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Harry Potter
and the
Goblet of Fire

Everything is about to change.

Anyone who has read the Harry Potter series knows going in that …and the Goblet of Fire marks a very different tone for the series. A dark mark, if you will. Both book and film fans, however, may be startled at how that translates on screen.

The three main stars remain as charming as always. Daniel Radcliffe still has the proper gravity as Harry, and seems to have the chops for the character to transition to action hero. In one scene, he even proves he's working out for the job, in just a little too good a shape for a 14-year-old whose main exercise is Quidditch.

Of course, most sports don't look that strenuous to an outsider, so Quidditch could be very taxing. Certainly, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) raves about the athleticism of Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevsky), though this is the first film to not actually feature a match.

Director Mike Newell had a tough job. Not only does he follow the surprisingly masterful Alfonso Cuarón, but he has to bring the feel good nature of the films to downer subject matter. Should anybody have missed this, Harry Potter basically survived a killing spree. The whimsical nature of the earlier stories manages to distance us from that fact. The Goblet of Fire brings it home in a direct manner that no stirring magical themes can gloss over.

Worse for Newell, continuity has started to matter, as J. K. Rowling started pulling more and more minor plot threads to the fore. Many of these threads had been omitted for time in the earlier films. Already, the details of Voldemort's graveyard will upset purists, rendered wrong after Rowling's latest book, …and the Half-Blood Prince, apparently published after this film went into post-production.

In the films, the formerly inconsequential Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) gets thrust close to the center stage as an important older rival for Harry. This pushes a few other characters aside in ways that the producers may regret; Snape (Alan Rickman) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) become little more than cameo actors, though Rickman makes the most of his few scenes.

Despite that, it plays fairly well. Newell and screenwriter Steven Kloves have pared the story down to its essence as a thriller, moving the action inexorably forward to a confrontation that poor Harry cannot understand is coming. Though the scar left by Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) pains him, its import is opaque until the climax.

As he hurtles toward destiny, Harry also finds time to discover more terrors in social interaction with girls. Shyly crushing on the out of the blue Cho Chang (Katie Leung), he finds himself just as hapless as his best mate Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) is with Hermione (Emma Watson).

Newell focuses on the human drama, more in keeping with his resumé. It's useful in the film's denoument, which has an air of tragedy to it that earlier franchise director Chris Columbus might have turned painfully mawkish.

In exchange, though, the director sacrifices more than a little of the wonder. Magic only exists here if it serves a specific plot point, rather than filling every corner of the film as it seemed to in previous installments. The supernatural exists as a crucial part of the Tri-Wizard tournament, but disappears for long stretches. When it's there, though, it's something, as the dragons and mermaids are nothing short of spectacular.

Visually, the film remains stunning, but Newell lacks an overall vision for it. He takes a stab at creating a watery motif, but seems to lose interest about halfway through. The same goes for new character Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), reporter for the Daily Prophet, thus not really carrying through the lesson Harry should be learning about the damage adults can do with no greater weapons than assumptions and agendas.

Richardson brings a nicely uncomfortable sexuality to the role, letting innuendo roll out of more lines than should be possible. But then she disappears.

As Mad-Eye Moody, Brendan Gleeson manages more of an impact, filling the role with great gusto. A lesser actor could be upstaged by the wandering eye, but Gleeson keeps the upper hand. Both he and Fiennes make valuable additions to the cast; hopefully they'll be useful in The Order of the Phoenix.

So The Goblet of Fire is a serviceable entry in the series. Though it steps back from the strength of the third film, it entertains well enough with some true chills. The power of yellow journalism may be muted, but Newell does certainly make plain the simple evil of the Nazi-esque (and slightly Klannish) Death Eaters. Again, this one's not for the small kids; Harry and his crew are all 14, and the material is more appropriate for that age.

And maybe that's appropriate. The older we get, the less magical the world seems. But it would be nice to let the magic stay alive in the Harry Potter series.



Derek McCaw

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