Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (United States/United Kingdom, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The best thing to happen to the Harry Potter movie franchise was for journeyman director Chris Columbus to step down. After turning out adequate adaptations of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Columbus was replaced by Alfonso Cuarón for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. With the third movie, the Harry Potter saga began to take on a legitimate cinematic life of its own. No longer was it content to regurgitate to content of the source novels. Now, with Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) at the helm, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire proves to be the darkest and most ambitious Harry Potter outing to-date. To trim the book's massive content down to a reasonable size (the movie is about 2 1/2 hours long, sans credits), screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has adapted all four novels) had to do a lot of compression. The resulting production is faithful to its source novel in broad strokes, but varies greatly when it comes to the details.

The "regulars" are all back - a year older and a little wiser. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is having strange dreams and he worries that his arch-enemy, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), may be planning a corporeal return. His friend Hermione (Emma Watson) is turning into a beautiful young woman and attracting a fair amount of male attention - a fact that has not escaped the green-eyed notice of Harry's other buddy, Ron (Rupert Grint). This year, the trio's fourth at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, there is to be a "Tri Wizard Tournament," in which champion wizards, one representing each of three different schools, compete against each other for victory. The champions are Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson), Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy), and Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski). Unexpectedly, a "wild card" is added: Harry Potter. The tournament challenges prove to be as potentially deadly as they are difficult, and Harry wonders if there are forces aligned against him in a conspiracy. The sides appear to be clearly defined: those who stand with Harry - Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Prof. McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher, Prof. Moody (Brendan Gleeson) - and those who stand against him – Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman), Draco and Lucius Malfoy (Tom Felton and Jason Issacs), Wormtail (Timothy Spall), and Barry Crouch Jr. (David Tennant). Yet all may not be as it initially seems.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire contains good qualities and not-so-good ones, although the former greatly outnumber the latter. This is the best of the quartet of Harry Potter features, but it is not without flaws. This movie is more action-oriented than its predecessors, with several exciting sequences (most notably a battle with a dragon and an underwater skirmish with pissed-off mermaids), but I will admit to being let-down by the way in which the film culminates. As high points go, this one is anticlimactic. (This is a case of something working much better on the written page than on the screen.)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a dark, stylish motion picture. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not as stylish, but is darker. Unlike the previous installment, this movie focuses primarily on the students, allowing many of the adults little more than walk-on cameos. (Alan Rickman's Professor Snape, for example, has only a handful of lines and is largely MIA.) The PG-13 rating is warranted. This is the movie in which the series transitions from something for kids to something for teenagers and young adults.

In developing the storyline, Kloves walked a tightrope. Certain apparent irrelevancies were retained in order to keep readers (who make up the majority of the film-going audience) happy. Additional cuts might have made for a tighter, better-paced movie, but a compromise had to be struck. The resulting movie occasionally drags, but it's not so protracted that the non-reader will become impatient. Some familiarity with the world of Harry Potter is necessary, either through the books or movies. As befits the fourth chapter of a longer saga, this is not a stand-alone episode.

With the exceptions of a Quiddich stadium and a dragon, the film is lean on splashy special effects. That's not to say CGI is used sparingly, but the film's look is less ostentatious than that of its predecessors. It's more intimate and real, and that enhances the immediacy of the menace. The black cloud hanging over Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has darkened and lowered for this installment. No doubt the storm will break in about two years, when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix reaches multiplexes.

For actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, this is an awkward time. Like their characters, they are struggling through the transition from childhood to young adulthood. None of these three is seasoned, and there are times when their performances betray their lack of experience. Nevertheless, acting limitations aside, Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have become Harry, Hermione, and Ron, and it would be a shame to replace them for any reason, even if the replacements were more talented and skilled. If they are willing, let them stay until 2010 or 2011, when the final Harry Potter movie will reach the screen.

Of the returning adults, only Michael Gambon has too many lines to count. The others show up in a few scenes but are used primarily as background dressing. Brendan Gleeson plays Professor Alastor Moody, a new teacher. He has plenty of screen time, which allows us opportunities to stare at his free-floating left eyeball. Another newcomer is David Tennant (who recently landed the lead role in the BBC-TV revived series Doctor Who), who gets to imitate a rabid dog in human form. Finally, there's Ralph Fiennes, whose Voldemort is surprisingly low key. I was disappointed by the way in which Fiennes chose to portray the evil wizard. Voldemort doesn't seem all that ominous. In fact, he seems a little boring. This may be the case of the henchmen being more sinister than the master.

Four down, three to go. With each new Harry Potter movie, the stakes are elevated. Director Mike Newell has given the series a fresh look without undoing the ground work established by his predecessors. In the realm of fantasy adventure, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a strong entry. Although the series as a whole falls short of what Peter Jackson achieved with The Lord of the Rings, it creeps closer with each new entry (of the four Harry Potter pictures, there hasn't yet been a weak one). And it won't be possible to assess the series as whole until all seven movies are available. Until then, let me write that Harry Potter has become a rare cinematic constant - something to be anticipated every year or two. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is imperfect, but magical nonetheless.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (United States/United Kingdom, 2005)

Run Time: 2:37
U.S. Release Date: 2005-11-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1