U.S. Release Date: November 18, 2005
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Mike Newell
Writer: Steve Kloves
Producer: David Heyman
Composer: Patrick Doyle, John Williams (main theme)
Cast: Warwick Davis, Clemence Poesy, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Pattinson, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman
Running Time: 2 hours and 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images)

In Part Four, Potter Remains Murky
by Scott Holleran

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a step down in the series, failing to define the title character and portending less engaging versions in the future. British director Mike Newell's (Mona Lisa Smile) deliberate approach is a welcome break from the usual slam-bang mayhem for the first third of the movie—but, with a grinding plot and passive protagonist, this year's Hogwarts lessons are awfully thin.

Writer Steven Kloves does what he can with J.K. Rowling's dark novel—itself met by mixed reviews—which returns to the adventures of young master magician Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Missing this time is a visit to Potter's house and the usual sparring with his family. Also absent: a strong sense of conflict.

In previous pictures, especially Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in which Potter discovered the virtue of independence, there was the anticipation that the character would grow into himself. By the fourth installment, one expects greater advancement—the appearance of a pre-adult personality—but gets more of the same: the quiet, smart kid with glasses to whom things generally happen. It's as if Prisoner of Azkaban's dramatic story, with Sirius Black taking over as mentor, did not happen. Despite the credits, Gary Oldman as Sirius appears briefly in voiceover trickery.

Plugging Rowling's routine—introduction of a mysterious Hogwarts faculty member, a concrete goal (here, a competition to obtain a wizards' cup) and clues about what happened to Harry Potter's parents—into old and new characters, it chugs slowly along like a petering Hogwarts Express, though the story kicks off with an exciting Olympics-type Quidditch championship. The contest's triple-grail trajectory pauses for what commences as a graceful ballroom dance scene (and gives way to bland radio rock), showing that Hermione's still smarter than the other two. This all happens amid new and various bedknobs and broomsticks.

They clatter and clang and ring hollow, showcasing Rowling's wares with perfunctory movements, transitions and action. When archvillain Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), rumored to be lurking about, finally faces Potter, it is markedly late in the game. The problem, primarily, is Potter; because he is mostly reactive, Goblet of Fire asks one to take his magic on faith, making the match against Voldemort blasé.

With the magic fading, and with the old saw about his legendary promise growing repetitious, it comes off as another horror movie for kids, a sort of Lord of the Rings for Halloween. It may have always seemed thus to some, but, for those holding out for live action fun laced with Sword in the Stone mythology, and more trustworthy sidekicks, it is disappointing.

Even Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) slips into a slouch, badmouthing heroism and shepherding Potter through the latest dangers with a slovenly, detached demeanor. Brendan Gleeson and Miranda Richardson step in as quirky new characters, while regulars dutifully earn their keep: Maggie Smith, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane. Sweet Katie Leung plays a perky witch who is Potter's romantic interest.

Visually dark (and, often, grotesque) and lacking thrills during its confrontational climax, which occurs in a labyrinth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire unfolds by the numbers. Though Potter learns about honor with a rival, it is a paltry payoff, and, four stories into this seven-part series, Harry Potter remains a pleasant, bright kid who lost his parents—staying murky just when he ought to come into focus.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
The double disc DVD of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is aimed clearly at fans and reflecting the picture. The movie is included on disc one without commentary, and disc two is structured like a video game—a real leap toward the perceptual, not conceptual, approach in home entertainment production.

Additional scenes—not called deleted scenes here—are among scads of mini-features throughout the second disc's mysterious navigation, which presupposes previous knowledge of the movie. There are no time stamps and no indication whether something is a game or a feature, so it's hard to know what's in store. The current DVD trend assumes people prefer home video as a random experience, and this presentation definitely lacks clarity.

Each extra is usually accompanied by a musical score that overwhelms the material, practically drowning out the spoken voice. Technically accomplished like most of today's computer-generated movies, the emergent theme of this DVD extravaganza is the hugeness of the Harry Potter franchise. Separated by four story-pegged parts, the features—games, interviews, snippets—include scene references and a panel interview with major cast members (Radcliffe, Grint and Watson) in which Radcliffe insists that playing Harry Potter in four blockbusters has not changed his life.

Elsewhere, one is treated to breathless exhortations that range from Potter's exciting escape from a computer dragon and exhaustive training for the underwater episode to the chaotic maze sequence, clearly a favorite among the moviemakers. Through every piece, momentary interviews with cast and crew pop up, disappear and it's back to the perceptual-bound onslaught in keeping with the picture's style. Director Mike Newell, appearing here and there, explicitly embraces the genre that ultimately suits the series: horror. Practically drooling over the ghoulish maze climax, Newell explains that he intends for the viewer to become a virtual savage, wild and uncivilized—to the point of doubting his own existence.

These hyper tidbits are the newest lesson plans at Hogwarts and they are guaranteed to thrill the legions of gothic-worshippers—and video gamers—drawn into this dark, frightening fantasy.

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