Harry Potter and the Goblet of Mediocrity
In an admirable attempt to keep the same principle leads for each movie before they start growing noticably too old for the parts, the producers of the Harry Potter film series have been cranking them out at a pretty rapid rate, each successive film already in pre-production before the current one is released. After Chris Columbus did the first two movies, unsatisfied with the constant work schedule and aware that the prolific Rowling has five more books in the queue, he relented the reigns as director for the third installment, opening the door for Alfonso Cuaron. He, with the third movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, took advantage of darker and more complex material to craft a stand-alone masterpiece, a film with atmosphere, drama, and feeling that immediately commanded a place in my DVD collection (where the previous two had not). Almost immediately after my experience at the theater was complete, and knowing Goblet of Fire was already in production with director Mike Newell at the helm, I wondered two things: (1) Did he know that the gauntlet had been thrown down, and (2) Was he sweating?
The title of this little excursion should clue you in to my answer to those questions. Suddenly becoming a litmus test of a director's chops, Newell showed unerring fair-to-goodness in making an enjoyable film, a good film, a sure-fire pretty okay time at the movies. Clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours, the best compliment I have was that it didn't seem like it was that long. Granted, Newell had to cram in 700+ pages of a great book into watchable time, so the task was daunting to begin with, and unfortunately, for the first forty minutes, we feel rushed through the story. The first third of the book dealt with the Quidditch World Cup, an event that I overheard several people in the audience pre-screening eagerly anticipating. What we got amounted to a cameo, with the Cup getting maybe about 2 minutes of screen time. Out of 147. This set a precedent in my mind from which the film never really recovered.
Newell doesn't butcher the film, but compared to Cuaron's vision, he seems like a pretender. The look of the movie is nearly identical to Cuaron's, with that same slightly-washed out look and darker, edgier sets. But it feels like a copycat move rather than a direction, and without a steadier guide at the wheel, you end up with a bland facsimile of a film. It's good because of the material, but not any better because of the director. Like the first two installments of the series, it's passable, enjoyable to a point, and certainly worth a rental. It is not worth sitting next to some kids who won't shut up during the film (I won't even get into the fact that their mother brought two under-10 year-olds to a PG-13 film on opening day, when clearly she hadn't screened the film herself. I hope they have nightmares -- there are some squirmy scenes indeed.).
Again, this isn't a bad film. It is a good film representation of a great novel, but it doesn't have feeling, it doesn't have urgency, and well, it won't have my DVD money either.