I managed to catch the new Harry Potter film today through some weird stroke of fate. I rolled into the cinema at lunchtime to find out that every screening this evening was sold out. I walked back out, then figured what the hey, walked back in and on the off chance of the screens lying, scored the last ticket to the 5.20 performance. Now I knew there would be 20 minutes of trailers but I got there at 5.40 wondering exactly where the last seat in the auditorium would be. Perhaps on the front row looking at a screen so huge all I can see throughout the show is Harry’s left shirt pocket? Turns out no. There’s a seat in a prime row which I grab between four kids on one side and a family on the other. I sit down, look up and there’s the film’s first frame. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. Prime spot and no time wasted watching adverts for cars I’m unlikely to buy.
Now I’ve deliberately not read the HP books because I think that’s an advantage when you’re watching the films. A book can fill in the details later but because a film abridges it by necessity, it’s always interesting to see if the narrative works in this compact form. Now the only other film I can think of that tries to condense 600+ pages of book into film length is Dune and its audience is divided into three camps; those that hate it because it massacred the plot of the book, those that hate it because they think the film is rubbish and the small minority that believe it’s a flawed but cult classic. Goblet of Fire certainly does a better job of editing down the book but has a few rough edges and continuity problems as a result. They aren’t serious but they don’t help.
I don’t think it would be remembered in and of itself like Dune will always be (for whichever reason), but it does have one major thing going for it. It's the middle film. It does tell a story, albeit a reasonably trivial one to the whole series, but its main purpose is not there. The point of GoF is two fold. To flesh out all the main characters and coincidentally hint that the three child leads can indeed act, and more importantly to get that big dark storyline that’s been hovering around in the background for the past three films and finally put it centre stage in the last half an hour of this film.
It’s like The Empire Strikes Back. At the end of ETS, the full horror of Darth Vader has been unveiled, Luke has been put in harm’s way and lost an arm, things are looking bleak and the end of the film is open-ended, suggesting what will happen in Return of the Jedi. By the end of Goblet of Fire, the bad guy has finally turned up in the flesh, Harry has been put in harm’s way and had his veins opened up, film number five could well be even darker than this one and there are so many open threads to the plot by the end of the film, it’s hard to believe that you’ve been watching it for two and a half hours because nothing seems to have finished. Meanwhile Mad-eye Moody has a metal leg C3PO would be proud of, there’s a wandering lump of flesh called Krum that might be Chewbacca with less hair and Dumbledore is interchangeable with Obi Wan Kenobi in his golden years. You could summarize the general arc of the film in four words: “Voldemort’s Empire Strikes Back”. Really. It won’t be a cult film for the same reasons Dune is, but it could well be singled out for the same reasons as Empire Strikes Back even if it isn’t as good a film as ETS or even Prisoner of Azkaban.
Still, you can’t have everything. My first thought when the credits rolled was "Oh no, I’ve got another two or three years to wait to see what happens next."
As a postscript, David Tennant - the new Doctor Who - makes an appearance herein. There's a scene where Harry sees him as he vanishes. Others appear and Harry asks if they saw him. “Who?” comes the question. Surely his answer should be, “Yes, that’s the fellow.”