I’m a Harry Potter geek. There’s no way around it, that’s what I am: an absolute Harry Potter geek. I’ve read each of the books at least twice. I’ve had serious adult conversations about matters of plot and characterization. I’ve held up the series as a classic of modern fantasy world building. I’m really far too into them for my own good, so it probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I hated the movie version of Goblet of Fire.
And the previews looked so good! Really, I had high hopes. I thought the previous three movies were all about the same: visually stunning, but weak adaptations of a fantastic story. I couldn’t quite imagine anyone who hadn’t read the books enjoying them. But the previews and the buzz for GoF were so exciting, I thought there was a possibily this might actually be a good movie.
I should say that I understand that there’s no way everything from the book could make it into the movie. I don’t demand that a movie adaption be perfectly faithful to the original text, and when the original text is 600+ pages long, I think it’s a laudable feat to reduce it to 180 minute movie.
Some of the cuts were regrettable but understandable. Winky the house elf was gone, as was Bertha Jorkins. Ludo Bagman is gone, and some aspects of his character are folded into Barty Crouch. No Winky means no Top Box, no Percy Weasley, no S.P.E.W. To explain Barty Crouch, Jr., the filmmakers inserted him into the first scene with Wormtail and Voldemort at the old Riddle place, which was pretty clever, because otherwise he would have made no sense, but the loss of Bagman and the compression of the Pensieve scenes made Crouch, Sr. a very confusing character. (And also I guess Junior just escaped from Azkaban on his own? Somehow? Whatever.)
The Dursleys don’t make an appearance, so we don’t get the scene with the Weasleys trying to use Floo Powder to get to Privet Drive. (Alas!) The Knockturn Alley episode is cut. (Fine.) Most of the Quidditch World Cup itself is gone, although we do get a cool shot of the inside of the Weasley’s tent. Because there’s no Winky, the whole bit where it’s Harry’s wand that’s used to cast the Dark Mark is gone. In fact, Barty Crouch, Jr’s whole motivation is changed. In the book, he casts the Dark Mark to frighten the Death Eaters, who he considers to be insufficiently loyal to Voldemort. In the movie, he does it because he’s eeevil. Lip-lickingly evil. (Acting!)
To make the movie a reasonable length, just about everything other than the Tri-wizard tasks was cut from the Hogwarts school year, and that’s a shame but understandable. It made for a bit of an odd moment where, in the scene immediately following the first task, Hermione is already hectoring Harry about whether or not he’s made any progress with his egg, but whatever. Let’s call it brisk pacing.
Sirius Black is almost entirely absent from the movie. Since we didn’t learn about Floo Powder, there’s an (admittedly pretty cool) different way that Sirius talks to Harry from the fire in the Gryffindor common room. Charlie and Bill Weasley aren’t in the movie, nor is Mrs. Weasley, so they aren’t there at the end to join in the council in the hospital wing.
In fact, the council in the hospital wing doesn’t happen at all! And while the cuts listed above are disappointing, but understandable, it’s hard to excuse some other things. Crouch, Jr. isn’t killed by a dementor. Dumbledore doesn’t have his falling out with Fudge: there is no “parting of the ways.” Instead, they have a seemingly minor argument over the discovery of Crouch, Sr.’s body instead (which happens after the second task), even though his body isn’t found in the book. (It has to be found in the movie, because there’s no Winky subplot, but it’s still weird, because even after Crouch is found dead, nothing much seems to happen as a result. It’s not remarked upon again.) Dumbledore’s instructions to Snape and Hagrid don’t happen, and Sirius isn’t revealed to Snape and the Weasleys. These last few omissions are going to cascade into plot problems for the subsequent movies: will there be a mission to the giants? Will there be Grawp? What about Snape’s double-agent status in Half Blood Prince?
I get the sense there may have been a much better movie on the cutting-room floor (or whatever the digital equivalent of that is). There are too many elements that are set up, but don’t pay off. Take Rita Skeeter, for example. She’s a truly hateful and annoying character in GoF, probably second only to Umbridge for the title of “Most Annoying Harry Potter Character” but at least she serves a purpose in the book. She turns the wizarding world against Harry by spreading the rumor that he’s crazy. She “outs” Hagrid as being half-giant. She even causes some fleeting tension between Hermione and Mrs. Weasley by insinuating that she and Harry are romantically involved. And eventually, Hermione discovers Rita’s secret and forces her to quit writing about Harry. This is the conduit for Harry’s story getting told (properly) in Order of the Phoenix. Rita’s a pivotal character, but I can understand why one might have to cut her from the movie. I fully expected her to be cut from the movie.
But she’s not cut from the movie! Instead, we get the setup for two of her plot points: she writes a story about Harry’s glory-grabbing ways, and the story about Harry and Hermione. And that’s it! She, and her writing, are never mentioned again. Why bother even having her in the movie? Why have a meaningful cutaway to her, scribbling away at Karkaroff’s trial, in the Pensieve? Her character serves no purpose in the movie except for some light comic relief. I get that Mike Newell likes Miranda Richardson, but… Rita should have been cut in favor of some scenes that made the plot make any damn sense at all.
The Tri-Wizard tournament itself didn’t quite deliver, since the filmmakers eliminated the monetary prize. That pretty thoroughly muddled the Weasley kids’ motivation for entering the tournament. And since Harry didn’t win a prize, he couldn’t give it to Fred and George, which means there will be no Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in the next movie.
Then there were some weird changes from the book. The most notable was the Yule Ball, and the way the movie dialed up the Ron/Hermione relationship a few notches higher than the book did. I get it, it’s a movie. Moviegoers like a romantic subplot. But Hermione’s angsty flounce after the dance was much weaker (and lamer) than the superior snit she throws in the book.
Worse was the end of the third task: in the book Harry saves Cedric from Krum, who’s been bewitched by the Imperius Curse to attack him. Feeling indebted to Harry for saving him from being tortured, Cedric offers to let him take the cup first and they end up agreeing to take it together. In the movie, Cedric gets away from Krum on his own, and Harry saves him from some of the maze brambles, which are part of the task! Did Harry save him because, I don’t know, he decided he didn’t want to win? The brambles aren’t fatal; they got Fleur and she popped up out the maze just fine. So why did Harry feel obligated to help his competitor? The motivation is all screwed up.
The most unforgivable failing of the movie, however, is Albus Dumbledore. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Dumbledore is my favorite character in the books. His wisdom, sense of humor, his obvious love for Harry and all of students, and his disdain for undeserved authority are what make Dumbledore, well, Dumbledore. Michael Gambon (and probably Mike Newell) don’t get it. Throughout the entire movie, Dumbledore is angry, desperate, and shrill, not at all the whimsical, supremely confident, and gentle man from the books. After Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, Gambon’s Dumbledore charges Harry, and shakes him, demanding to know if Harry put his own name into the goblet. Dumbledore laying hands on one of his students? Ridiculous. Gambon spends the entire movie running from place to place and shouting, which is the opposite of Dumbledore. In the book, Dumbledore raises his voice once — once that I can think of in the entire series! — to chastize Hagrid for losing his temper and assaulting Karkaroff after they discover that Krum has been stunned by the forest. It’s powerful because it’s the first time we’ve ever seen Dumbledore lose his composure. In the movie, he shouts for silence and waves his arms around so much, it’s a wonder anyone listens to him.
And it’s not just seeing a beloved character misinterpreted that upsets me. The audience is cheated out of one of the most spine-tingling moments in the series. When fake-Moody has Harry up in his office after the graveyard, Harry sees Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape in the Foe-glass (another setup with no payoff in the movie!) and then whirls around to see the trio break down the door, Dumbledore with his wand outstretched. Harry thinks to himself that for the first time, he realizes why Dumbledore was the only wizard Voldemort was ever afraid of. The scene, as written, is practically cinematic already. It took effort and creativity to screw it up.
Obviously, I thought Gambon was a disaster as Dumbledore. The other casting seems pretty good, although Viktor Krum was perhaps a bit too handsome. His gawky, uncomfortable character in the book was jettisoned in favor of making him a chiselled bad-ass. I guess that made him a better movie-rival for Harry in the tournament. Robert Pattinson was cast perfectly as Cedric Diggory. My wife, who is apparently dead inside, confessed that she was unmoved by Cedric’s death in the book, but the movie version got to her.
The kids, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, do a fabulous job. Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman do what they can with their (too-small) roles, and do it well. Ralph Fiennes was a little prancy, for my taste, as Voldemort (I always pictured He Who Must Not Be Named being a bit more…. Palpatine, circa Return of the Jedi) but definitely brought the evil. He’ll be a worthy villain in the future.
Anyway. It’s a spectacle, to be sure, but if you love the books, it will make you sad. Save your money: rent the DVD, read the books.