Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is having nightmares that cause his lightning bolt-shaped scar to cause him intense pain. He is happy to escape the dreams and attend the Quidditch World Cup match with his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). But, the pleasure of the match and the company of his friends is shattered when the Dark Mark appears in the sky and Death Eaters wreak havoc, signaling the return of the evil Lord Voldemort in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

With the third HP film, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” director Alfonso Cuaron put a new spin on the franchise that carried a far darker and sinister edge than the previous adaptations by Chris Columbus. Helmer Mike Newell takes on the task of bringing the fourth installment of the Harry Potter series to the big screen and, in the process, hits one out of the park.

There isn’t much sense in giving a detailed synopsis of “The Goblet of Fire.” Most everyone who will see the film has already read the book (probably more than once) and Harry’s story is familiar to anyone who cares. That said, and also having read all the books thus far, this is the best film adaptation of J.K Rowling’s world famous stories to date.

Newell and company continues the examination into the dark side of Harry’s battle with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). But, ample time is also spent on the fun aspects of attending Hogwarts School for Wizards and Witches. Besides the continued friendships of Harry, Ron and Hermione, there is the excitement of the Quidditch World Cup, the Tri-Wizard competition, the grand ball that all the students of magic attend before the big encounter to find the best wizard (or witch). There is also a smattering of young romance thrown into the mix.

Scriptmeister Steve Klove lends his capable hand to the adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” utilizing the best parts of the book and paring away the excess baggage. It is a long movie at 157 minutes but Klove packs it full of the magic that makes up Harry’s saga. This is also the first “Harry Potter” film that had a scene that choked me up. You’ll know the scene when you see it.

The kids whom we have come to know and love continue to build their chemistry, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have grown up before our eyes and their years together as best friends has developed the characters into fully formed figures. The other students around the trio also get full treatment with bad boy Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) reprising his archenemy of Harry role with snide assurance. Love is in the air, too, as Harry tries to get the gumption to ask out Cho Chang (Katie Leung). Harry’s roommate and other faithful friend, Neville Longbottom, gets more screen time and turns it to good effect as he dances away the night of the ball – with a girl!

The familiar adult players are back again with Headmaster Dumbledore (Sir Michael Gambon in his second outing after replacing the late Richard Harris), Professor McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith), Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine), Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and the loathsome Lucius Malfoy reprising their indelible characters. All the veterans of the series can give distinctive performances with scant screen time, enriching the story and the film.

New to the cast are Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, giving a strong performance as the volatile Defense Against the Dark Arts professor; Ralph Fiennes is superbly supernaturally sinister as the evil uber-villainous Lord Voldemont; and the heads of the other wizard schools participating in the TriWizard match, Igor Karkaroff (Pedja Bjelac looking much like Rasputin) and Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour). Miranda Richardson gets good mileage out of her Potter premier performance as Rita Skeeter, the nosy reporter for the wizard tabloid, Daily Prophet.

Special effects are state of the art and make things like fighting a fire-eating dragon, Quidditch flying, wizard fights and castle ghosts realistic and exciting. When Harry must outwit a particularly nasty dragon in the first stage of the Tri-Wizard match, I actually found my palms sweaty in the excitement. The homage to/rip off of “Star Wars” light saber duels, when Harry and Voldermort shoot it out, is derivative but visually exciting.

This is the best “Harry Potter,” yet, and should be the benchmark that all the rest, past and future, should be compared to. I give it an A-.

As Harry Potter's (Daniel Radcliffe) dreams repeat a vision of Voldemort in inhuman form, his fourth year at Hogwarts turns out to be just as scary.  Someone's entered the fourteen year-old into the Triwizard Tournament, which is so dangerous participants must be at least seventeen years of age, and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, "Layer Cake") is powerless to prevent his inclusion.  And if it's not bad enough that Harry will have to capture a golden egg from a dragon, rescue a loved one from undersea mermen and find a prize within a predatory maze, he must screw up his courage to invite Cho Chang (Katie Leung) to the Yule Ball in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Harry Potter's not just for kids anymore.  Director Mike Newell ("Donnie Brasco," "Mona Lisa Smile") has reset the bar for the series and delivered a smashingly dark and dramatic film that works on many levels.  "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is a first class film that leaves cuteness behind to deal with far more serious issues and its massive cast has never been better.  This one has some emotional heft.

We know we're in new territory right from the start.  There are no Dursleys this time around. Instead a slithering snake and portentous music (composer Patrick Doyle, "A Little Princess," working with John Williams's themes) are our entry into Harry's nightmare, which Newell breaks us out of with a bit of aural trickery right out of Hitchcock's "39 Steps."  Harry finds himself shaken awake for a field trip led by Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams, "Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London") and Amos Diggory (Jeff Rawle, "The Doctor and the Devils") through a portkey to attend the World Quidditch championship game, but the festivities are wrecked by the appearance of deatheaters searching for Harry and Voldemort's sign in the sky.

These horrible images are replaced by more magnificent ones when Dumbledore announces that Hogwarts is hosting the first Triwizard Tournament in a hundred years.  Members of two other prestigious schools arrive in splendor.  The girls from Beauxbatons Academy come via carriage drawn by flying horses and take the boys of Hogwarts breath away.  Even Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, "Van Helsing," "Ocean's Twelve") succumbs to the charms of their giantess headmistress Madame Olympe Maxime (Frances de la Tour).  The strapping young men of Durmstrang Institute, including Bulgarian Quidditch superstar Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), disembark a ship which has emerged from the loch's depths and descend upon Hogwarts main hall in a swirling Russian fire dance.  Dumbledore reads aloud the three names spit from the Goblet of Fire - Beauxbatons' Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy), Durmstrang's Krum and Hogwarts' handsome Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) - and announces the start of the Triwizard Tournament, but then is astonished when a fourth name floats down - Harry Potter.

Dumbledore believes Harry when the frightened boy says he didn't enter himself and asks new Dark Arts teacher Alastor 'Mad­Eye' Moody (Brendan Gleeson, "Kingdom of Heaven") to keep an eye on him.  But Harry must endure schoolyard taunts, whipped up by tabloid gossiper Rita Skeeter's (Miranda Richardson, "The Phantom of the Opera") claims that the lad is looking for attention.  To make matters worse, Harry's best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) stops talking to him and Skeeter paints Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as a hussy hot for Harry.  Hermione must also deal with Ron's inability to recognize their new found feelings for each other.  When he's too late to ask her to the ball, he's astonished by whose arm she arrives on.  The ball is but the forerunner, though, to the Tournament's final task which Harry will be horrified to learn has been orchestrated to put him in the clutches of his unholy nemesis, he who must not be named himself, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, "The Constant Gardener," "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit").

"Goblet" is the first of the films with an actual appearance by Voldemort and the death of one of Harry's friends at his hands, and so is also quite rightly the first to be rated PG-13. There are no cuddly CGI animals or house elves, no funny squawking messages from back home. The film is not without humor, of course, but even that is more adult, focusing on the awkwardness of adolescence.

The three leads keep getting better, particularly Grint and Watson who are now experiencing a distinct change in their relationship.   Watson and Radcliffe enjoy the easy comfort of true friendship.   "Goblet" also features a lot of the other students besides Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton, "Anna and the King"). The crew who will draw together in "Order of the Phoenix," Parvati (Shefali Chowdhury) and Padma Patil (Afshan Azad), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) are either introduced or become more prominent.  Ron's elder twin brothers, Fred and George Weasley (James and Oliver Phelps), have a lot more screen time and provide high-spirited hijinx.  The who's who of British acting talent that make up the teaching staff are all at the top of their game.  Maggie Smith ("Ladies in Lavender") gives deliciously tart line readings as Professor McGonagall and Alan Rickman ("Love Actually") continues to get the best casting award as the elusive Severus Snape.  Brendon Gleeson has a field day barking at students, swaggering about on his false leg and swigging from his flask as Mad Eye (the special effects eye that swivels about at will adds great character and Newell employs his camera with 'Mad Eye' points of view), just as Miranda Richardson makes the obnoxious, foxy Skeeter her own.  Ralph Fiennes, so subtle and heartbreaking in "The Constant Gardener," has already played "Wallace & Gromit's" villain this year, but his Voldemort is something else again.  Moving like a dancer, made up like a smooth serpent, Fiennes gives an insidious and intriguing performance.  In smaller roles, David Bradley ("Exorcist: The Beginning") cops a laugh as caretaker Argus Filch and Jeff Rawle issues raw, tortured human grief for the film's finale.  The usually wonderful Shirley Henderson ("Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason") has always played the ghostly Moaning Myrtle too much like a Betty Boop impersonation, but here at least, her sexually precocious nature dovetails with Harry's adolescent angst.  Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker along with Pulp's bass player and Radiohead's guitarist and drummer comprise the Yule Ball's rock band.

The production mostly looks fabulous, with Newell utilizing the Scottish Highlands to their best effect yet.  If the world cup Quidditch stands don't really look like part of the vast, in-ground CGI stadium, it's a minor quibble for a film that features a fantastic water tank sequence complete with tentacled mermen and a contestant whose head morphs from that of a shark back to his own.  Voldemort's transformation is genuinely creepy as well. Costuming can be terrific, such as the sensuous silk Beauxbatons Academy uniforms, but Hermione's womanly introduction in a ballgown is a bit of a let down.

Screenwriter Steven Kloves ("Wonder Boys," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") has done a great job adapting the series biggest book to date, exorcising an unnecessary subplot about Hermione's work to emancipate house elves to focus more on the impending dark forces gathering about Hogwarts and Newell's film engages the emotions more than I thought possible for a Harry Potter outing.  You're a big boy now, Harry Potter, and the series is getting down to serious business.

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