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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

More Than Just the Cliff Notes Version of the Novel

Directed by Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth film in the highly popular young adult/fantasy series written by J.K. Rowling, reunites Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), along with the teachers, friends, acquaintances, and, of course, minor and major villains, including He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (but who's named anyway), Lord Voldemort, the Dark Arts master and Harry's arch-nemesis. The Goblet of Fire takes the Harry Potter series to darker, more adult-oriented territory (The Goblet of Fire is the first film to receive a "PG-13" rating from the MPAA), mixing the trio's first stirrings of romantic interest in the opposite sex with Voldemort's regeneration and the gathering forces that threaten Harry, his friends, his school, and, ultimately, the world.

As The Goblet of Fire opens, Harry is enjoying his last days of summer vacation with the Weasleys, Ron's parents and siblings, including pranksters Fred (James Phelps) and George Weasley (Oliver Phelps), and Ron's younger sister, Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). Harry, the Weasleys, and Hermione happily journey to the World Quidditch Cup, but a sudden, disturbing reversal casts a dark pall over Harry and his prospects for the forthcoming year at Hogwarts. Voldemort's supporters, the Death Eaters, have begun to make bold displays of their resurgent power (and allegiance to their fallen leader). All paths, of course, will eventually lead to a final, magical duel between Harry and a regenerated Voldemort, but not just yet (a final resolution won't come until the seventh book is published in a year or two).

Representatives from two other wizardry schools, Beauxbatons (France) and Durmstrang (Bulgaria), have been invited to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the prestigious and potentially lethal, Tri-Wizard Tournament. Champions from each school will participate in three separate challenges throughout the school year. The headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), worried about the ominous signs and portents that suggest Harry and his friends are in grave danger, decides that only students in their seventh year can participate in the tournament. The Goblet of Fire selects three champions, one from each school. The Goblet of Fire, however, also spits out another name -- Harry's.

Besides the tournament and the disruptive presence of the students from the other schools, Harry, Hermione, and Ron have to contend with their school work, the permanently unfriendly potions instructor, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Harry's rival, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Draco's malicious father, Lucius (Jason Isaacs), and an even more troubling development, the annual Yule Ball. The students are expected to pair up, dress up in formal attire, and dance the night away. Harry has his eye on Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Ron seems unsure whom to ask to the ball, but both stumble badly. Hermione, for her part, fares better, much to the surprise (and jealousy) of Harry and Ron.

Although The Goblet of Fire contains the best special effects-heavy set pieces that money can buy (some are, as expected, top-notch, while others fail to reach anything approaching verisimilitude), it also carries over flaws from the novel, primarily Harry's continuing dependence on his friends and teachers to save him or provide him with key information at just the right moment (not to mention Harry's propensity to always trust the wrong person). Like the first and second films in the series, both directed by Chris Columbus, The Goblet of Fire could have benefited from more judicious pruning of its two hour, twenty-seven minute running time. To be fair, four-time Harry Potter screenwriter Steven Kloves faced a daunting task in adapting the longest novel in the series thus far. Nonetheless, The Goblet of Fire still manages to include too many secondary characters, too many subplots, and three major, lengthy set pieces, each of which could have served as the climax for the film.

That's not to suggest the latest Harry Potter film doesn't have its fair share of pleasures, because it does, thanks to the production design (augmented by CGI backgrounds and objects), which makes Harry's world both familiar and strange, and one in which children and adults will be happy to immerse themselves. The Goblet of Fire carries over the look and feel from the third film in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with a muted color palette and perpetually overcast skies, both of which complement the gothic turn Rowling's series has taken. There's also Mike Newell's lithe, fluid direction, which continues and complements the more cinematic style Alfonso Cuarón used in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Last, non-fans of the Dursleys, Harry's non-magical relatives, will be pleasantly surprised by their non-appearance here.

Performance wise, the three leads, Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, continue to mature along with their characters, with Grint thankfully toning down the mannerisms and high-pitched squeaks from the earlier films, Watson displaying a solid range of emotion, and Radcliffe never being anything but watchable. Whether they'll have careers beyond the Harry Potter series remains to be seen, but at least they're working with and learning from some of the most experienced, well-respected British actors of stage and screen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars