block it’s still fun to see the world and representations of magic shift. From Hermione fixing Harry’s glasses to the regrowth of Voldemort’s body, there has been a growing distinction between the charm of magic and darker visions of sorcery. In-universe, adult jobs explored for the audience here (Aurors, wizarding journalists, etc.) and in exploring fantasies suited for older audiences, the franchise aged with it’s protagonists, and with a generation now following the franchise for at least four years on film.

If the first three ‘Potter’ films function as a trilogy based around Harry discovering this world and his roots in it, this is about establishing the evil that has been present and what that threat means. ‘Goblet of Fire’ stands as a singular second act, with the third being the conflict resounding in secret then in the open through the last four installments.

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all make the choice between what is right, and what is easy.” (-Michael Gambon as Dumbledore)

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is a movie directed at families and action-adventure or fantasy enthusiasts. It touches on important formative experiences a person has growing older (encounters with death, learning about the world outside of the one in which you grew up, etc.)  and serves as an ominous yet hopeful chapter encouraging those that feel overwhelmed by hatred and evil that change is a truth of the world. Whatever J.K. Rowling believes, she has continued to provide a story that has helped more than one generation understand the functions of prejudice and the importance of looking past who someone seems to be at face-value.

A 2012/2014 research study even found reading passages from Harry Potter helped their sample reduce prejudiced responses:

If readers of this article can explore lending copiesbuying second-hand (assuming not from an illegal vendor), and sharing with those who may be interested (streaming parties, etc.), This isn’t the most thoroughly enjoyable movie in the series but has its unique take on the characters and is a fixture of the story unlike any other chapter, and I WOULD recommend seeing this in 4K based on a few benefits from the HDR that give some color back to this story.

(This series is intended to review the Harry Potter movies as pieces resulting from collaborations between artists and commercial stakeholders. If you’re still grappling with your relationship to this fandom, I welcome you to explore many supportive sources of information online (Particularly Lindsay Ellis’ commentary on “death of the author” and Ms. Rowling’s platform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NViZYL-U8s0)

You can also read more about the study that claimed reading ‘Harry Potter’ reduces prejudice here:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201505/does-reading-harry-potter-books-reduce-prejudice)

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