Part 2 of my look back. Spoilers, but seriously, how have people not watched/read these??!?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The fourth book in the series was almost as memorable for me as the third, with the Triwizard tournament, Quidditch world cup and Professor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody providing some very iconic moments in the book. Narratively, it’s probably the second most important book, only exceeded by the finale. A lot of stuff happens here that pays off in the last three books: we’re introduced to the Death Eaters and some members of the Order of the Phoenix, Fudge turns against Dumbledore, Harry’s training for the third task prepares him for his future leadership of the DA and most importantly, Voldemort finally returns to power. Rowling’s careful plotting never stumbles, nor does she ever fail to tell an engaging story. By far the longest of the first four books, it does get a bit too bogged down in the interlude between the first and second tasks (while the Yule Ball is important for the character development of Harry, Ron and Hermione, it gets more prominence than it needs). Moody serves as a worthy, if not equal, successor to Lupin, with the DADA teacher once again being the stand-out character of the book, while Hagrid’s Care of Magical creatures classes are even funnier this time round, with Blast-Ended Screwts and Nifflers. And to top it all off, Malfoy gets turned into a ferret. Need I say more?
For me, this is the first time they nailed one of the films and struck the right balance between being true to the books (unlike Prisoner of Azkaban) and cutting enough to avoid having too many cumbersome subplots and unnecessary scenes (like Chamber of Secrets). The set pieces are amazing (the First and Second Tasks being two of the most striking in the series), the costume and set design are perfect (the outfits of the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students are particularly memorable) and the scene in the Graveyard between Harry and Voldemort is arguably the best interaction between the hero and antagonist in the entire series. The casting is spot on as always, with Brendan Gleeson nailing the role of Alastor Moody, Ralph Fiennes giving us the most menacing of his four appearances as Voldemort and David Tennant showing hints of his aptitude for playing villains (later used to far greater results as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones) in his brief role as Barty Crouch jr.. Hell, even Robert Pattinson isn’t bad as Cedric Diggory – getting the slightly arrogant but still likeable vibe I got from the character in the books.
All that said, the film does have one or two issues in adapting the fourth book (the Third Task is nowhere near as memorable as it was in the novel), the decision to not show the Quidditch world cup is bizarre (I can only suspect the other set pieces used up too much money) Sirius’ role is considerably reduced and Dumbledore’s OTT reaction to Harry’s name being in the Goblet is infamously misplayed (whether that is down to Gambon, the director or the scriptwriter I don’t know, but everyone pokes fun at it when comparing the books to the films). That said, those are the only problems I have with it. The film improves on the book as much as it fumbles some points from it, so overall, I’d say the two are pretty equal.
Book Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
For the most part, my views of the books and films have been pretty consistent. This is one exception – I really don’t like the book, but by comparison the film is marvellous.
Why don’t I like the book? Several reasons: its too long (the longest in the series at over 700 pages), too depressing (even books 6 and 7 have more moments of lightness, this one is more bleak than some game of thrones novels) and it kills off one of my favourite characters (in what I would argue was a very unnecessary and underwhelming way). There’s a multitude of narrative issues: the whole Harry-Cho romance is frustrating rather than engaging, there’s a real lack of humour and lightness compared to previous entries (thank God for Fred and George – their antics are about the only reason I ever smiled while reading this book) and a few odd plot choices (would Dumbledore really have chosen Snape to teach Harry Occlumency? Knowing of their mutual hatred like he did its a very baffling decision – up there with hiring Lockhart as a blunder that someone as wise as Dumbledore really shouldn’t have made). My biggest gripe with the book, however, has to be Sirius’ death. Rowling considered killing several characters at this point in the series, including Mr. Weasley and even Ron (I still maintain the minority opinion that killing Ron mid-series would have been easier to deal with and more narratively rewarding – especially because it would have got rid of the awful Ron-Hermione pairing), but Sirius’ demise feels both premature and foolhardy (only my love for Half-Blood Prince as a novel made me partially forgive Rowling). He had far greater potential than he was ever used for (if he had to die, I personally think it should have been in book 7 instead of Lupin/Tonks, whose deaths are nearly as pointless as Sirius’ in this book) and his death serves little function (can’t you leave Harry one fucking father figure??) – if the purpose was to demoralize Harry going into the last two books, I’d have preferred having him reconcile with Cho and then killing her off in the ending. Much better – alas that’s what fanfiction’s for 😉 Anyway, pro-Sirius rant over.
Why is the film so much better? Again, several reasons: it cuts out of lot of unnecessary subplots such as Umbridge banning Harry from Quidditch, the whole St Mungo’s sequence and Umbridge’s failed attempt to forcibly expel Hagrid, all of which added to the relentlessly depressing nature of the book (did Rowling have a bad year while writing it?) The film injects a sense of fun into the DA meetings (helped hugely by Ginny and Neville’s expanded role and the spot-on casting of Luna Lovegood – Evanna Lynch is simply wonderful). On casting, Imelda Staunton nails Umbridge as a character – you can tell she’s having a whale of a time throughout, particularly in her interactions with Snape and McGonagall. Helena Bonham Carter also makes the most of her role as Bellatrix Lestrange, who in some ways is a far more despicable character than Voldemort himself. The new director David Yates settles into his role comfortably, and despite the lack of grand set pieces like in the last film, it’s very visually impressive (the set design for the Ministry of Magic is particularly memorable). Nicholas Hooper takes over as composer, and the Professor Umbridge theme ranks as one of the best pieces in the series, even if the score as a whole is merely effective rather than memorable. My only problem with the film is how little of the fight in the ministry in the book (one of the redeeming parts of the novel) makes it into the film. Given it’s the second shortest entry in the series, surely they could have found 10 minutes to include more of Harry and his friends putting their DA training to use/the Order of the Phoenix battling the death eaters. On the flip side, they got the Voldemort/Dumbledore fight and Harry’s possession sequence perfect.
Book Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next up, the final two books and three films tomorrow, before my review of Fantastic Beast on Sunday!