Saturday, December 03, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / ***½ (PG-13)

Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Dumbledore: Michael Gambon
Alastor Moody: Brendan Gleeson
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Cedric: Robert Pattinson
Viktor Krum: Stanislav Ianevski
Fleur Delacour: Clemence Poesy
Lord Voldemort: Ralph Fiennes

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Mike Newell. Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. Running time: 157 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images).

The Harry Potter film series has truly entered the realm of the serial series. The magical world of wizards and giants and trolls and dragons has become a place audiences return to every year and a half to see old friends, meet new people and face ever growing challenges. We return to watch Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, grow from children through adolescence into adulthood, eventually. And we come back to learn the destiny of Harry, whose fate becomes increasingly more intertwined with the mysterious evil wizard who is responsible for his parents’ deaths, Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth film based on the popular adolescent book series by J.K. Rowling depicting the fantasy world where those with the gift of magic are schooled from childhood at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As the series has progressed it has matured from a child’s fantasy to something a little more in depth, a little more intense, a little more meaningful. As the first film in the series to receive a PG-13 rating from the MPAA ratings board, Goblet of Fire gives us the darkest and most intense Harry Potter yet.

The movie opens in the summer before Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts at the Quidditch World Cup. Explaining what Quidditch is would take too long and proves my point about how involved the viewers of the Harry Potter films must be by this point. The ceremonies are interrupted by an attack organized by the followers of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who has spent years reconstituting himself after a spell intended to kill the infant Potter backfired. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is fifteen as he begins his fourth year at Hogwarts, not yet old enough to participate in the inter-wizard school competition the Triwizard Tournament. Somehow, however, his name ends up in the drawing of contestants and he must participate in the series of challenges set forth to him and his three elder piers, Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson), Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) and Fleur Delacour (Clemence Posey). Harry is given pointers on how to survive these trials, which include facing a full grown dragon, by the school’s new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson).

As with each of the previous Harry Potter sequels Goblet of Fire introduces a few new teachers, villains and friends. The most notable of this episode’s cast additions are the introductions of Mad Eye Moody and the often talked of but as yet unseen (until now) Voldemort. The casting of Brendan Gleeson (Kingdom of Heaven) and Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardner) continues the producers’ string of perfect casting choices for the series. Gleeson, always a brutish hulk, has a warmth to him that makes you want to trust him as someone to take Harry under his wing; but he also carries an instability to his presence that sells the “mad” of his nickname (the “eye” he gets from the makeup department, with plenty of quease) and makes you question whether his intentions for Harry are pure. Fiennes has touched upon his darker tendencies before this turn as Voldemort, which carries some echoes of his performance as a serial killer in the most recent adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. Fiennes seems to be drawn to roles in which he appears to have no face. Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow), however, is wasted in her role as the witch tabloid reporter Rita Skeeter, whose role in the story is cut down considerably from the book.

One of the most wonderful things to observe with the Harry Potter films is the growing maturity of the three main characters; Harry, Hermione and Ron. These are kids who age like real kids despite their fantasy environment. Harry is dealing with a crush along with the pressures of the Triwizard Tournament. Ron feels betrayed by Harry’s inclusion in the tournament along with living in denial about his feelings for Hermione. Hermione also harbors feeling for Ron, but finds herself crushing on Viktor Krum. It’s high school soap operatics all over again.

As the characters have matured only a bit through their growing pains in the third installment, the direction by Mike Newell (Mona Lisa Smile) has come much further back to earth. Although I greatly enjoyed the raw directorial style of Alfonso Cuaron for Prisoner of Azkaban, Newell’s toned down style serves the action well in Goblet of Fire. The adaptation, while necessarily cutting heavily from the book, comes across as a solid treatment that doesn’t hint at missing pieces like the third installment did.

The greatest drawback of this fourth picture in the series is the loss of John Williams as the score composer. Patrick Doyle’s (Secondhand Lions) score lacks the adventurous spirit of Williams’ work. Even when Doyle works Williams’ established Harry Potter themes into his composition, they lack strength. Doyle so far has scored mostly stuffy British society flicks, and was a poor choice to take over for Williams in my opinion. Harry Potter demands a dramatic composer accustomed to the action genre, preferably with the opera based techniques that Williams incorporates into his work. Alan Silvestri would have been my choice, but hopefully Williams bowed out because he was booked with four other scores to compose this year, all big budget releases, and will return for the next Potter.

Harry Potter has become as much of an adventure for the audience by this time as it has for the characters in it. Unfortunately for those who haven’t been in on it from the beginning, you’ve missed the boat; but you can always go back and watch the series from the first film (which admittedly loses a great deal on a small screen). But as one who didn’t miss the boat, this reviewer can’t wait until the summer of 2007 to visit with his friends at Hogwarts for another, even darker adventure. I can only hope that the absence of screenwriter Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) will not have as noticeable an impact on the material as Williams’ nonattendance this time around.

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