7 November 2005 | tjcclarke
Rowling's Roller-coaster Gathers Pace
First, a confession: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Potter fan, so I felt something of a fraud as I sneaked into a media screening of Goblet of Fire while many bona fide devotees have had to wait it out.
My interest in the franchise has thus far consisted of sitting through the first film in a freezing cinema wondering what all the fuss was about, and skim-reading the second book on an aeroplane to appease my curiosity as to the young wizard's appeal. I have long been astonished at the sheer scale of Rowling's achievement, and while I may treat many of my fellow commuters - the regressive thirty-somethings who are buried in her CHILDREN'S novels on the tube with something approaching contempt, I realise her success is very much deserved. It's a bit excessive though, and frankly enough to reduce any impoverished wannabe writer to a jealous whimper.
Being an outsider who will undoubtedly get all the names wrong, I won't spend long here on the plot, save to say it revolves around the "tri-wizard tournament" an epic and dangerous event that threatens to split Hogwarts loyalties asunder.
Instead, I'll concentrate on the performances, and, first up, I fear I must say I have reservations over the casting of Harry. Daniel Radcliffe looked an inspired choice after the first film floppy hair and specs and an earnest charm - but I'm afraid to say, he is an ordinary actor. The trouble with hiring an eleven year old for a film project as massive as this, is you are rather in the lap of the gods when it comes to puberty. It's a bit like doting on a baby puppy and then being terribly upset a year or so later when a bloody great Alsatian smashes up your living room and defecates on your carpet.
Much better are his faithful chums. Rubber-faced Ron (Rupert Grint) handles the adolescent grunting with considerably more aplomb than Radcliffe, and he also says "bloody hell" a lot which elicited gasps of delight from some of the younger viewers around me. There is some nice chemistry between him and the hitherto gawky and posh Hermione who has blossomed into a snooty English rose, and the theme of teenage angst runs deep throughout the excellent supporting cast.
"Dark and difficult times lie ahead" is the smartly worded tagline, and one gets the impression Harry is far more comfortable dodging fire-breathing dragons, than he is tiptoeing around the opposite sex. The growing pains are neatly handled by director Mike Newell, himself no stranger to the awkward whimsy of love's young dream after sterling work on Four Weddings and a Funeral Indeed, many of the light-hearted interludes around the school dance scenes betray Newell's penchant for bittersweet comedy and romantic pratfalls.
And, of course, the adults in the cast zoom around with a zest inspired by their youthful co-stars. Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid fashions an unlikely romance with a giantess played by Frances De La Tour; Michael Gambon is a sprightly Dumbledore; and Gary Oldman's screen time is restricted to one scene where he thrusts his head through the burning coals of a roaring fire to offer Harry some sage advice. Perhaps they should have simply hired a stunt double and saved on his fee.
Most impressive of all is Ralph Fiennes who is genuinely terrifying as the evil Lord Voldemort. Fiennes is ably assisted in his wickedness by a suitably conniving Timothy Spall and also the most fearsome set of nostrils to grace the silver screen since Hannibal Lector flexed his snout at Agent Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.
It is pretty stirring stuff visually extraordinary in places and nicely paced. Potterfiles will love it and detractors may just find their criticisms stuck in their throats. However, my disdain for adults who proudly devour the novels on public transport without any sense of shame remains absolute.