In the fourth Harry Potter installment, growing pains threaten to overwhelm the magical milieu. But a worthy villain saves the day.
By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published November 17, 2005
[Photos: Warner Bros.]
The Goblet of Fire, which selects the champions for the Triwizard tournament.
Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint return to Hogwarts for a fourth year, where they must battle evil while finding prom dates.
The magic isn't wearing off yet in the film series, although Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes uncomfortably close to being good business rather than the necessary extension of a saga. After the emotional pull of Prisoner of Azkaban, the adolescent angst forming the core of this fourth entry seems extravagantly petty.
After Harry discovered his godfather's identity in part 3, his next major crisis is a showdown with evil Lord Voldemort that doesn't materialize until the final 30 minutes of Goblet of Fire. But there are two hours of brilliantly conceived action and occasional drivel until then. Finding a prom date isn't a compelling factor after the adventures Harry survived before and later here. Creating reasons for the regular cast of Hogwarts characters to appear is becoming a stretch.
That said, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is mostly satisfying, simply because such technical precision and meaningful special effects are rare in fantasy films today. The primary cast members are aging gracefully, in roles that are maturing with them. Any apprehensions about Mike Newell's film are erased in the final act, a wonderfully tense action sequence with Ralph Fiennes' serpent interpretation of Voldemort living up to prolonged expectations.
Yet the Harry Potter film series is showing signs of becoming an exclusive club that only readers can exit completely satisfied. They can fill in the gaps and omissions of plot and characterization. The filmmakers' confidence in that leads to a bit of confusion or, even worse, questions of what's the big deal. It's no wonder that box office revenues have declined with each episode. Newcomers aren't being invited.
When the film opens, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is haunted by nightmares of Lord Voldemort pledging to murder him. It's right in line with the melancholy awareness Harry achieved in part three, and a hint of much darker deeds ahead to earn the series' first PG-13 rating. Then the movie veers into teen traumas that wouldn't be out of place in a Hilary Duff movie: Harry's crush on a student (Katie Leung) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) dating a brute because Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) won't speak up about his true feelings.
However, the backdrop for these problems is a pip. Hogwarts is chosen to host the Triwizard tournament pitting single representatives of three magic academies. Tradition is changed when the Goblet of Fire that chooses the participants spits out a fourth name: Harry, who's younger than the stated rules allow. There's resentment from Ron (an abbreviated falling-out among friends) and reluctance on Harry's part. But he masters the challenges involving fire-breathing dragons, underwater creatures and a massively landscaped maze.
The spectacle of Newell's film constantly overshadows the personal drama among students, starting with a Quidditch World Cup game in a marvelously conceived stadium and a terrorist attack by Voldemort's army of Death Eaters. Even on a smaller scale, the visual tricks are the movie's triumph, such as the new character Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), who humorously lives up to his nickname with a huge roving eyeball.
The payoff is Voldemort's resurrection from supernatural exile and his vengeful assault on Harry. Fiennes presents him as evil incarnate, with a snake's face and skin-crawling diction to deliver his threats. The most important aspect of any fantasy adventure, from James Bond to The Lord of the Rings, is a villain as impressive as the special effects. Voldemort is everything this series needs.
The inevitability of Voldemort's return in future films is a solid reason for the series to continue. Without him, the promise of more growing pains, run-ins with snarling professor Snape (Alan Rickman, sadly underused) and the recurring twist of a traitor within Hogwarts might not be enough. It would be a shame if Warner Bros., or Rowling for that matter, simply perpetuates Harry's adventures for profit rather than quitting while they're ahead.