Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson fret about dark times ahead in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.’
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. Directed by Mike Newell. Written by Steve Kloves, based on J.K. Rowling’s novel. Rated PG-13.

His Dark Materials

The magic turns blacker in Harry Potter’s breathless fourth outing.


Take a look at the rating on this movie. It’s PG-13, and for once the MPAA isn’t joking around. Devoted readers know that J.K. Rowling’s series of Harry Potter novels has grown steadily darker and more violent with each successive book. The fourth film in this series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire doesn’t stint on the darkness that Rowling served up, and thank God, because any kind of sugarcoating would certainly have meant death. Instead, the latest installment, besides being as good an action movie as is currently playing in the theaters, further propels the Potter movies in a more mature direction, which is completely as it should be.

The third director for this franchise is Mike Newell, who is also the first Englishman to take the reins of this quintessentially English series. Where Chris Columbus brought candy-colored cutesiness to the first two films and Alfonso Cuarón brought shimmering mystery and wonder to the third, Newell replaces their qualities with a grimness and seriousness of purpose that we haven’t seen before in the Potter films. He delivers a straight-up thriller that moves through its 157 minutes at a remorseless, bruising pace.

The idea of a lean-and-mean Harry Potter movie is a good one, though this is occasionally too lean — the opening sequence depicting a terrorist attack on the Quidditch World Cup feels oddly truncated. Rowling’s fans will no doubt take note of the subplots that have been sheared off, but even moviegoers who don’t know about those will be able to sense the omitted details and awkwardly placed supporting characters, like wizarding-world gossip columnist Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson). Only rarely does the film take a moment to catch its breath, whereas its predecessor was stronger for stopping occasionally along with its characters to have fun. The Goblet of Fire is the first Potter movie that feels like it should have been longer.

The main plot involves Hogwarts hosting delegations of students from sister schools in France and Bulgaria in preparation for the Tri-Wizard Cup, a competition challenging older students to perform potentially deadly magical tasks. Much against his will, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself entered into the contest despite being underage. As if that isn’t enough, Harry also has to deal with a rift between himself and Ron (Rupert Grint), the threat of Lord Voldemort returning to power, and the most terrifying ordeal he’s faced yet: asking a girl out on a date.

Newell’s previous movies, which range from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Donnie Brasco to Mona Lisa Smile, established his track record of low-key proficiency. He’s not the most visually imaginative filmmaker, despite some nice details like the placard show that accompanies the Bulgarian Quidditch team, reminiscent of those government-glorifying Soviet-bloc pageants during the Cold War. Mostly, his contribution to the franchise consists in keeping the material’s hard edge. Hogwarts’ newest professor, “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson), is introduced in a scene that’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever been trapped in a classroom with a teacher who comes across as a raving psycho. This role gives the authentically frightening Gleeson his best chance yet to scare the crap out of an audience, and he does so even before Mad-Eye decides to educate the kids in his class by demonstrating a torture spell on a large spider.

The movie’s single-minded focus leaves little room for much additional insight into the characters, which will presumably be left for the future films. The actors have less to do here, although Emma Watson develops into a pretty forceful presence as Hermione, as does Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore after having camped up the role in the previous film. (He’s still not quite right for the part. Ian McKellen would have been ideal. That didn’t happen for understandable reasons.) Patrick Doyle steps in for John Williams as the franchise’s new composer, and though Doyle has penned some brilliant movie scores, this one catches him at his bombastic worst. The climactic appearance of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is a letdown, too. The filmmakers try to use Fiennes’ sharply handsome features to create a character who’s both beautiful and grotesque, and it just doesn’t work.

Still, the whoosh of the movie’s narrative makes flaws like these hard to spot the first time through. Goblet of Fire lacks the tactile sense of taking place in a magical world that Prisoner of Azkaban had, but Newell’s unflashy skill with action sequences, such as the lengthy underwater Tri-Wizard challenge, carries the day. The filmmakers don’t resort to any cheap emotional ploys as the movie inexorably proceeds toward a tragic ending that leaves Harry hysterically clutching the lifeless body of one of his murdered schoolmates. For uninitiated grown-up moviegoers who think the Harry Potter franchise is just for kids, this ferociously downbeat latest installment definitively proves that idea wrong.

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