Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth installment in a series that just keeps getting better and more interesting. It’s also substantially darker than the previous installments, resulting in a PG-13 rating for the first time. Young kids might find the experience too intense, but then again, they’ve all read J.K. Rowling’s book, haven’t they?
We now find our hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in his fourth year at Hogwarts. The movie begins with Harry and pals Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) attending the World Quidditch Cup tournament. Imagine the biggest sports arena you’ve ever seen and multiply it by 1,000. That’s how big the stadium is. Harry watches with particular delight as a star player named Viktor Krum displays his amazing Quidditch talents. (Imagine David Beckham on a flying broom and you’ll get the idea.)
Just as interesting – but slightly creepier – is the arrival of a new Dark Arts teacher at the school. His name is Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson) and he has one false eye that acts almost like a camera. (It also frequently acts independently from his other eye, giving the man a bizarre appearance.) The first thing Moody does in class is to teach the forbidden spells, such as torture. He is clearly not a guy to be messed with.
Grand Wizard Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) announces that Hogwarts will be participating in the Triwizard Cup, a prestigious but dangerous competition. Applicants – who must be over the age of 16 – write their names on a piece of paper and stick it into the Goblet of Fire, a magical device that determines who is best suited to represent each of the three schools that are participating. Amazingly, it picks four names. Harry’s is one of them. Since he’s only 14, there’s no way he should be allowed to take part (nor does he want to), but the rules are unbendable; the Goblet of Fire declared him eligible, so he’s in. Harry never submitted his name, which means that someone else did so for him. It doesn’t take long to realize that the mystery person is part of a plot to bring Harry closer to the evil Voldemort, the dark lord who killed Harry’s parents years before.
The Triwizard Cup takes up a big chunk of the movie. There are three tasks. The first involves stealing an egg from a dragon’s nest. Harry’s attempt provides what may be, to me, the single best scene in any of the Harry Potter movies. It’s an exciting chase that ends with both Harry and the dragon clinging to the side of a building. (The special effects are nothing short of breathtaking.) Round two involves finding an object underwater – without coming up for air until the object is found. The final round features a giant hallucinogenic maze that must be traversed before one’s reasoning is lost. One of the reasons why the Harry Potter books and movies have been so phenomenally successful is that they overflow with imagination. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) perfectly balances the visual spectacle of the competition with a more human element. Harry, despite being a fine wizard, is terrified of the tasks that must be completed.
If staring down dragons is scary, finding a date for the annual ball is even worse. As an official teenager, Harry is now very aware of girls. Unlike demons and dragons, there are no spells to make him skillful with the opposite sex. This humorous subplot nicely balances the intensity of everything else.
As I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I was struck by how far the series has come. The first movie - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - was released in 2001. It was a very genial family film about a cute boy wizard. There was a lot of innocent charm to the story and the characters. Flash forward four years and Harry is experiencing the death of a classmate, a series of perilous tasks, and a heinous villain who wants him dead. I like the way the series has grown more adult as the characters get older. As in real life, Harry is slowly learning that the world has darkness and pain, just as it has light and joy. The beauty of these films is that we get to follow him as he makes this discovery. It parallels what many of Rowling’s young readers are going through as they journey through adolescence.
As the movies progress, the themes deepen and the young actors grow continually more comfortable as performers. (I do wish that Ron and Hermione had more to do in this installment, though; they get less screen time and occasionally feel like afterthoughts.) Daniel Radcliffe has turned out to be a perfect Harry Potter, capable of making the character heroic while still seeming down to earth. The supporting cast – which also includes such British luminaries as Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and Robbie Coltrane – add flavor to what is already a very enticing story.
The central scene in the film comes near the end, when Harry finally comes face-to-face with Voldemort. Ralph Fiennes, unrecognizable under makeup and prosthetics, gives a performance that is chilling; we’ve heard so much about Voldemort, and the movie gets it absolutely right: Harry is completely justified in fearing the villain. At the end, we know that the next movie is going to have a lot more Voldemort and also a lot more danger for Harry. Aside from the original, I haven’t read any of the books, so I’m getting this story just from the films. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a terrific film on its own as well as within the series. It also sets the course of Harry Potter’s tale on a different, darker track. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
( 1/2 out of four)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes.
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