Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Rating:

Expeliarmus!

Main Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith

Director:Mike Newell

I’ve decided that I’m done watching every Harry Potter movie and comparing it to the book of the same name. It simply serves no purpose at this point to whine about those things left out of each installment, or complain that so-and-so isn’t growing up or behaving just like their character in the book. The truth of the matter is that the Harry Potter films are now a series in their own right, each building upon the next. As one film leaves things out, the next is obliged to follow or play catch-up. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth movie in the series, has the challenge of being true both to the essence of the book and the films that precede it.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), that young man of humble upbringing and magical abilities, is now entering his fourth year at the Hogwarts Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Prior to the advent of the new school term, he and his friends the Weasleys, along with pal Hermione (Emma Watson), attend the Quidditch World Cup to take in the spectacle of teams from around the world competing in this magical sport. Their excitement is marred in a big way by the appearance of the Death Eaters, followers of the evil Lord Voldemort who have once again regained the courage and numbers to plunder the grounds surrounding the tournament and place the mark of the Dark Lord in the night sky.

Now, if you’re already confused, you’ve probably not seen the first installments of the series. As the films progress, it is becoming more and more necessary to do so in order to either enjoy or even understand what’s happening on screen. Screenwriter Steven Kloves does not spend time rehashing past plots, we’re dropped right into the action and expected to know this world and at least some of its rules, the characters, the basic set-up and the adventures that have come before. I highly recommend against seeing this film as your introduction to Harry Potter.

On with the story. So yes, it seems that Voldemort is gaining power. Harry feels it; trouble is brewing in the wizarding world. With growing dismay, and increasingly frequent and troubling dreams, he begins his fourth year, which will be dominated by the Tri-Wizard Tournament. This dangerous event showcases one student from each of three international wizarding schools in a contest of wit, skill and persistence in all things magical. We meet the ladies from the French school Beauxbatons and the young men from the Bulgarian Durmstrang. The Goblet of Fire of the title is the magical (of course) cup that will bring forth the names of the three champions who will compete in the challenges to determine who will take home the prize and prestige of the Tri-Wizard Cup. Only those students aged sixteen and older are eligible to compete. But the name of fourteen-year-old Harry Potter bursts forth from the cup, unexpectedly setting the stage for an unprecedented four champion competition. Now it’s up to Harry to survive the challenges as well as the rigors of adolescence.

Much has been made of this adolescence. In truth, however, the trials and tribulations of growing up take up very little time in the film. We have Harry with his first crush and his first date, as well as some general adolescent mopery and angst, but these aspects of the characters really take a back seat to the nearly constant peril in which Harry finds himself. His friendships are tested by the ever present fact that he is different, whether he likes it or not, and his skills are tested by the fact that different does not mean infallible. Following the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which spent considerable time examining the character of Harry in terms of his history and family, Goblet of Fire is more action oriented, beginning with the ominous events of the Quidditch World Cup and proceeding fairly quickly to the Tri-Wizard Tournament itself.

The same general cast of players has graced the screen for all four installments now, and the actors have become comfortable in their roles. The adults in particular simply embody their fictional equivalents, with Alan Rickman as Snape and Maggie Smith as McGonagall standing out as usual. New adult cast members include a delightfully off-balance Brendan Gleeson as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody, played with maniacal glee that is a joy to watch and Miranda Richardson in the small role of the unscrupulous reporter Rita Skeeter, squeezing every bit of smarmy charm out of her scenes. Dumbledore is the biggest stumbling block among the adults – not because Michael Gambon is bad, but because he will never fill the enormous shoes of the late Richard Harris. My opinion is that he’s right not to try. His interpretation of the character is markedly different than that of Harris, establishing his Dumbledore, rather than always chasing a ghost he can never catch.

The children have also grown into their parts. Daniel Radcliffe still sports the fakest smile ever, but his Harry is becoming charming and clumsy and quite endearing. Rupert Grint has Ron Weasely most obviously suffering the many wonders of adolescence. He’s gangly, unkempt and carries with him throughout the film a rather foul temper typical of his age. Grint does a nice little scowl that fits the character well. Emma Watson lets Hermione become a headstrong young woman rather than just an annoying know-it-all. Her performance isn’t quite so over the top and shrill as it has been in the past. The three friends have less time together this outing, as Harry is alone for the tournament, but the chemistry between the three friends is brewing nicely.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of each Harry Potter film is finding out how the director realizes the magical world of Hogwarts, as well as the various challenges facing young Harry. Last time out, it was Alfonso Cuaron with his eye for detail and his less fantastical, more ancient looking and realistic environment. Before him, Chris Columbus brought us a more straight forward interpretation of the written material with less detail and more of a surface level of fun and enchantment. In Goblet of Fire we get Mike Newell’s take on this magical world. He gives us a school with the students back in full robes and some absolutely marvelous action sequences during the Tri-Wizard tournament (the dragon scene being particularly fun) as well as some beautifully detailed interiors at Hogwarts. Newell backs off on the character development that was a fairly large focus of installment number three in order to focus on the more action oriented story that takes pace in number four. He keeps some of the Cuaron touches, including the wonderful, ancient look of the castle and grounds as well as the darker overall tone (which is appropriate considering the story he’s telling) and adopts a bit of the Columbus focus on those high speed action scenes. It’s a nice adaptation of the material, establishing continuity with the first three films while still presenting a well fleshed-out and individual version of the story itself. The entire film looks wonderful, dark and moody with twinkling magical touches (floating books anyone?) that keep it from being too gloomy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire still takes a back seat to Prisoner of Azkaban, mostly due to the reduced focus on those fabulously detailed scene settings of Cuaron, but it is a nicely rendered telling of this pivotal part of the story arc. It’s dark and scary – probably too scary for kids under ten or so (especially those who don’t know the story) – with an ending that doesn’t wrap everything in a neat little package. It sets us up well for the next installment and is a fine piece of entertainment in its own right. Director Newell took on the considerable task of presenting this chapter of Harry’s tale and succeeded with, if not the panache of his immediate predecessor, then considerable flare of his own. The characters have grown, the challenges are becoming more fierce, the enemies more foul. The scenes are dark and foreboding, the effects marvelous and magical. It’s a fine installment in what is shaping up to be a fine series of films. Older kids (and a whole lot of adults) will eat it up with a spoon and wait eagerly for more.

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