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Customer Review

60 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fire in the Belly, December 7, 2005
Go through the soundtrack listing before reading this review, because the former spoils everything there is to spoil.

While not necessarily the most vital feature of the `Harry Potter' films, one of the most important considerations is perhaps the feel of each movie, which is one of the most immediate things that strikes an audience.

In terms of that, as the series progresses, each part has become sturdier in achieving an all-round sense of completeness, in that every instalment gradually moves towards being a singular film in its own right while taking rich pickings from a world, whose continuity and consistency have been respected and admirably maintained, reconceived for the silver screen in what will ultimately be seven parts.

The first movie was atmospherically very lush, with rich hues of red and gold that both conveyed the wondrous regality of Hogwarts and gave the film an aptly warm, seasonal touch that maintained a sense of comfort in the world our young protagonists found themselves in as well as for the young audience, and, of course, mirrored the cheery Christmas movie-going period. The second saw a darkening that was tentative at best, giving it a more grimy, dull and sapped feel rather than a truly menacing or ominous one. The Gothic turn in the third demonstrated what that darkening should have accomplished, in addition to matching the mood of the third book, which, strange as it may sound, lent itself to the colour purple. `Goblet of Fire' then suitably attains a lovely palette that might have been filtered through a window in spring, bringing about a tightly textured look that doesn't suffer from an effluvium of colour, ranging from the autumnal compound of the castle to the shadowy blue of a graveyard. The feel of the fourth film must have been the most difficult to figure out out of the movies made thus far, but thankfully they've gotten the onscreen setting right for the cast to thrive in.

Because of the need to keep the central narrative of the Triwizard Tournament going, the script appears to offer very few opportunities for introspective or emotionally resonant performances such as those that we saw in `The Prisoner of Azkaban'. Although, this is in no way to undermine Steve Kloves's valiant effort as he manages to hit all the marks fans will be looking for, even if newcomers will be absolutely puzzled (Priori Incantatem, while mentioned, is never explained for one). Director Mike Newell, in addition to marshalling thrilling action sequences, extends the emotional range of, in particular, the young cast. The supporting ensemble of British thespians, however, gets more character moments as well, which in their own subtle way suggest flaws, fallibility and even occasional quirkiness. Be they Professor McGonagall's amusing absent-mindedness in informing Harry about a dance, the clumsiness of the lovably bumbling Argus Filch who can never seem to restrain his excitement in lighting a cannon, or the brooding anguish or severity of Professors Snape and Dumbledore, facets of our favourite characters never before seen render them more conceivable, human personas, and prevent them from degenerating into amusing two-dimensional plot devices. It is, however, always a treat to see great actors so sportingly partaking in what others may see as a childish premise that insults their talents.

Michael Gambon's performance demands some examination. While his portrayal makes a combination of both probable sincerity and twinkling playfulness believable for Dumbledore with a line like `I hate these drapes, burnt them down in my fourth year...by accident of course', one occasionally gets the impression of him engaging in broad strokes to lucidly form what still seems a flailing character of sorts in his hands. His performance appears to be straining towards a quality reminiscent of the understated sternness and gentle sense of humour that Richard Harris gave Dumbledore, who became in the first two films a thoroughly imagined onscreen character, clearly formed around the edges, as it were. While this reviewer still looks forward to more of his intriguing characterisation, one hopes that Dumbledore will be able to evoke the sympathy that his fate in the sixth instalment should bring about.

Everyone is talking about Ralph Fiennes, and for good reason, for his proves to be an inspired bit of casting. His Voldemort is one who vacillates dangerously between quietly maniacal malice and uneasy pleasantry. It makes for a discomfiting, unnerving and unpredictable mix, and the unsettlingly understated volatility of his character comes through, rendering the threat posed by his sheer presence all the more palpable. One thing surprising perhaps about his portrayal is the relative absence of the haughtiness one could glean from the book, that sense of superiority derived supposedly from being both a pureblood wizard and an immensely powerful one. Far from being the charming, refined and demonstratively supercilious young student depicted in `The Chamber of Secrets', the adult Voldemort seems to have been roughened around the edges, so to say, his appearance and manner reflecting his abasement by his heinous exercises in his pursuit for power, which, one should note, likely inflicted a great deal of pain upon himself. That that road to his own misguided notion of greatness was trying comes through in Fiennes's portrayal, and what emerges is a new kind of charisma and leadership, one that sees him identifying himself with and operating amongst, and therefore as one of, his men, who then find it easier perhaps to relate to him and recognise his authority in their group. In addition, his demonstration of his newly acquired ability to touch Harry by touching his scar is an example of a judiciously dramatic stroke that's emblematic of the discreet and well-measured theatricality with which Fiennes imbues his performance. Indeed, one does seem to behold, as Fiennes graces the screen, quite a magical concoction of elements coming together in a personification of evil that seeks to be as true to that dark essence itself as possible.

But back to the young cast. Harry's progression from a mild, well-mannered young boy to a gangly, moody teenager, likely the result of embitterment or dispossession due to everything he's experienced thus far, has been well pulled off by Radcliffe, who demonstrates consistency in his performance here following an edgier turn in `The Prisoner of Azkaban'. The danger here is for his character to tumble into blandness, and fortunately the occasional emotional moment, such as his crying over Cedric's death, while not completely convincingly performed, prevents that. Discussing Harry at this point naturally brings in Moody, and while Brendan Gleeson's is a no-holds-barred demented performance, it's never really endearing even when his character turns cheeky (sticking his tongue out at McGonagall, for one), and one doesn't get a sense of a relationship as compelling as that which Harry shared with Lupin, or for that matter as that depicted in the book, and thus there is no strong feeling of betrayal when the revelation regarding Moody comes, unlike the momentarily startling instant in the previous film when it seemed for a moment that Lupin had been in cahoots with a supposedly villainous Sirius Black.

Grint goes through much of the same as Ron, which is a shame because it wouldn't harm having him express some manner of emotional response to Harry's precarious predicament instead of always leaving Hermione as the sole good friend who emotes realistically over the dangers posed to Harry. Watson does stand out as the spirited young woman, but one gets a sense this time that, while admirable that she strives for a more demanding emotional range, perhaps she tries a little too hard and her performance sometimes comes off strained. However, it is evident that Newell has tried to suss out the nuances that are possible in the characters' interaction with each other, hints subtly conveying unspoken thoughts or veiled feelings that, while perhaps best not explicitly expressed, run on into and are thus discreetly revealed by the discourse that they engage in. The weight of the demands that his acute and observant direction entails in this sense rests mostly on Watson, and, again, while occasionally awkward, she invests a credible effort.

The supporting young cast deserves their share of good mention. The Weasley twins are a highlight in this instalment with an effortless comic chemistry. A scene where one of them asks a girl to the Yule Ball wordlessly is a hoot. Felton in the role of Malfoy is sportingly and nicely deplorable again, as is Isaacs in a welcome return to his role as Draco's father. A little more of Longbottom's back-story would have been nice, for his feeling disturbed by the Cruciatus curse is never clearly explained. It also appears to be Ginny Weasley's turn to blossom into a beautiful young woman; and the other Triwizard champions are all a refreshing presence.

This is a very funny movie. Aside from the Weasley twins, the main trio turns in occasional comic moments. In fact, it is precisely comedy that prevents Ron, who effects most of it in his interaction with Hermione, from remaining a character who merely sulks. The character of Neville is given a more substantial showing in this movie, and Matt Lewis is winsome as the blossoming nerd. Shirley Henderson's appearance as Moaning Myrtle is a scream, and her morbid ghoul is a gem of macabre humour. A lot of the laughs here are rooted in the film's premise. While we are thoroughly aware that we are dealing with a fantastical world and story, lines like `We do not use transfiguration as a punishment' still manage to sound amusingly bizarre.

For every moment of comedy, though, is another that is disturbing, and in realising these moments the designs for imaginary conceptions in particular stand out. Two brief but utterly memorable images that demonstrate the melding of technical deftness with imagination are that of an uncomfortably twitching spider on which the Cruciatus curse is inflicted, and a passing view of Voldemort as a hideous foetal creature. Iconic moments are captured competently, and in particular the golden dome that forms about Harry and his nemesis and the emergence of the spectres of Voldemort's victims when Priori Incantatem finally occurs is an exciting and, yes, spellbinding sight that is really quite marvellously achieved.

But the real treasures in this movie are the intimate moments that pertain entirely to character, as preciously few as these treasures are. Those who were perhaps unsatisfied with the relatively upbeat and childish conclusion of the third movie should be happy that there is quite a proper emotional resolution in this one before it ends, appositely, sombrely. The script makes the effort of an eulogy for Cedric (which alludes also to tensions with the Ministry of Magic, and that, along with passing mentions of the Department of Mysteries, teasingly and alluringly foreshadows `The Order of the Phoenix'), after which the movie reaches its final scene, which is its best. As Harry walks through a corridor along the edge of the courtyard, he looks with consolation at the students from various schools bidding affectionate farewells to each other, a sight from which he derives a heartening reassurance that, as Dumbledore tells him, he is not alone in this fight, and there is friendship that he, and everyone else, can count on, and which therefore must be kept strong. Our three friends standing silhouetted against the evening light on a balcony as they watch the departure of the Beauxbatons carriage then makes for a lovely, reaffirming sight. It's moments like this that serve as a reminder that, even amid the dragons and mermaids and evil sorcerers, there is a heart to this story, and it is very much alive.
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