Continuing our series of Harry Potter reviews, we now reach The Goblet of Fire, also known as “The one where Ron is a terrible human being.”
Following the turmoil of the past few years, Harry really needs a break. And what better way to get one than to see the Quiddich World Cup? So, bound for adventure and fun, he goes with the Weasleys, and Hermoine tags along, too. But things don’t quite work out that way. Because Harry is seeing Voldemort kill someone in his dreams. And Voldemort’s followers, the Death Eaters, show up at the World Cup and leave the Dark Mark in the sky. All of a sudden, it looks to Harry like things just might get worse than they ever have gotten.
He has no idea.
First of all, I should probably just come out and say that, while I have spoken very highly of the first three films in this series of reviews, this is the one where things start to trend a little bit downhill for me. Adapting massive books into two-hour movies is no small task, and it’s with this film that things start to get slightly rushed. As a result, some of the thematic elements in J.K. Rowling’s works get glossed over, and the films get stripped of some of their importance, and become more about the fun fantasy elements.
But watching a film for fun fantasy elements is perfectly legitimate. This film has plenty of those. The focus of this film is the Triwizard Tournament, a magical contest that puts champions from three schools of magic into a series of dangerous tasks designed to test witches and wizards in the harshest way possible. As such, we get to some really cool things on screen, from dragons to merpeople to talking fireplaces. The pacing of the film can feel a bit rushed at times, but even during that, we can still see shadows of Rowling’s thematic explorations of prejudice and bigotry.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly about Goblet of Fire (the book), Rowling said “Bigotry is probably the thing I detest most. All forms of intolerance, the whole idea of that which is different from me is necessarily evil. I really like to explore the idea that difference is equal and good. But there’s another idea that I like to explore, too. Oppressed groups are not, generally speaking, people who stand firmly together – no, sadly, they kind of subdivide among themselves.”
That’s something you can still definitely see in the film. After someone puts Harry’s name in the goblet (leading to his being chosen), and seeing more of Harry’s dreams, it becomes rather clear that some dark evil is brewing. Sirius tells Harry, “I’ve no idea who put your name in that goblet, but whoever did it is no friend to you. People die in this tournament.” And yet, everyone around and including Harry becomes so distracted by the fierce competition of the tournament that they forget about the brewing danger. Instead, they start fighting with each other.
Hogwarts divides into “pro-Potter” and “pro-Cedric” camps. Ron (in one of his particularly horrible moments) accuses Hermoine of “fraternizing with the enemy” over one of the international wizards. Even before that, he essentially breaks off contact with Harry, thinking he’s put his own name into the goblet and is lying about it. This is a bad movie (and book) for Ron in general, where he is uncharacteristically selfish and cruel, with few if any redeeming moments. While this does serve this overall development, that does pull us out of the narrative more than would be ideal.
Even so, this idea of division is rather interesting when we look at who the real enemy is here. Take a look at the Death Eater costumes. Don’t those long cloaks and pointed hoods look familiar? Indeed they do. As if we thought that these ideas of racism and prejudice had been abandoned, the Death Eaters look like they took some Ku Klux Klan robes and dyed them for their own purposes. There’s also a reference to Harry’s “filthy muggle mother.”
So while the film’s execution is rushed at times, there’s still a strong message about the racism of the Death Eaters, and the idea that the good guys will lose, if they lose, because they are divided. That doesn’t come through as well as it could, unfortunately, but when you make those connections, it can be a powerful thing to dwell on. This is also something of a transition chapter in the overall story, going from the fun, almost childish feel of the early part of Harry’s life to the dark and grim that characterizes the last few films and books. When the film gets caught up in hitting all of the right plot points, it does itself a disservice. But when it takes it time to portray the evil that they’re facing in all of its horrible brashness, and the deep lines of division among the good witches and wizards, that’s when it shines. It does that in relatively few moments, but when it does, the impact is strong.