With visual set pieces like the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament, and the resurrection of Lord Voldemort, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the most camera-ready of the series. The trouble is, it’s also overstuffed and rambling. Something had to give. So the fourth book of the Potter saga comes to the screen a few subplots and many digressions lighter.
In addition to being brave men to tamper with gospel, Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves are clever storytellers who pare away all but Rowling’s two main strands. Harry, now 14, accepts another un-asked-for burden, competing for Hogwarts in the harrowing Triwizard Tournament (a gladiator match crossed with Fear Factor for student wizards). Meanwhile, Voldemort’s followers plot to resurrect the Dark Lord right under the noses of Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic bureaucrats. What emerges is a crackling good action thriller that never flags, even at 156 minutes.
Goblet of Fire sticks close to the darker tone and more naturalistic interpretation of last year’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A wizarding world war is brewing, but Harry and his friends are preoccupied with the inner struggles of adolescence. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is bumblingly infatuated with classmate Cho Chang (Katie Leung); Hermione (Emma Watson) despairs that Ron (Rupert Grint) can’t imagine her as more than a pal. Worst of all, there’s a fancy dress ball to celebrate the Tournament, and they have to find dates.
The first Brit to direct a Potter movie, Newell injects humor ranging from Benny Hill slapstick to Monty Python verbal absurdity. At least one of these comical scenes, in which Snape (Alan Rickman) cuffs Harry and Ron in the hearty tradition of British boarding-school discipline, is wholly invented; it’s funny, but purists might grumble. The Quidditch World Cup sequence is visually breathtaking, however, from the amusing vertical arena to the brutal march of Voldemort’s masked, hooded Death Eaters through the spectators’ campground. The explosions are caused by wands, not bombs, but the parallel to a terrorist attack is unmistakable. (This is the first PG-13 Potter movie.) On a lighter note, the Yule Ball is a gorgeous winter dreamscape, and Harry’s airborne battle with a dragon in the Triwizard Tournament is CGI magic at its best. (The special effects in the underwater segment of the Tournament, however, are unconvincing.)
The human element is never overshadowed by the flashy stuff. Radcliffe has grown more confident and relaxed with each film, and this is his most commanding performance yet. Michael Gambon continues to interpret Dumbledore in his own cagy way, which means hippie garb, angry freak-outs, and hints of weakness. It’s not really the Dumbledore of this book, but it foreshadows his behavior to come.
New characters include tabloid reporter Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson) and battle-scarred bounty hunter Mad-Eye Moody (a charming, unruly Brendan Gleeson). Most stunning of all is Ralph Fiennes: with a shaven head and wearing a prosthetic nose that resembles two snake-like slits, he brings a terrible majesty to Voldemort. Regally pacing his circle of followers, he suggests evil through his most human features — cold, penetrating blue eyes (not red, as in the books) and hushed, dry-ice voice. This is exactly the type of mesmerizing tyrant Rowling depicted. You know you should hate him, but you can’t take your eyes off him.
Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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