Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire represents a transition point for the franchise about the boy wizard. Not only does he have to finally confront his nemesis while dealing with puberty, but the series for the first time has been handled by a British director, Mike Newell. Jim Mitchell and Tim Burke once again serve as Overall VFX Supervisors of an all star VFX cast that includes ILM, Framestore/CFC, MPC, Double Negative, Cinesite Europe, Rising Sun Pictures, The Orphanage, BUF and Animal Logic.
This time around Harry Potter is unwittingly thrust into a dangerous competition, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, held at Hogwarts, against representatives from 3 schools. Newcomers to the cast include Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Predrag Bjelac, David Tennant, Frances de la Tour, Katie Leung, Robert Pattinson, Stanislav Ianevski, Clémence Poésy and Ralph Fiennes as he who must not be named.
Mike Newell's tone for the film is much more comparable to Chris Columbus' undertakings than Alfonso Cuarón's. One of the new changes in this installment is that there is less focus on the minutiae of the Wizard's world world which allows the film to concentrate more on the characters. After 3 films we don't need extensive looks at Hogwarts' layout, the moving stairs or the talking paintings. Instead Mike Newell has concentrated, almost to a fault on character development and interactions, particularly Harry and Ron and having to cope with puberty. An extended sequence, the Yule Ball dance, is in essence the Harry Potter version of much of the banter in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the director's best known effort. At times funny, charming and a bit painful as how our heroes deal with the opposite sex in high stress social situations. The opposite side is also explored as Ron becomes jealous because he believes Harry has entered on purpose the Tournament. There are many memorable bits like that sprinkled, from Ginny Weasley dating Neville Longbottom, Ron's infatuation with Fleur Delacour and Hagrid's longing for Madame Olympe Maxime. Only Emma Watson is not served well with a sometimes over the top performance as a girlfriend of Victor Krum.
There are only two faults of this emphasis in that the main story is somewhat shortchanged, in particular the Third Task, and there is barely any presence by the other school competitors, in particular Fleur Delacour which is a non-entity. There's not much feel to what the other schools are about or the larger Wizarding world. The Third Task, which should have the characters confronting their worst fears (it could have been the equivalent of Luke's challenge inside the tree in Empire Strikes Back), it's somewhat reduced to a simply, though effectively creepy forest.
Nevertheless the pay off is big as we finally see Harry confront Voldemort, played by the usual soft-toned Ralph Fiennes. Although Voldemort is presented mainly as a megalomaniac it plays well against the usually cautious Harry. It's just a shame that the sequence leaves you wanting more, but that is usually a sign of good storytelling.
Jim Mitchell and Tim Burke once again serve as Overall VFX Supervisors of an all star VFX cast that includes ILM under the supervision of Tim Alexander, Framestore/CFC under the supervision of Timothy Webber, MPC under the supervision of Ben Shepherd and Charley Henley, Double Negative under the supervision of Mark Michaels, Cinesite Europe under the supervision of Simon Stanley-Clamp and José Granell, Rising Sun Pictures under the supervision of Tony Clark, The Orphanage under the supervision of Jonathan Rothbart, BUF under the supervision of Stephane Ceretti and Animal Logic under the supervision of Kirsty Millar.
This time around, besides the usual environment work, the work is now more compartmentalized or mainly split along 5 major sequences: the Quidditch World Cup, the 3 tasks and the confrontation with Voldemort. Of these, the most notable is probably the first task, where the four contestants must face a dragon, although we only see Harry's attempt against the Hungarian Horntail. In particular his animation as it pursues Harry around Hogwarts and how it clings to towers like some sort of gigantic bat make him appear absolutely real and frightening.
The Harry Potter series has always been characterized for the seamlessness of the effects and how well multi-house efforts can mesh in the work. This is perhaps best exemplified by the most subtle work in the film, Voldemort himself. Ralph Fiennes is altered via digital prosthetics so that his nose is flattened and made similar to a snake's, which is one of those head scratching moments trying to see if some sort of real makeup trick has been applied. Other notable shots include digital underwater environments, merpeople, bugs, a strangely configuring maze, a huge Quidditch stadium and all sorts of magical signs and incantations. Overall there are no weaker shots or spotty work in this installment.
The Final Verdict
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire represents a shift in the series as our protagonists have to confront growing up, the end of innocence and ultimately facing their nemesis. Mike Newell has wonderfully achieved a balance with all these opposing elements making a film charming, funny, dark and slightly disturbing, touching and exciting in the end. VFX wise the film takes its place as one of the most successful, creative and consistent series in recent history.