Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Directed by: Mike Newell
Rating: Spellbinding

734 pages. 734 pages and the girl that went to the movies with us actually complains that they left stuff out. leo tolstoy's 'war and peace' is 1392 pages long, and the film version with audrey hepburn and henry fonda ran a lean 208 min. (or 3 hours and 28 min.) so if 'harry potter and the goblet of fire' is 734 pages long and the movie ran for a 157 min. (or 2 hours and 37 min.) then mike newell and the team that created the latest potter film did a hell of a better job of being true to the source material than is even within the realm of imagination for vidor's 'war and peace.' its exactly this sort of infantile criticism (coming from a woman over the age of 25 oddly) that any director tackling previously written material faces, especially material as fanatically revered and loved as the potter franchise. alfonse cuaron's interpretation of the third book, 'harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban,' finally made the films feel as magical as the novels. newell's film feels much different than 'azkaban,' not because it fails to capture the spirit of the books, in fact it succeeds admirably in this respect, but because he plays to his strengths as a director much as cuaron did before him.
many years ago newell directed a small romantic comedy called 'four weddings and a funeral' and then followed that three years later with a mob suspense film, 'donnie brasco.' oddly, it seems to be these two films that help newell shape 'goblet of fire.' j.k. rowling's fourth book is a sprawling mix of coming-of-age romance, tense suspense, and moments of incredible violence. in 'four weddings' newell captured the ups and downs of being single a bit too late in your life. taking great care with the younger actors in his cast, newell gives visual form to the achingly funny moments of adolescense that rowling so astutely observes in her books: boys are infuriating, girls are confounding, and no matter how simple our english is with each other we will never, ever understand what the opposite sex really means. being a teenager is, above all else, immensely confusing and newell strikes a delicate balance of humor and keen emotional insight in these scenes.
the other part of the film, and the one of ultimate importance to the rowling's overarching story and to harry potter fans the world around, is the resurrection of lord voldemort. here, in an attempt to streamline the story and make it fit the parameters of a feature length film, newell does in fact leave out much detail; tinkering to the point of removing characters and reinterpreting scenes to fit his narrative (something he was forced to do with characters based on real, living people in 'donnie brasco.') amazingly, none of this takes away from the lurking, unavoidable sense of dread that rowling creates in the book (as a very vocal fan of the potter novels, i accept all the criticism of fanboys and fangirls out there with this statement: get over it, newell did what he had to do.) once ralph fiennes finally enters the scene as lord voldemort once again given physical form, the film crackles with searing energy and life. fiennes looks like a fully paralyzed man given the ability to move again, stretching his skin and cracking his unused, withered bones. even though he's only in the film for roughly 20 min., fiennes gives a delicious wicked taste of the evil we're in store for.
overall the cast impresses. surrounding the young stars of the film with experienced, talented actors like brendan gleeson (who gives a wild, manic, inspired performance as mad-eye moody) , michael gambon, maggie smith, and fiennes; is the best acting education these relatively unexperienced actors can receive. daniel radcliffe, rupert grint, and emma watson have obviously learnt a lot in the past four years and they do an excellent job of carrying and conveying the emotional weight of the events occurring around them. hermione granger says at the end of the film, 'everything's going to change now, isn't it?' if 'goblet of fire' is any indication of the growth and change of the franchise from film to film, i can't wait for 'harry potter and the order of the phoenix.'


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