Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Goblet of Fire: Worst Movie, Best Music

Having debated with fellow Potter-heads about our favourite books in the series, Goblet of Fire is often at the bottom of the list. I think this is largely because, apart from the final few chapters, the book does nothing to advance the overarching 'Voldemort' story. But for me, the fourth installment is where J K Rowling really comes into her own. She fleshes out her world with explorations of government and international relations, and the Triwizard Tournament serves as a thrilling metaphor for Harry's overwhelming struggle with the forces of evil.

It's just a shame about the movie, really.

After two very bright, family-friendly films directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón's interpretation of The Prisoner of Azkaban helped move the franchise in the darker, emotionally mature direction for which the later films are renowned. But in between lies the Goblet of Fire, and within it I see none of the things I love about the fourth book.

We marvel at the build-up to the Quidditch World Cup, with its incredible set design and art direction, only to have the match take place completely off-screen. Indeed, the film spends very little time exploring the 'grown-up' wizarding world, preoccupied instead with the angst-fueled relationships of its teenage protagonists. It's not a dreadful film, but it's indecisive - its tone is all over the place, and excellent performances from the likes of Brendan Gleeson and Miranda Richardson are stilted by the slow, often awkward pace of the non-action scenes. Oh, and then there's its glaring lack of fidelity to the book.

The film's saving grace, however, is its incredible score. Just as Mike Newell was a one-time director in the Harry Potter world, Goblet of Fire sees Patrick Doyle's only contribution to the series. And boy does he make a mark. Taking over from John Williams of all people must have been a daunting task, but Doyle rose to it with gusto, creating an original, but still totally magical, soundtrack.

In the film's opening, he heralds a change in musical style by deliberately twisting the famous 'Hedwig's Theme' into his own, darker arrangement. With the exception of the Quidditch World Cup, the first forty minutes of the film is underscored with wonderfully threatening motifs, as tensions rise between Harry and Ron, and the enormity of this year's challenge is brought to light.

The score really hits its stride once the two boys are back on terms, with sweeping romantic melodies that Potter fans will forever be humming while they wash up. 'Neville's Waltz' is subdued like its namesake, but without it, the famous 'Potter Waltz' would not have the triumphant payoff it deserves during the Yule Ball. Speaking of which, let us not forget that this is the film that combined Pulp and Radiohead to form a semi-fictional magic rock band.

As the film goes on, the film folds back into its dark underscoring, with Doyle once again subverting John Williams' notorious glissando in 'The Maze.' The final scene is one part of the film I think Newell got absolutely right. The emotions are complex - Harry is alive and well, but the knowledge that Voldemort has returned looms large in the mind; Doyle complements this with 'Another Year Ends,' a simple and reflective piece that is by no means triumphant.

All four composers employed in the Harry Potter series do brilliant jobs - Nicholas Hooper's score shows variety and expertise at every turn, Alexandre Desplat's haunting arrangements are consistently spine-tingling, and of course John Williams' theme is one of his many timeless trademarks. But Doyle's score is special. He captures the essence of The Goblet of Fire more than anyone else who worked on it, whether celebrating Harry's retrieval of the golden egg, or beating out a Bulgarian fight song. I listen to this soundtrack all the time, and every time I awe at its scope: mystery, jeopardy, thrill, wonder.

And its not just me who loves this soundtrack. I won't tell you what's in the final room of the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, just in case you haven't been. But I will tell you that it's made me cry both times I've seen it. And the two pieces they play on repeat just before you leave: 'Harry in Winter' and 'Hogwarts Hymn,' both from this soundtrack. They truly do encapsulate, perhaps more than anything else, the magic of Harry Potter.

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