When Hogwarts hosts the prestigious and dangerous Triwizard Tournament, the enchanted Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire inexplicably selects unqualified 14 year-old Harry (Radcliffe) as a competitor. Thus he has to deal with three horrifying challenges while a dark power gathers force against him. Even scarier, he has to get a date for the Yule Ball.
The fourth offering in the Harry Potter franchise sees The Boy Who Lived and his chums trying to get through another year at the increasingly dangerous Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. This means, as ever, secrets and treachery within, hostilities with classmates and life-threatening magical sports days. Freshly added to the blend is the embarrassing reality of tortured youth, with sexual awakenings and brooding mood-swings exacerbated by the added distraction of stunning foreign exchange students. Making quite the grand entrance are the chic girls of Beauxbatons Academy and the hunky boys of Durmstrang Institute. Welcome to Harry Potter And The Rampaging Hormones.
This is definitely not a film for young children, however amusing its characters and comic touches. Teen angst and relationship problems are pretty boring if you’re six. But it’s not the burgeoning sexuality that’s landed the picture its 12A certificate, rather its genuinely darker vein of fantasy horror. For the maturing Potter main audience, the movie is well-developed, with teasing terrors and skin-crawling set-pieces as the dark Lord Voldemort once again rises — as all dark lords must, it appears, DLs notoriously being even harder to kill totally dead than the nut-job in Halloween. (Quite why Lord V. is so preoccupied with plotting against the promising pipsqueak Harry is presumably something to be clarified for cinema audiences in the fullness of time.)
Mike Newell, as the first British director entrusted with a series entry, oversees plenty of spiffing special-effects action — the Quidditch World Cup final, a dragon fight, an underwater scene and Gary Oldman’s (all-too-short) fiery cameo — but as one would expect, he does a wonderful job with the more personal, realistic emotional content while simultaneously bringing on the young leads’ performances remarkably. So it’s a shame that he’s less successful in handling the necessary novel-to-screen compression.
Even though Newell’s work lasts more than two-and-a-half hours of running time, the novel is such a doorstopper that screenwriter Steve Kloves had to skip more detail this time around. Harry’s annual confinement with his ghastly Dursley relations and Hermione’s house-elf-liberation campaign is gone. While he was at it, it’s a shame he didn’t also get rid of tabloid hackette Rita Skeeter — however much one likes Miranda Richardson — as she clearly serves as author J. K. Rowling’s dig at celebrity-stalking gossips, adding nothing more than running-time the plot doesn’t need.
As it is, there’s too much conflicting material with which to be happy with: the life-or-death challenges of the Triwizard Tournament are interspersed with a vast of new characters and their sinister or serio-comic sub-plots, school lessons, the agenda of yet another weird new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher in Brendan Gleeson’s fierce Mad-Eye Moody, Potter sidekick Ron’s sulks, swotty Hermione’s makeover and Harry’s blushing attempts to ask a girl to a dance…
Consequently, the story editing goes through some distinctly choppy patches. It looks as if several scenes were filmed at greater length, surviving in quick snippets that are frequently unnecessary. The film Newell set out to create — odd comedy-cum-Hitchcockian conspiracy — can only be seen briefly, before that beast of a storyline charges back into shot, demanding attention.
Thankfully, most of it is pulled together towards the end. It’s no doubt that Ralph Fiennes handles the long-awaited appearance of wicked Voldemort himself, and fortunately his big scene is incredibly creepy, ensuring strong anticipation for frights to come.