Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (review)

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Method Witchcraft

This Radcliffe kid, you have to wonder: does he have any idea? Does he look around every day at work and say to himself, “Holy crap, there’s Maggie Smith. That’s Michael Gambon. And they’re calling me to the set with Alan Rickman!” Or are they all just a few more annoying and clueless adults who make his teenage life a living hell?

I wonder partly because if he’s paying attention, he’s gonna have some incredible stories for his tell-all autobiography in 30 years, of one of two kinds: If he goes on to become a great and legendary actor as an adult, he will be able to wax rhapsodic about the master class he attended every day just by showing up on the set. If he takes the more clichéd route of other superfamous child actors — Drew Barrymore comes to mind — well, then he can tell us how he was terrorized by the Method practitioners unleashed upon him at a tender, vulnerable age.
Rickman, for instance, this time out is having way more fun than usual with Professor Snape — the Hogwarts teacher everyone loves to hate — literally rolling up his sleeves to bang student heads together: Harry (Radcliffe) and his best pal, Ron (Rupert Grint), take more than a couple knocks to the noggins, but it’s the glee with which Rickman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Love Actually) delivers those blows that is almost as disturbing as it is hilarious (maybe having all those hormonal teenagers around is driving the grownups on the set batty).

But Rickman’s got nothing on Ralph Fiennes, who is horrifyingly disgusting as Lord Voldemort, aka He Who Must Not Be Named, aka You Know Who. Which is at it should be: Voldemort is Darth Vader and Satan in one slithery package, and if he’s terrifying enough that the characters don’t even want to speak his name, then he should be, you know, terrifying. For the benefit of the two people on the planet who don’t know Harry’s story so far: Goblet of Fire is all about You Know Who bringing to fruition a major portion of his plan of revenge upon Harry, who managed to thwart the Dark Lord’s evil plans when he (Harry, that is) was just a baby. Now, when he gets his hands on the boy wizard, not to put too fine a point on it, he tortures Harry.

Oh, man, the finale of Goblet of Fire is absolutely unsettling, in a way that’ll have you squirming in your seat. Which is as it should be. But we’re just not used to seeing this onscreen, the torture of a child. And not to impugn young Mr. Radcliffe, who is surely at that age (15 when the movie was shot) when kids rankle at being called “children”… but I can’t even think of another film that puts a child in such dire straits as Harry sees here, the object of such personal animosity as what Voldemort aims at him. There is a level of horror operating here that raises this beyond escapist family fare and into the realm of cutting — heh — metaphor for teenhood: the agony of adolescence. Which is as things should be: it’s in keeping with the darkening tenor of Rowling’s novels and with the grim turn the last film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, took.

Not that Goblet is quite the dark phantasmagoria that Prisoner was. Director Mike Newell is in charge this time, and he doesn’t really do “dark” — he does stuff like Mona Lisa Smile and Four Weddings and a Funeral, making him perhaps the least likely director for the Harry movies so far. And there’s a lot that’s disconnected and disjointed in the muddled middle of Goblet — this is the Harry book that prompted speculation that it might have to be broken into two films to do it justice, and even with massive chunks excised, Goblet still runs close to three hours. For all the startling and delightful bits that remain — the carnival atmosphere of the Quidditch World Cup lends a genuine sense of the wizarding world in all its diversity; there’s a battle between Harry and a dragon that is stunning; and in addition to having to face dragons and Dark Lords, Harry and Ron are discovering the scariest creatures of all: girls — most of the characters other than Harry do suffer a bit from dramatic malnourishment. As a consequence, there is less distraction than there was in the book from the fact that Voldemort’s convoluted scheming is pointless: he could have gotten to Harry through methods a helluva lot easier than what he goes through here.

But that ending… whew. Nightmarish. It’ll stick with you. And if Radcliffe goes off the deep end in a few years — or wins an Oscar in 2034 — we’ll know it stuck with him, too.

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