They sputter and stutter and run out of gas long before the studio stops spending money on them.
But darned if this Harry Potter franchise isn’t sharpening, expanding, growing into itself as it progresses. The fourth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, has a couple of those great out-of-body popcorn movie moments that popcorn movies have been missing this year. It’s better acted, more beautiful, with the most dazzling effects yet. It’s lighter-hearted when it needs to be, more brooding and depressing when that’s called for.
Goblet of Fire is good enough that if they’d chosen to end this series at this film’s climax, it would’ve worked, would’ve felt right and few would have felt cheated.
Englishman Mike Newell takes over directing duties, and he renders this part of the life of Harry in realistic colors and stunning set pieces. But mostly, he helps his young cast complete the journey from “looks right for the part” to “acting the part.” Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, as Harry and his best mate, Ron Weasley, finally hold their own with the best actors in Britain — Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, and, added for this film, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson and Ralph Fiennes.
We leap right into the trouble, as Harry dreams the murder of a caretaker and the plotting of a subhuman “dark lord” and his minions. The obligatory Quidditch match is dispensed with early. It’s the Quidditch World Cup, which ends the way all World Cups do, with a riot. Masked Death Eaters are hunting for the boy with the scar.
Harry is 14, and a new teacher at Hogwarts, Mad-Eye Moody (Gleeson), is ready to teach him the art of self-defense, dark-arts style. Harry can use that training because he’s getting warnings and premonitions about Lord Voldemort’s return.
A big Triwizard tourney is scheduled, including life-threatening fights with a dragon and an underwater quest. And Harry, being the Chosen One, is picked to compete.
To top it off, our intrepid trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson) are hitting puberty. Darned if there isn’t a Yule Ball (a coming-out party for wizards and witches) on Christmas Eve, and hard feelings over who will go with whom.
Alfonso Cuaron brought the actors along nicely in the last Potter film, Prisoner of Azkaban. Newell’s biggest contribution is in humanizing the characters, letting the actors show their own youth through what their respective roles require. Radcliffe has a genuine blushing moment, and Grint has the most convincing take on the awkwardness of discovering girls.
“She was just walking by,” he says, slack-jawed over some object of desire. “You know how I like it when they walk.”
Watson needs to dial things back a bit. She over-emotes and over-indicates her gestures, as if some acting teacher were spoiling her spontaneity in between scenes. But she and Radcliffe share perhaps the most emotional moment in any of the films.
Gleeson is the first “guest star” heavyweight to come in and make his role a real contribution to the movie. He is ham on rye, with a cool special-effect eye for assistance. He makes his Mad-Eye Moody a genuine hoot.
The finale is darker than dark, and the movie goes on too long just before that climax, and just after it. And the whole thing ends rather meekly.
But Goblet of Fire makes you wish Newell had the chance to go back and remake the tedious first two films in the Potter canon. If he could manage that bit of magic, he’d be the real wizard.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Brendan Gleeson, Rupert Grint
Credits: Directed by Mike Newell. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:37