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"As exhilarating as it is daunting, 'Goblet of Fire' is all grown up."
"Newell sadly removes the remnants of Harry's early years."
"Directed adequately...the film retains its enthusiastic appeal."
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire  

Cast

Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Albus Dumbledore: Michael Gambon
Alastor Moody: Brendan Gleeson
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Review November 2005

"Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right...and what is easy." Those are the foreboding words of Albus Dumbledore, words that convey a heavier, gloomier outlook for Hogwarts and the Harry Potter universe. In particular, the disappearance of childhood charms and the emergence of adult-laden curses. After all, "Goblet of Fire" begins with a nightmare and ends with a death. And it is the kind of heavy subject material that has earned the film a PG-13 rating. For in the story, Harry Potter is mysteriously placed in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a tournament of grave proportions. All the while, the appearance of the destructive Death Eaters signals the return of Lord Voldemort. Unlike any of the others, "Goblet of Fire" bears no semblance to the traditional style of Harry Potter storytelling. And while the artless age of adolescence still abounds, it's the uncomfortable acceleration into adulthood that emerges as the boy wizard comes to grips with his own fallibility. As exhilarating as it is daunting, "Goblet of Fire" is all grown up.

The story begins with a nightmare, one involving the deadly plot of Lord Voldemort and his minions. In fact, the vision is so strong, it sends ripples through Harry's lightning bolt scar. And it's horrifying enough that it propels him to send communication to his godfather, Sirius Black. In the meantime, Harry, Hermione, and the Weasley's find pleasure in attending the Quidditch World Cup, one of the nation's premiere sporting events. And it provides a welcome distraction to Harry's recurring dreams. At least, until a group of Death Eaters arrives and begins burning and pillaging their campsite. Narrowly escaping, Harry reunites with Ron and Hermione. And the trio return to Hogwarts just in time for another worldly event - the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a tournament whose participants are selected via the Goblet of Fire and must compete in three dangerous events in an effort to achieve eternal glory.

Only the top senior athletes from three wizardry schools are selected - Viktor Krum, a Quidditch champion representing the Durmstrangs; Fleur Delacour, a fierce siren representing the Beauxbatons; and Cedric Diggory, a fellow student representing Hogwarts. However, a funny thing happens. In addition to the three competitors, Harry Potter's name emerges unexpectedly from the Goblet of Fire. This, despite being underage and without entering on his own free will. Bound by the rules of the tournament, Harry is forced to compete in a tournament that features an assortment of challenges from dragons to underwater sea creatures to tentacle-infested mazes. Fortunately for Harry, he is aided by Hermione and Ron, along with the unconventional Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Mad Eye Moody. But will it be enough? Along with the typical teenage problems presented by school, friends, and adolescence, Harry must try and stay alive. All the while, a sinister plot is afoot to unleash the most feared wizard in the world - Lord Voldemort.

With "Goblet of Fire," the fourth installment in the series, it would appear that Warner Brothers has built a model for success. Re-sign key cast members, toss in a few new ones from Kenneth Branagh to Gary Oldman to Miranda Richardson, adapt and consult with J.K. Rowling herself, and insert a new director with enough passion and vision to make the story come to life. It's an approach that worked to perfection in "Prisoner of Azkaban" when Alfonso Cuaron stepped in for Chris Columbus and turned a magical children's tale into a darker, more adolescent story. And it's an approach that works quite well with "Goblet of Fire," turning the reigns over to Mike Newell, who manages to go even darker. Newell, the first British director at the helm, began his career with dark and disturbing films such as "The Awakening" and "Bad Blood" well before moving on to familiar, lighter fare like "Enchanted April" and Four Weddings and a Funeral."

Because of its tricky subject matter, "Goblet of Fire" requires a careful balance of doom and gloom as well as adolescent frolic and a dash of nifty special effects. And this is where Mike Newell is at his best. On one hand, Voldemort is returning along with his Death Eaters and on the other, Harry and the gang are experiencing awkward romantic entanglements with the opposite sex. Especially with the latter, the tone is just right, captured humorously by Ron Weasley - dealing with dating, hand-me-downs, and friendly jealousy. Equally elaborate is the camera work by Roger Pratt, cinematographer from "Chamber of Secrets," who returns to cast a wicked visual cloud, ala The Dark Mark, over the entire universe. And finally, although somewhat of a newcomer in the deployment of CGI, Newell manages some jaw dropping effects to tell the story - from the enormous World Cup Quidditch arena to the Hungarian Horn Tail.

Picking up the pieces where Alfonso Cuaron left off, Newell sadly removes the remnants of Harry's early years. The sorting hat is replaced by the Goblet of Fire, griffins are replaced by dragons, Dementors are replaced by Death Eaters, the Dursley's are absent entirely, and John Williams' whimsical 'Prologue' is nowhere to be heard. Even Harry's pet Hedwig, his white silvery coat representing all that is good, fails to return on a correspondence trip with Sirius. Instead, a darker owl returns, one with a nasty bite! Asks Hermione Granger toward the end of the film, "Everything is going to change now, isn't it?" But upon careful retrospection, if you were to judge things strictly on appearances, it's easy to see that they already had.

Dragons, underwater rescues, hypnotic mazes, blossoming romances, and the appearance of Voldemort. Although there is a lot to be excited about in this fourth installment, there is also a lot to be disappointed with too. Most noticeably, in "Goblet of Fire," time seems irrelevant. From the opening sequence of the Quidditch World Cup to the Yule Ball to the appearance of the Dark Lord himself, there is no real sense of time or continuity, no association with a school year, and no changing seasons like the excellent use of the Whomping Willow for fall, winter, and spring in "Azkaban." And it's an important misstep because it reveals an even greater problem - a lack of urgency. Without managing time, there is no sense of impending doom, no real or perceived threat, and no progressive danger from Voldemort or the Tri-Wizard Tournament. In fact, the Tournament only gets easier, moving from dragons to underwater rescues to a?confusing maze? Remember, the maze was not really dangerous by design. And the ill effects of time management equate to an ending that is way too rushed, one sorely devoid of emotion, particularly when a key character dies.

Further adding troubles is a screenplay that loiters and lingers unnecessarily. Coming from a 734-page novel, it's understandable, but not inexcusable. Adapted by Steven Kloves, who did a tremendous job with the first three installments, "Goblet of Fire" is overwhelming in complexity and length. Even though Newell himself opted for one condensed film, it's glaringly obvious that the filmmakers didn't cut enough from the final product, a product that could easily have been closer to two hours. Instead, we are distracted and disoriented with Hagrid's romance to Madame Maxime, a fireside chat with Sirius that reveals nothing new, and a series of annoying interruptions by gossip columnist, Rita Skeeter. These romances, diversions, and insertions of new and old characters are nice to see, but add nothing to the story. And they detract from the purpose of the film rather than moving it forward.

While contemplating another Tri-Wizard event, Hermione whispers to Harry: "I'm scared for you." Common sentiments that may be expressed by audiences everywhere. For in "Goblet of Fire," the young wizard has a glimpse of the world in all its power, beauty, and evil. And for the first time, Harry Potter sees himself as a microcosm in a plot that is far greater than his worst nightmare. Directed adequately by Mike Newell, the film retains its enthusiastic appeal by welcoming back Radcliff, Grint, and Watson and it features some splendid work from newcomers, Gleeson and Fiennes. However, it falters ever so slightly because it cannot condense nor stay focused long enough - minor dilemmas in an otherwise entertaining picture. And dilemmas far less formidable than trying to find a date for the Yule Ball.



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