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HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE , UK/ USA , 2005 , MPAA Rating : PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images

First, the bad news. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, the fourth installment of the Potter tales, is the weakest film in the series so far. The good news is that it’s still a highly entertaining 2 1/2 hours, and one that effortlessly sweeps the audience into that enchanted world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where good and evil are more than just abstract concepts in a dusty old philosophy book. Let me put it this way, the flying horses are one of the lesser moments.


As with all the adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s books, much trimming is necessary in order to transmute the increasingly large tomes into feature film fodder. There is a rushed quality to how series screenwriter Steven Cloves has winnowed the material down. The single biggest failing is that the threat of Harry’s arch-enemy, Voldemort, instead looming over the storyline as before, is pushed to the back burner this time out. Not that he’s forgotten entirely. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is having bad dreams about his nemesis. He’s also suffering, along with his two best pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), the pangs of first love as only a 14-year-old can, with that wonderful mixture of excitement and embarrassment that is all-consuming. That’s where the story keeps its focus. Perhaps this is why the producers chose Mike Newell as the director, he of FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, ENCHANTED APRIL, and the somewhat less successful MONA LISA SMILE. There is no doubt that he has the touch with romance, especially the awkward variety, and a deft way with comedies of manners as he explores the terrors our trio experiences with their tender feelings, but for the more intense sequences, say the run through the herbaceous maze with a mind of its own, the duel with a dragon, or the climactic showdown, the creeps, chills, tension are not all that they could be in a story that is as dark as it is light.


As if all that weren’t enough, Hogwarts is hosting a tri-wizarding contest designed to foster international understanding and friendship with foreign schools. In this case, it’s one from France, all devastatingly lovely girls, and one from Bulgaria, all devastatingly macho boys. Competitors, one chosen from each school, are strictly volunteers of at least 17 who toss their names into the eponymous goblet in order to enter. The goblet does the choosing, only for reasons that aren’t quite clear, it chooses four, including of course, Harry. Since, according to the rules of the games enforced by Hogwarts’ Merlin-like master, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the goblet has the final say, Harry has no choice but to compete, even though the dangers are real and possibly even fatal.


The fun of the other films was cracking a particular mystery attached to the feud between Harry and Voldemort and if you don’t already know what that is, you will be lost. Nightmares and a mysterious sign in the sky and on some people’s forearms, which is what is on offer here, don’t pack the same punch. This makes the characters and the performances by the actors playing them all the more important. Radcliffe is good to Grint’s fabulous. Radcliffe is cute and brave, be it in the face of a formal dance or the dark arts, in an instinctive way that has Harry surprise even himself. Ron is also cute, if less instinctively brave, but Grint nonetheless brings a sweetly clumsy nobility to Ron’s suffering the daily, even hourly indignities that come part and parcel with being Ron Weasely, the sidekick of a hero and the favorite butt of his numerous siblings’ jokes. Watson, on the other hand, is turning the studious, hence know-it-all, Hermione into a shrew, trying too hard with every emotion she’s asked to convey and overreaching them all by a margin as wide as it is off base. It adds desperation to Hermione where there should be self-assurance. She’s the only false note. Miranda Richardson is perfectly ghastly as an overgroomed, bubble-headed reporter who never lets facts or common decency get in the way of a scoop. Brendan Gleeson as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor (there’s always a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor) is suitably eccentric and more than a little edgy with a magic eye that seems to live its own interesting life and a face that bespeaks an unspeakable tragedy. While there is only a short scene with Gary Oldman as Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black and then only as a special effect in a fireplace, there is much more Alan Rickman as professor Snape this time, oozing malevolence and a bone-chilling sense of his own superiority. Alas, there are no Durselys to be tormented.


HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE fills in a bit more of the back story that drives the action. It has the thankless task of being a bridge to set things up for the next installment, which, it can only be hoped, is filmed before Radcliffe and company, who are already stretching credulity a bit trying to pass for 14, have gotten too much older. It succeeds, though, in keeping the magic going and, most importantly, whetting the audience’s appetite for more.

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