Saturday, November 12, 2005

Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire
By Kirk Honeycutt

For legions of Harry Potter fans, the coming of a new film, the fourth adapted from J.K. Rowling's hugely successful literary series, is all they need to know. For nonfans or parents who accompany children, there is this: The movies keep getting better and better.

Where the first two films stood in awe of Rowling's work with all its magic and trickery, "Prisoner of Azkaban" and now "The Goblet of Fire" look more deeply into the developing human drama. As the three young protagonists move into their teens, they become more recognizable as young people rather than young wizards. They confront such coming-of-age issues as hormonal urges, questions of identity and peer pressure. They confront, in other words, emotions and experiences faced by all teenagers. Magic can't help them here.

But there will be magic at the boxoffice. The series actually has declined domestically from the dizzy heights of $317.6 million for the first one to $249.4 million for "Azkaban." This one suffers from a 156-minute running time that might cut into attendance by the very young, but the film should come close to equaling the success of the previous edition.

The new director is Mike Newell, which is interesting because he is the first British director on what is a very British movie series. Perhaps this explains why "Goblet of Fire" feels much more intimate. Newell and writer Steve Kloves, who has adapted all four books, waste no time in the world of the Muggles, humans with no magical abilities. From the opening nightmare to the last shot on the last day of Harry's fourth year of study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the movie is rooted in the world of magic.

Harry's recurring nightmare features a room glimpsed from a dark corridor, wherein Harry's nemesis, the evil though unseen Lord Voldemort, conspires with minions. More disturbingly, as school opens and returning students visit the Quidditch campsite, dark figures attack. These are Death Eaters, who haven't materialized since their leader, Voldemort, lost his powers 13 years before on the night he murdered Harry's parents -- but failed to kill Harry.

The school year focuses on a rare Triwizard Tournament. Two other prestigious wizard schools -- the Beauxbatons Academy with its graceful girls and the Durmstrang Institute of athletic, vaguely Eastern European boys -- join Hogwarts for the competition.

The enchanted Goblet of Fire spits out the names of the champion for each of the three schools. Then a curious thing happens: A fourth name flies out -- Harry Potter. At 14, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is too young to compete. Yet the Goblet rules, so Harry is entered into a dangerous competition against witchcraft students more advanced than he.

His inexplicable selection upsets the dynamics with his two best friends. Redheaded Ron (Rupert Grint) is angry and jealous, certain that Harry pulled some trick to earn the championship slot, while the lovely Hermione (Emma Watson) is confused and worried for her friend.

The school's head, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), is worried too. Surely someone is setting up Harry for a fall, and the professor might not be able to protect him. He asks the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor -- the wacky, scared amputee Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson), called "Mad-Eye" for a bulging, all-seeing eye -- to keep an eye out, so to speak, for trouble.

The three "tasks" of the competition provide the backbone of the movie. Each is a magnificent set piece of action, danger and trial by fire reminiscent of the early "Star Wars" battles. One involves a contest with very cranky, fire-spewing dragons. The next sends the four contestants into the dark waters of the Black Lake to rescue marooned friends. The final challenge happens in a malevolent maze of tall, vicious hedges where pathways are thick with mist.

It is this final task that brings Harry into his first contact with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), an almost reptilian personification of pure evil. Coming in the fourth movie, the much-anticipated confrontation does not disappoint. Voldemort emerges from a boiling cauldron, born again into venomous hatred for humanity, feeling power surge once more through newly formed muscles and tissue, while Harry trembles with hatred and fear. This initial skirmish sets the stage for battles to come.

Interspersed among the heroic tasks are the rising level of threats against the school and the discovery -- a different kind of magic to be sure -- of the opposite sex. Hogwarts' Yule Ball requires that boys come with dates. Despite his fame, Harry finds himself tongue-tied. He finally works up the courage to approach Cho Chang (Katie Leung). Meanwhile, Ron asks Hermione but does this so poorly, at least in her opinion, that she chooses to attend with Durmstrang's champion Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski).

Here is the place where the film seems hesitant. Rowling's story insists that Harry pines for Cho Chang even as Ron looks at Hermione in a brand new light. Only Harry and Hermione must spend so much quality time together because of the plot that they seem to go together more comfortably.

The three leads continue to smoothly chart the evolution of characters who must learn lessons fast to survive. Also returning are Alan Rickman, as anal and crabby as ever as Professor Snape; Robbie Coltrane, the burly giant Hagrid, Hogwarts' caretaker, given the task of wooing Frances de la Tour's even taller Headmistress of Beauxbatons, Madame Maxime; Maggie Smith as the ever-practical Professor McGonagall; Timothy Spall, still looking rodentlike as Wormtail aka Peter Pettigrew; and Tom Felton, the representation of upper-class hauteur and cowardice as Harry's archenemy Draco. The one role left stranded is a gossip journalist played by Miranda Richardson, a character the movie easily could have jettisoned.

Newell achieves the same brilliant production values of his predecessors. Along with the brooding and at times ominous look by designer Stuart Craig and cinematographer Roger Pratt, Patrick Doyle contributes the best musical score of the series, one richly symphonic yet with a pop overlay that reminds us we are in a world of fantasy.

Warner Bros. Pictures
A Heyday Films production
Director: Mike Newell
Screenwriter: Steve Kloves
Based on the novel by: J.K. Rowling
Producer: David Heyman
Executive producers: David Barron, Tanya Seghatchian
Director of photography: Roger Pratt
Production designer: Stuart Craig
Music: Patrick Doyle
Co-producer: Peter MacDonald
Costumes: Jany Temime
Editor: Mick Audsley
Harry: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron: Rupert Grint
Hermione: Emma Watson
Professor Dumbledore: Michael Gambon
Voldemort: Ralph Fiennes
Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody: Brendan Gleeson
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Lucius Malfoy
Jason Isaacs
Severus Snape: Alan Rickman
Minierva McGonagall: Maggie Smith
Wormtail: Timothy Spall
MPAA rating PG-13
Running time -- 156 minutes

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