Sure, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has some great action scenes, a strong sense of dread and (finally) an up-close-and-personal appearance by You-Know-Who in all his full-size, horrible, slits-for-nose infamy.
But what you might take away from it is a lovely interlude in the middle, in which our Hogwarts trio — who are now 14 — prepare for the Yule Ball, which brings with it many real terrors, at least for Harry and Ron. They include:
• Asking a girl to go with them.
• Learning to dance (with Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall as a partner!).
• Figuring out what to say to the girl once the ball starts.
• And trying not to look like a complete idiot when Hermione puts on a prom dress and does her hair just so and gets the chance to stroll down some stairs into the dance, like the royalty she deserves to be.
This isn’t just good ol’ Hermione any more, that’s quite clear. And Harry and Ron aren’t the same boys either.
That’s the real joy of The Goblet of Fire — watching them grow up. Their tempers are more volatile now, and the occasional semi-naughty word pops out. And you weren’t mistaken — the boys were indeed checking out the retreating forms of some French girls strolling regally through Hogwarts. Ooh la la, indeed.
Goblet is the first PG-13 rated Potter movie and deserves to be. No one in the packed house I saw it with seemed overly concerned, not even the youngest. But there is a ghoulish blood ritual, more menacing apparitions and Lord Voldemort himself (he’s Ralph Fiennes, but it’s hard to tell).
There’s even murder.
Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is new to the Potter series, but he fits in smoothly, handling the action tolerably well and really hitting his stride with that Yule Ball scene.
The movie, as exhilarating as it often is, has a few problems. The biggest obstacle is J.K. Rowling’s book itself, the more than 700 pages of it. It’s so massive that serious thought was given to breaking it up into two films. As it was, filmmakers jettisoned whole subplots to get down to 2 1/2 hours of movie.
While many, many things happen in the film, even in this pared-down form, it suffers from a certain similarity to the other movies: Voldemort, once again, tries to get Harry killed and, once again, doesn’t quite manage it.
And so another year passes.
The story is structured around the Triwizard Competition, a dangerous tournament that draws international interest (those French girls and some Eastern European teen boys as well).
Harry Potter’s chosen to compete, though he’s considered too young, leading to a series of perilous events — a duel with a dragon is quite zippy, while a journey to the bottom of the Black Lake is a complete triumph.
The final event leads him to Voldemort, whose reappearance on the scene has been threatened throughout.
The acting is stronger than ever in this fourth installment. As Harry, Daniel Radcliffe got off to a shaky start, years ago. No problems now, not with this tougher, more intense Harry. Rupert Grint is once more capable comic relief as Ron Weasley. But it’s Emma Watson as Hermione who gives the story its real heart; the young actress can command a movie screen even when she’s just a face in the crowd.
Her Hermione is a good person to have at your back.
Among the adults, Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore gets more screen time (at the expense of Snape and Hagrid and McGonagall), while Brendan Gleeson is ferocious as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody.
You’ll notice again, however, how instructors in that position don’t seem to last too long.