The good about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is that this fourth entry about the adventure of the boy wizard comes as no let-down in the impressive quality control that has marked every aspect of the franchise. It hasn’t been compromised in any certain way.
From fire-breathing dragons to dances, Harry Potter is up to his wizard’s hat in new frightening challenges
This is quite a feat when you consider there’s almost no precedent for it. By the time every other long-running franchise in movie history — James Bond, Superman, even Star Wars — has stumbled into its fourth episode, they have been ghosts of their former glory.
Of course, the bloom is off the rose and the air is thick with deja vu. A critic also might complain that the plotting is often clunky and overly complex, too little effort is given to catch-up and exposition, and it’s way too long.
But these are quibbles. The larger truth is that Warner Bros’ determination to keep author J.K. Rowling and the world’s zillions of Harry fans happy has held firm, and Harry IV is an intelligent, visually seductive and mostly very satisfying fantasy epic of the first order.
The story (which has been pared down from Rowling’s voluminous tome) opens with Harry’s nightmare involving the rebirth of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), which becomes reality in a finale that tests Harry’s growth, advances his quest and sets up a fifth adventure.
In between, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie is mostly taken up with a tournament between Hogwarts and two other wizard academies, in which the title’s Goblet of Fire selects a candidate from each school to compete in three Herculean contests.
The rules say the contestants must be 17 years old, but, even though the 14-year-old Harry doesn’t submit his name as a candidate, the fire chooses him as an extra competitor for Hogwarts — a development that causes him great pain because his friends believe he rigged it.
As the clouded tournament proceeds, perhaps the movie’s greatest failing is that it’s never the heart-pounding competition spectacle it wants to be. The action is always more intellectual than visceral, and there’s no real suspense as to the outcome.
Visual junkies also might charge that, unlike Harry I-III, there’s no new show-stopping special effect that knocks us out of our seats and pushes the technology to a new level. (The movie may be evidence that the dead-end of the cinema’s visual potential is in sight.)
Even so, the CGI-sequences — a world-cup Quidditch match, Harry going one-on-one with a dragon, fighting a school of underwater mere-creatures, in the clutches of a malevolent maze — are state-of-the-art and perfectly in line with the series’ unique art design.
And if the new faces are mostly innocuous teenagers, the series gets a pair of splendid additions in Brendan Gleeson as a teacher who looks and acts like Long John Silver and Miranda Richardson as a nosey reporter out to nail Harry in the pages of the Daily Prophet.
Still, in the end, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie‘s chief joy is less its fantasy visuals or eccentric characters than the privilege it offers of allowing us to watch our old friends, the three principals — now awkward teenagers — struggle with hormonal surges and the rites of puberty.
A great deal of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie is taken up with the Hogwarts Ball, a kind of high school prom in which Harry, Hermione and Ron go through the agony of insecurity attendant with every step of the ritual. It’s “Love Finds Andy Hardy,” with wizards.
Wonderfully, director Mike Newell nails the work, giving the lengthy scene some of the same high anxiety and social humor of his “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” In his scheme of things, facing a dragon is nothing compared to the horrors of a first date.