It’s time for another blockbuster-bust movie post, unfortunately. K and I hit the big screen today for the matinee showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of fire. I must say that I’m not a fan of the Rowling novels. I found them incidental and wonderfully upholstered mildness.
This is the second Potter film I’ve seen, and I can’t even remember the first. Anyway, if I hadn’t been there today with my daughter, I would have quit the place after the first thirty minutes. I actually look forward to these big-movie drives to the theater just to be with K, who makes it all worth it.
But to it all.
The Goblet of Fire should have used the storytelling technique of irrevocable decision as the driving force behind the conflict. The problem is that the bad guy, Voldemort, wants back into the world to continue doing his evil (part of which has do with killing Potter), yet this inevitability plays practically no explicit role in the story, even though it should’ve been written as the inevitable conclusion of several irrevocable decisions, traps, and setups that actually compel this unlucky ending. The plot is driven by a contest made up of three parts. Harry Potter must participate in this contest between three rival schools (will he survive them–even the novel never leaves this in doubt) and it is the outcome of this contest and the other conflicts in the film that should lead to Voldemort’s return in full presence and form. Problem is, I couldn’t tell how they were connected (despite the motif of 3s in the film) until the end when the new professor of the Defence against the Dark Arts is revealed as an evil agent and rounds up the connections for us. My reaction: I just didn’t care enough to care.
Why not? Many heroes must make the ethical choice on the journey to proving themselves. But in this story, Harry isn’t given the opportunity to make any. Potter is entered into the Triwizard Tournament unknowingly by Alastor Moody. This entrance is against the rules, but the “absolute” rules also prevent Potter from bowing out. His heroism is therefore mechanical, routine, and without ethical problem.
I must say that I left the film wondering why Voldemort’s presence is such a bad thing (there’s a difference between bad and supposed to be bad) and how all the tendrils of the story actually matter to the core story which I couldn’t really describe. As Ebert puts it
Hogwarts School and indeed the entire structure of Harry’s world is threatened by Voldemort’s return to something approaching his potential powers, and the film becomes a struggle between the civilized traditions of the school and the dark void of Voldemortism.
The film depends on a lot of backend for consistency, but I didn’t feel this conflict between civilized tradition and Voldemortism. First of all, this Voldemortism has very little shape in the Potter series as a whole and is hard to grasp in this film as something looming or sinister. I never feel that anyone is ever really in danger. What is the threat?
Rowling’s world is made for digital manipulation, from the talking school interiors and dizzy steeples to the mirked woods inhabited by dragons and giants, and the digital work was certainly splendid. But it made for a film where appearence and tricks dominate. Characters and story fall flat and I’m left wanting something else. Maybe characters who experience danger and are humbled by it, who despair at their limitations yet learn to live with them. Maybe a story that confronts lifeworld thresholds with real consequence.
Otherwise the question stays: so what?