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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Directed by Mike Newell
Written by J.K. Rowling (book), Steve Kloves (screenplay)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Principal Cast
Daniel Radcliffe -- Harry Potter
Rupert Grint -- Ron Weasley
Emma Watson -- Hermione Granger
Michael Gambon -- Albus Dumbledore
Brendan Gleeson -- "Mad Eye" Moody
David Tennant -- Barty Crouch, Jr.
Frances de la Tour -- Madame Maxime
Miranda Richardson -- Rita Skeeter
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alec Worley

As The Lord of the Rings movies linger under the nom de plume of The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series also embarks on its fourth adventure. While the singular talents of Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón failed to prevent the Potter franchise from slipping into the checklist of formula with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Brit journeyman director Mike Newell (best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral) conversely manages to conjure the most distinctive Potter movie yet.

Based on the strongest book in the bestselling series by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire suffers yet another patchwork adaptation by screenwriter Steve Kloves. But Newell manages to get out of it something truly heartfelt, less mechanical than Prisoner of Azkaban, less of a pantomime than parts one and two, The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. What gives Goblet of Fire its edge is the feeling that the gloves have now come off, the forces of evil have finally revealed themselves with the waning of Harry's childhood, and the boy wizard must now take his lumps like a man.

Goblet of Fire (perhaps wisely) dispenses with the traditional Roald Dahl-style preamble detailing Harry's annual escape from earthbound captivity (some will be disappointed to learn that Harry's monstrously conservative guardians, the Dursleys, sit this one out). This time we find 14-year-old Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and school chums Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron "bloody hell" Weasley (Rupert Grint) enjoying a day out at the Quidditch World Cup. (Picture a collision between the Superbowl and Woodstock, but with no better indication that we are firmly in the realms of fantasy than the fact that Ireland and Bulgaria have qualified for the final of a major sporting event. By the way, if you're still wondering what "Quidditch" is, we suggest you give up and make a fresh start with Chronicles of Narnia.) Anyway, post-match celebrations are gate-crashed by a mob of Death Eaters, the neo-Nazis of the wizarding world, who magically emblazon the night sky with their swastika-like emblem in support of their convalescing deity, the Dark Lord Voldemort.

Meanwhile, still rooted among misty crags where the last movie left it, Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is set to host the Tri-Wizard Tournament, in which a champion is selected from three schools to compete in three potentially lethal wizardly challenges. The fact that this event has in the past ended with a body count as well as a final score seems of little concern to either Hogwart's or its two visiting colleges, Durmstrang, with its ranks of Cossack-like warlocks and their Rasputin-like principal (Pedja Bjelac), or Beauxbatons, an academy for airy young madams governed by Gallic giantess Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour). Once contestants from each school are selected by the titular flaming chalice, it coughs up an unprecedented fourth name, Harry Potter. The goblet has spoken and the teachers have no choice but to force the reluctant Harry to participate.

But everyone suspects an occult conspiracy, particularly ex-rogue-wizard-hunter-turned-Defence-Against-the-Dark-Arts-teacher, "Mad Eye" Moody (formidably played by Irish character actor Brendan Gleeson), who looks like a retired Hell's Angel with an iron leg and a roving glass eye. (Principal Dumbledore's policy on employing clearly unstable types as Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers continues into its fourth term -- someone should really have a stern word with Hogwart's Human Resources.) Fortunately, Gleeson resists the temptation to chew the scenery in his academic lunacy -- even when reprimanded for turning students into ferrets and torturing bugs in class. ("When it comes to the Dark Arts I believe in the practical approach.") The best supporting performances in the Potter series have always been the subtler ones. Michael Gambon continues to essay a stonier Dumbledore than the late Richard Harris, while Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman as Professors McGonagall and Snape remain sublime. Newcomer Miranda Richardson's brief pantomime turn as muck-raking tabloid journo Rita Skeeter is entertainingly colourful, although the latest Dr. Who David Tennant falters badly as a leather-jacketed Death Eater, his gibbering tongue-lashing performance the worst in the movie. (Oh, and watch out during the ballroom scenes for a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance from Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.)

The movie's sturdy three-challenge structure works much better than the overly mysterious approach of previous films, which do little but promise until the last fifteen minutes when everything we had little idea was going on anyway is suddenly resolved and Dumbledore smugly reveals he was in on it all along. This time the movie builds rather than drifts as the various tasks send Harry hurtling around the spires of Hogwart's on his broomstick chased by a hungry dragon, and later pursued through a maze of shifting hedges by zombified fellow pupils and strangling vines that reach for him through the mist. Unfortunately, in its knuckleheaded fidelity to the book, the script can't make much sense of task number two, an underwater encounter with some spiteful saw-toothed merfolk, which otherwise benefits from a genuinely spooky shot of Harry's friends hanging suspended in the watery abyss. ILM's CG effects in these sequences are also variable; the thorny CG dragon looks as sharp as the Harryhausen-esque Hippogriff in Prisoner of Azkaban, while much of the underwater stuff looks sub-Van Helsing.

The effects-driven set-pieces are pleasing enough, but it's the kids themselves that hearten the movie. The boys all sporting shaggy Liam Gallagher moptops, the girls all in giggling huddles ("Why do they all travel in packs?" wonders Harry); the kids have finally become real kids rather than the adorable little ciphers they were for the last three terms. Ron's jealousy of his eminent pal has started to burn, along with his apparently unrequited feelings for Hermione, while Hermione possibly holds a torch for Harry, who is himself smitten with a nice Asian girl. This witch's brew of hormone-addled feelings comes to the boil during the build-up to Hogwart's Yule Ball, and gives us several touchingly awkward moments (Ron mortified by the bilious outfit his mum has sent him to wear; Harry drooling juice down his front; Hermione hitting the boys with the revelation that she's a girl as she steps out in a lovely evening-gown). There's even a terrifying whiff of sex when Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson), the voyeuristic spook from Chamber of Secrets, shares a bath with Harry as he cowers behind the suds. Puberty is a trial, even for wizards.

All very cute, but is it -- to invoke the catch-word of every faltering franchise these days -- "dark"? In other words is there any drama, as oppose to a series of jaunty episodes with no distinguishing negative force to oppose them? Well, yes. Despite the odd jape involving misapplied aging potions and hulking groundskeeper Hagrid's (Robbie Coltrane) clumsy courtship of Madame Maxime, the cosiness of the first two movies has given way to an urgent sense of menace (the 157-minute running time flies faster than a speeding broomstick). Although the moment of a supporting character's death (so shockingly callous in the book) is fluffed in its impact here, things get quite satisfyingly nasty during the graveyard finale (parents of sensitive children be warned). It's here that the leprous Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) makes his first full-bodied appearance (instead of just peering out the top of someone's head in the first film), and finally gives the Potter series a proper sense of exactly what the forces of good are up against.

When Harry and the inhuman thing that murdered his parents cross wands for the first time it's really quite a moment -- or rather it would be, if the movie weren't so frustratingly protective of its hero. It's a fault in Rowling's books, which the scripts insist on carrying over, that Harry rarely seems allowed to come to a conclusion for himself. Either Dumbledore or Hagrid or some other narrative busybody always has to butt in and slip him a clue as to what to do next. (Stuck are you, Harry? Here's a magic mirror that'll explain it for you. Can't think of a way out, Harry? Try over there. And so on.) So before you criticise Daniel Radcliffe for turning in another rabbit-in-headlights performance, just consider what he's got to work with. Heck, even Winnie the Pooh didn't have to be told what to do all the time.

We should be grateful, however, that Kloves script does a reasonable job of trimming the fat from the source-book and reaffirming the ideals of free will that have remained a thematic strength of the Potter movies. ("We must face a choice," Dumbledore tells Harry. "Between what is right and what is easy.") Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may well repeat the faults of its predecessors, but it deepens the series such that it just about puts itself ahead of what was the previous best (The Chamber of Secrets). Yet given the increasingly bloated source books of as-yet-unfilmed entries The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, Goblet of Fire could well remain the best the movie series has to offer.

Copyright © 2005 Alec Worley

Freelance writer Alec Worley lives in London, England, and writes regularly for cinema magazines in the UK. His first book, Empires of the Imagination, is published by McFarland.

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