Harry Potter Retrospective Part IV: Gobbling Up Fire

With their fourth year, the awkward stages of puberty are hitting Harry Potter and his fellow Hogwarts students pretty hard. Sweaty nightmare fueled sleeps, having to go to school dances and dealing with magical hate groups are on their trail, as is the case with most teens. Of course, nothing complicates matters most than something like a Tri-Wizard Tournament, a massive globe trotting competition that pits hormonal teen against hormonal teen in radical examples of putting children in danger. Yes, if Dementors and werwolf teachers weren’t enough, Hogwarts is pitting children against merpeople, dragons and each other all at the same time.

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The Tri-Wizard Tournament is obviously a means to an end in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This isn’t too outside the realm of Potter, given how every plot so far has eventually circled back to a big mystery. While expanding the scope of the universe, it also serves as a backdrop for the standard Harry Potter mystery. Not a bad backdrop, especially with its own not-so-subtle commentary on the distraction of sports from major issues that are right under our noses. As everyone is distracted by spectacle, Harry comes to the realization that not everything is fine under the surface of competition. Right from the start of traveling from the Portkey to the Quidditch World Cup that’s interrupted by Death Eaters, we get a larger sense of Wizard World culture’s darker underbelly. It’s even more apparent in the fallout, particularly with the Death Eaters being brushed to the side as quickly as possibly by the Ministry and replaced with the sensationalist journalism of Rita Skeeter. It removes another layer of this universe, showing a more psychological manipulation that’s taken over, especially with these children who are put on a pedestal as large as the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

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The trouble is that we really don’t get much about these kids participating in the tournament beyond Harry. Sure, we get Harry’s exposition motivated interactions with Cedric Diggory. We get Hermione having some kind of side relationship with Krum. We have Ron’s schoolboy fascination with Fleur Delacour. However, none of that really amounts to much of anything. Getting these things from the perspective of our trio is obviously a major aspect of the entire series. Yet, Goblet of Fire also wants us to feel invested in at least a few of these people, particularly Cedric. The entire ending’s emotional tug hinges on us feeling for Cedric and having the feeling of that death wash over everyone else. Yet, given Cedric’s only role in the film is that of an expositor and he’s played pre-Twilight block of wood Robert Patterson, there’s not much to go on. We’re told more about how we should feel with Cedric than anything, rather that having actual emotional investment in him. Still, this is all despite the best efforts of people like Jeff Rawle as his father giving his all during the reveal of Cedric’s death.

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Yet, it still falls on deaf ears when The Goblet of Fire is far more focused on our three leads. Here, the element of puberty becomes much more firmly planted between Harry, Hermione and Ron. They’re all focused on trying to get with members of the opposite sex out of some social obligation rather than genuine desire. The best moments here are when Ron and Harry awkwardly try to deal with the social pressures of asking a girl to the Yule Ball. It’s a great example of the type of relatable awkward tension that makes Harry Potter as a franchise endearing. In the middle of a film filled racing against fanciful dragons, swimming with merpeople and traveling through mazes made of dark vines, the most engaging scenes are the ones that feature these kids awkwardly stumbling around a school dance. This is especially the case for how it shakes up the dynamic between Hermione, Harry and Ron, splitting things off in a believable sense for a bunch of burgeoning pubescent folks conflicting with each other. It even further develops the increasing chemistry between Ron and Hermione in a more believable way than even J.K Rowling has been willing to admit as of recent. I just wish it would be surrounded by more compelling side character arcs… especially with a Cho Chen. Seriously, who cares about Cho Chen?

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But the Tri Wizard Tournament is at least a bit more intriguing in its bait and switch element. The more conflicting issue of this comes in the form of Mad Eye Moody. None of the problems have to do with Brendan Gleeson, who provides that perfect crabby bitterness needed for the part. No, the bigger problem that drives this particularly disappointing version of “Harry Potter the chosen one gets dragged along a track by somebody” trope that this series loves to do is driven by this Moody being Barty “Doctor Who Numero 10” Crouchy Jr in disguise. Sure, this provides a glimpse into the witch trials that went on, but it pretty severely damages Moody as a character from here on in filmwise. Whatever we do see from here on in is oddly less developed that this disguise who mostly spends his time hiding Polyjuice Potion behind a booze joke that connects the dots far more easily. Also, how could no one in Hogwarts not immediately investigate a teacher who turns students into rodents and putting them inside other students’ pants? That’s psychologically damage on levels beyond comprehension.

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Of course, we’ve been down this road with Hogwarts before. A road that leads to this Tri Wizard Tournament’s sad end and the rebirth of Voldemort. The sort of main reason for this one to exist is building up to his reappearance and it’s the honestly one of the better moments in the entire series. Mike Newell‘s gradual shift from the Tri-Wizard Celebration to this dismal cemetary sequence emphasizes the seedy under world of the wizarding world this entire film was building up to. The Klan-esque dedication to Voldemort shows something Harry didn’t really fathom in reference to discrimination. Even if it’s with obvious reveals of Lucius Malfoy being a Death Eater, it allows Harry to get a full grasp of how vast this has spread.

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Of course, the centerpiece of all this is Ralph Fiennes’ first appearance as Voldemort. Fully encompassing the snake like slithering through his movements that mirrors his make up, Fiennes has all the confidence and intimidation of a freshly reborn cult leader. The raspy intimidation makes him the perfect embodiment of everything slithering under this barely human form. The fact that Harry manages to “defeat him” via convenient ghosts is unfortunately a side effect of adaptation problems with the entire series. Yet, the impact of worry that still permeates is firmly there as Harry returns with Cedric’s body. That worry of the unknown prospect of Voldemort returning chills even Dumbledore, who our heroes cling to as the prime example of knowledge in adversity.

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The final scene of our heroes realizing nothing will be the same rings even truer in a modern context. Given the last week or so, Harry Potter‘s attempts to call out racism and adversity is something we need far more of. To see our heroes realize that sacrifice is imminent and that they’ll have each other to get through it shows a true sense of maturity for these young men and woman. Goblet of Fire is a turning point for Potter, even if it’s one that would have to face some filler material in the oncoming chapters. Still, the thematic drive of dealing with adversity will ring ever truer and make Potter something far more timeless than franchises of its ilk.

One final note: I do plan on finishing this Harry Potter series up soon, but unfortunately in a more truncated form. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arrives in theaters this weekend, so I can’t complete four full analyses of the remaining films in that time. But you’ll see something to wrap all this up soon.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Dragon Eggs

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