Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire marks a major turning point in the Harry Potter series, and that goes for both the movies and the books. With the books, from this point on every entry is significantly longer than the first three. In fact, Goblet of Fire is the second longest book in the series. As such, this is the point where each movie needs to make significant cuts to even fit everything into a single movie. This is also the first movie in the series to not feature John Williams on the soundtrack, and it immediately shows with a clearly different style. Chris Columbus, director of the first two movies, is also not involved with this one on any level (after helping produce the previous movie). It’s also the last movie in the series to not be directed by David Yates, who takes over from Order of the Phoenix and on.
Perhaps most importantly, this is the first PG-13 movie in the series.
After Alfonso Cuaron announced that Prisoner of Azkaban would be his only Potter film, they hired Mike Newell as the director for Goblet of Fire. Interestingly enough, he’s actually the first British director to work on the series (Columbus is American and Cuaron is Mexican). Steve Kloves, the writer for every movie up to this point, commented that “we always thought it would be two movies, but we could never figure out a way to break it into two. So it will be a different experience from the book.”
Like Cuaron, Newell hadn’t read any of the books before signing on as the director. In fact, he hadn’t even watched the earlier movies. Cuaron had to encourage him to watch at least the first 40 minutes of the third movie. Newell often commented in interviews that the book was long, just falling short of complaining about it. Newell does have some great directing credits behind him, but when you hear about that, it puts into question the wisdom of hiring him as a director. Apparently, he was mildly annoyed after seeing Prisoner of Azkaban. He originally hoped to make this a groundbreaking entry in the series with a significantly darker, more serious movie, but found that Cuaron had already done that with Prisoner of Azkaban. So instead, he filmed most of the movie in the complete opposite direction – a comedy. It’s almost as if he wanted to compete with the other directors, instead of working off of them.
Some of this is speculation, but that is the general impression I get from his behind the scenes interviews. There was also a concerning comment from Producer David Heyman, saying that Newell almost thought of this project as a Bollywood movie.
Anyway, this movie used many of the same sets as the previous entries. Along with some of the new set pieces are the grounds for each of the Triwizard Tournament tasks. There’s a rock quarry where each of the competitors take on a dragon, complete with wooden stands that somewhat resemble the coliseum in shape and size, and is among the biggest sets they ever built for this series. They had to build it in two major sections to fit it inside the studio. The underwater task was filmed with a blue screen built into a tank holding “about half a million gallons of water.” The hedge maze task featured actual hedge walls ranging from 20 to 40 feet high. They would later be enhanced with CGI.
New cast members include Robert Pattison as the Hogwarts champion Cedric Diggory. He’s charismatic in the role, and shows a fairly impressive range for a relatively minor character. You also have David Tennant as one of Voldemort’s most faithful Death Eaters. He’s not on screen much, but he’s entertainingly sadistic when he is. And last but not least, the movie introduces Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort himself. Several other actors took on the role in the past, but Fiennes takes over for the rest of the series. He isn’t in this movie that much though, so I’ll talk more about his performance when we get to the next movie.
With John Williams gone due to a very busy schedule in 2005 that included Revenge of the Sith, Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich, Patrick Doyle took over. Doyle’s soundtrack is still good, and some of his other works include Thor, Brave and Cinderella (2010). He’s still very good with the general fantasy themes of Harry Potter, but it switches the general feel of wonder for a more straightforward, mood based sound. Sometimes it feels like the soundtrack fades into the background, and there are other times where the movie goes more for atmospheric sounds rather than sticking with a soundtrack. In some sequences that’s a very good thing, but the end result isn’t as memorable as the masterpieces we got from the first and third movies.
Trying to fill the shoes of Williams is incredibly difficult, and Doyle did more than a good enough job.
With the crew compressing a 636 page book into a single movie, changes are obviously necessary. However ever since I read the books, I’m not convinced they did a great job in this case. The previous three movies perfectly captured the mystery elements of the Harry Potter books. The fourth book is known to have seven major mysteries, four of which are tied to the previously mentioned loyal servant of Voldemort’s. Three of these seven mysteries can easily be removed due to time constraints (what happened to Bertha Jorkins, How did Rita Skeeter get her stories, and who were Fred and George blackmailing). That still leaves four potential mysteries for the movie, three of which are directly connected to each other.
1 – Who put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire?
2 – Who cast the dark mark?
3 – Was Barty Crouch Jr. guilty of the crimes he was sentenced to Azkaban for?
4 – Who murdered the Riddles?
The movie pretty much ruins 2 and 3 before they’re even mysteries. You see exactly who cast the dark mark, and a flashback to Jr.’s trial scene immediately answers number 3. In the book, it’s suggested that Jr. died in Azkaban years ago, which casts further doubt that he could be involved. The movie gives it away way too early to anyone who actually pays attention. As for #4, it’s not even touched on. In other words, the only mystery that actually plays out in the movie is #1. They did a pretty good job with that one though, even adding an extra line that wasn’t in the book that works in the movie’s favour.
There were other changes that Newell wanted to do, but wasn’t allowed to touch on. For the dragon task, he wanted to burn down the entire forbidden forest. Seeing how the forbidden forest continues to have important scenes for the rest of the series, of course they said no.
Another controversial change is the third task. In the book, the hedge maze is filled with magical creatures. One forces the contestants to answer a riddle in order to pass, while the others require the use of spells and with to pass through. Harry spends months practicing new magical skills in order to prepare for this task, and it’s a major reason why he becomes such a skilled duelist by the end of the series. This could have easily been touched on with a short training montage. Instead, the movie features a maze that itself is alive. It adds a psychological angle to a major scene where it didn’t belong. Personally I don’t mind all that much, but I do like the sound of Harry using a variety of spells to fight his way through the maze. It probably would have been less expensive as well.
One particularly weird change had to do with the other two schools. The movie’s main story focuses on a tournament between three schools of magic, where each school has one champion. In the movie, one of the other schools is an all-girl’s school, while the other is an all-boy’s school. That’s not the case in the books at all. Both other schools have male and female students. It’s not really worth complaining about, but it is a head scratcher.
But perhaps the most controversial change that actually did make it into the movie involves Dumbledore. All you need to do is google “Dumbledore asked calmly” to understand. Generally speaking, Dumbledore is supposed to be level headed, calm, and wise. There are multiple points in this movie where he uncharacteristically loses his cool. The worst example is when he bursts into a room and kind of shoves Harry while shouting “Did you put your name in the goblet of fire?” A lot of fans of the books hated that moment.
There is one scene towards the end of the book where Dumbledore does show his wrathful side, when he barges in to confront Jr. When you read the book on its own, that moment has a huge impact, seeing how Dumbledore is pretty much always calm before that. But when he spends most of this movie being shouty and angry, it loses whatever impact that scene should have had.
Anyway, of all the Harry Potter movies, this is the one where my opinion has changed the most. I very much enjoyed it the first time I watched it. It is an entertaining movie – perhaps the most entertaining of the series. That said, it’s the worst movie in the series from a mystery standpoint, as it spoils almost everything way too early. As funny as the comedy is, it sometimes distracts from the character drama. As much as this is a complex story that had to be cut down a lot, it sometimes feels like a jumbled mess with too many tone shifts. Most of the major supporting characters are reduced to bit parts. I do still like this movie, but not nearly as much as I did the first time.
The Goblet of Fire set a number of records upon its release in November of 2005, including best opening weekend in the UK with 14.9 million pounds (Quantum of Solace broke that record in 2008). Its $102 million opening weekend was the highest earning November debut in North America, up until The Twilight Saga: New Moon in 2009. That was also a franchise record for its opening weekend until Deathly Hallows Part 1. Overall, it earned $896 million worldwide, making it the highest earning movie of 2005 and at the time, the eighth highest earning movie in history.
It also received positive critical reception, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 88% and an average score of 7.4/10. A number of critics praised the movie for its humour mixed with its overall dark tone. Variety particularly praised Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as Harry Potter for delivering a “dimensional and nuanced performance.” Critics also praised how the core trio clearly matured into teenagers for the movie. Some critics reviewed the movie negatively however. The Arizona Republic described the movie as “far too episodic”, while CNN called it “clunky and disjointed”.
The movie was nominated for Best Art Direction at the Academy Awards, which it lost to Memoirs of a Geisha. It won the Best Production Design award at the BAFTAs, making it the first Harry Potter movie to win an award there. It also won the Choice Movie Drama award at the Teen Choice Awards, and the Blimp Award for Favourite Movie at the 2006 Kids’ Choice Awards.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is definitely not a perfect adaptation, and one could easily argue that Newell should have taken the source material more seriously. That said, it is still a good movie overall. The character drama with the main trio works well, even if it feels rushed in places. It’s still a compelling story, even if it loses significant mystery elements in the process. It’s probably the funniest movie in the series. And the graveyard scene where Voldemort returns is pretty much perfect. And for me personally, I’d say it’s a middle of the road Harry Potter movie. Considering how great this series is overall, even a middle of the road Harry Potter movie is definitely worth watching.
Next up is my personal favourite movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I plan on getting through all of the Harry Potter movies, along with the first two Fantastic Beasts movies, but I’m strongly considering doing a Sean Connery month after that. With his recent passing, it just feels right. I’d look at a couple of his best movies, and just for fun, some of his weirdest.