The fourth Harry Potter book is the darkest so far, when Voldemort rises again and returns to a(n almost) human body. Harry’s life is once again in danger, as his name is called out of the Goblet of Fire and he is forced to compete in the Triwizard tournament against students much older than himself. It is also probably the most exciting book so far, and is so jam packed that Harry doesn’t even get to Hogwarts until nearly a couple of hundred pages into the book.
This is the first Harry Potter book that I distinctly remember waiting for. I think I must have been 11 when it came out, because I remember reading it in primary school, and everyone being banned from discussing it in case of spoilers. It’s over 600 pages long, but even as an 11 year old I read it in 3 days. Anyone who can keep a child hooked enough to read a book that long so quickly must be doing something right in my eyes!
I can remember being quite frightened the first time I read the opening chapter set in the Riddles’ manor house. It was dark and I was reading it on my bunkbed, and I either had to stop or put a light on because I was scared. Once again, I’m sad that I can’t read it for the first time again. It’s a completely different experience when you know exactly what’s going to happen and you’re second guessing the characters and their motives.
It’s also the most emotional book of the series so far (although I’m saying this as a person who regularly cries at most books and is very concerned about the rest of the series, I think the end of the week’s going to get rather messy). Poor old Cedric was so much more likeable when he was just a character in a book and not a character played by Robert Pattinson, who made him out to be far more in love with himself than necessary. Book Cedric was more decent, and less of a clown. It wasn’t his death so much that upset me, but more the lovely speech that Dumbledore made about him later. Emotions were high throughout the last few chapters, and I especially loved the fight between Dumbledore and Fudge in the hospital wing, even if it was immensely frustrating. The most moving part for me definitely had to be the shadows of people Voldemort had killed emerging from his wand, but I don’t think I shed a tear at any point during the film (unlike Daniel Radcliffe, who produced some of the worst crying I’ve ever seen). I was quite disappointed actually, that’s quite a big moment for me in the book and the film didn’t do it justice at all. And why do Lily and James always have to look so old?
I said this was the most exciting book, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so excited about any kind of sporting event as I did about the Quidditch World Cup, so I was quite disappointed that the film didn’t feature any of the match itself. In fact, there was an awful lot of stuff that didn’t feature in the film, so it’ll be quicker just to list it all: no quidditch match; no veela; no Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Dudley eating ton-tongue toffee (no appearance from the Dursleys at all in fact), no talk of spending the prize money on a joke shop (and no prize money, come to that); no Winky, Dobby or S.P.E.W.; no Ludo Bagman with his gambling; hardly any appearances of Sirius; no mention of Bertha Jorkins; no appearance of Percy filling in for Mr Crouch, and no appearances at all of Mrs Weasley, Charlie or Bill (which is a darned shame, as I’m also a bit in love with Bill and desperate to see how he’ll be portrayed); no students fighting off the Imperius curse in Moody’s lessons; no Barty Crouch being seen on the Marauders’ Map; and finally, Rita Skeeter’s role was massively downplayed and there’s no mention of her being a secret animagus, revealing Hagrid as a giant, and causing Hermione to receive hate-mail (which is kind of a shame, because Miranda Richardson was great).
Once again, there was a fair amount of artistic licence used, and decisions were made probably with the intention of clever storytelling and yet, if anything, made it all seem a bit too obvious, although aspects still remained unexplained. Harry clearly sees Barty Crouch Jr. in the Riddle house in his dream, and he is also clearly shown conjuring the Dark Mark at the Quidditch World Cup. Yet Harry doesn’t recognise him when we see him sent to Azkaban in the pensieve (where, I have to say, he was portrayed completely wrongly by David Tenant, as much as I love him. The desperate pleading boy in the book was much more effective, and also gave a much better sense of Barty Crouch Sr. as a character). But without Winky and Crouch Sr. playing their parts as in the book, there’s no explanation whatsoever of how Crouch Jr. escaped from Azkaban (which is completely ridiculous considering the fuss made over Sirius). Surely the dementors would have realised a Death Eater had escaped? Afterall, the dementors are only mentioned as being allies of Voldemort in the book, not the film, and Voldemort hadn’t even gained a body by this point. (Also if Crouch-Moody was so keen on delivering Harry to Voldemort to be killed, why did he teach him how to prepare (as much as possible) for the Unforgivable curses? To make it a fairer fight? That aspect wasn’t ever explained in either the book or the film, perhaps we’re meant to make up our own minds). Plus it’s clearly mentioned in the film by both Snape and Myrtle that someone’s been brewing polyjuice potion, which is a completely unnecessary and almost clumsy flag, and then Crouch-Moody goes and runs out of the stuff! I could understand if he’d just forgotten to take a dose in all the excitement, but to run out of it completely is absolutely ridiculous – it takes a whole month to make! (Perhaps I’m over-thinking this?).
There are some characterisation slips that I’m more lenient with than others. I don’t believe McGonagall would ever have allowed Ron to put his hand on her waist, but the whole learning-to-dance scene was hilarious and I’m glad it was included. It might not have been very McGonagallish, but Maggie Smith could make anything believable.
Michael Gambon, however, becomes a worse Dumbledore in every film. He’s far too shouty, far too hands on (literally) and quick to grab someone or shove them into a wall. He’s too physically forceful, but one of the main reasons why Dumbledore is so impressive and powerful is because he doesn’t ever have to raise his voice or do anything, just one look is enough to silence anyone. He’s the sort of person who can command power just by being in a room, and I’m getting increasingly frustrated by Michael Gambon’s obtuseness when it comes to seeing that.
This was another film where it felt like it was dragging its feet and going on for too long, which is ridiculous because I didn’t feel like that once when reading the 636 page book. I think the main problem with the Harry Potter books is that they contain too much content, which is brilliant for reading but means it’s tricky to make a film adaptation. Decisions have to be made about what to cut out and what to leave in, and adjustments need to be made to the story to accommodate that. This time, I’m not convinced they made the right choices. Maybe if Winky had been left in the film there’d be a way of explaining Crouch Jr.’s backstory so that it was believable and his escape from Azkaban wasn’t left completely unexplained. It was an overly ambitious project; it wasn’t a bad film by any means, but it’s a pale imitation of the book.
There’s no happy ending which neatly resolves all the problems this time. Voldemort’s back and we all know things will get worse before they get better, but it would be nice if the film had a hint of the plan Dumbledore’s putting in place and the preparations he’s making – sending Snape, Sirius and Hagrid on their secret missions etc. The suspense waiting for the next book to come out was so intense – I’m even feeling it now, and I’m planning on starting Order of the Phoenix tomorrow! This may have been when J.K. Rowling took a break to have a baby as well, I felt like I’d never know how the story would end! I’m starting to feel a bit apprehensive for the rest of my Harry Potter marathon, things are about to get pretty full on.
See also My Culture Mission or read reviews of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, or The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.