Dark times lie ahead for Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Harry has a bad dream about Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) returning which is interrupted when Hermione (Emma Watson) wakes them up. They are late. Ron (Rupert Grint) and the rest of the Weasley family are taking a vacation to the Quidditch World Cup. One night, the appearance of the Dark Mark and Death Eaters who destroy everything in their path, causes everyone to flee. Soon, the children are back at Hogwarts and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) announces the school will host the prestigious Triwizards Tournament. One representative from each of three schools, including Hogwarts, will compete. Anyone who wants to compete needs to put their name in the Goblet of Fire, which will choose the competitors. Victor Krum, representing the Bulgarian school, and Fleur Delacour, representing the French school are chosen, along with Cedric Diggory, a Hogwarts student. Excited, everyone prepares to leave as the Goblet spits out a fourth name, Harry Potter. All of the Professors are in agreement: the rules are clear; all names issued by the Goblet of Fire are to compete. The new Defense of the Dark Arts professor, Mad Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), takes an interest in Harry, helping him through some tricky situations. But Dark times lie ahead for our hero.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", the fourth film in the series, is also the longest book to date. There were some plans to make the book into two films, releasing part 1 in the summer and part 2 in November, but director Mike Newell, with input from Alfonso Cuaron, the director of "Harry Potter III", decided to do one film, eliminating many of the smaller subplots.
"Goblet" is, so far, my favorite book in the series, because there is so much going on, so many different things for everyone to contend with. And I was more than a little weary when I heard they were only making one film. It didn't seem possible to cram all of that material, even after eliminating some subplots, into a respectable film. But director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and A Funeral") and screenwriter Steve Kloves ("Harry Potter 1, 2 and 3") have done a great job incorporating a respectable portion of the book into a fast paced film. When the film was over, I honestly didn't feel like I had just watched a film that was over 2 and hours long. It seemed shorter than it actually was. What better compliment can there be?
There are a number of other reasons that this is, so far, the best film in the series. Chris Columbus received a lot of kudos for starting the series, but the first two films were just okay. They were certainly faithful to the book, but weren't magical. Everything seemed to be marched out, to appease fans of the books, to make sure everything on the "checklist" was taken care of. The series really began to develop in the right way when Alfonso Cuaron took over the reins and made "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". Cuaron helped the tone of the darker book remain intact and added a lot of great flourish to the story. Newell takes this a step further. As the kids get older, the books keep getting darker, more dangerous and a little scarier. Newell has created the darkest film of the series, matching the feel of the book to a tee.
Another reason the films get better with each installment? The three leads are getting older, learning more about their craft, becoming better actors. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have matured enough that each can act in a fairly natural way. They have always been good, but they are finally becoming good actors. Rupert Grint as Ron, in particular, seems to be relying less on facial ticks, exaggerated mannerisms, and shouting to convey his character than he has in previous films.
It also helps that each of the young actors is dealing with something that most of us can relate to: the onset of puberty. One of the events associated with the Triwizards Tournament is a ball. Therefore, Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) gives the students in her house dancing lessons, leading to many of the students asking, indeed recognizing, the opposite sex as possible dating material for the first time. Ron is particularly smitten with Fleur Delacour, but is also interested in Hermione. Unfortunately, he is unable to come out and ask her. Harry is interested in someone as well, but by the time he gets around to asking Cho to the dance, she has already accepted an invitation from someone else. This is, perhaps, the best part of the film, because it is the most grounded in reality.
Every film has a `guest star', a well-known actor or actress who will end up making one memorable appearance, the equivalent of TV's "Love Boat". "Goblet"'s guest star is Brendan Gleeson, as Alastar "Mad Eye" Moody, the new Defense of the Dark Arts Teacher. If you are an avid fan of the books, you know that Hogwarts has difficulty retaining its Defense of the Dark Arts Professor, allowing a series of memorable actors to take over the role in each new film. Gleeson is very good and very memorable as a professor with one artificial leg and one artificial eye who has taken the job at the request of Dumbledore. He is a bit of a ham, but the character is supposed to be crazy, off his rocker, mad, so it works well.
Of course, there is another actor making his debut in the series. Ralph Fiennes appears in a few scenes as Lord Voldemort. Harry's nemesis should, naturally, be a memorable addition to the cast and Fiennes doesn't disappoint. He brings a quiet intensity to the role. Featured primarily in the finale, he is quiet, yet scary and doesn't do a lot of shouting and screaming to make his character seem menacing. Merely existing makes him scary enough and all of his subordinates know this, grateful to see him alive again, yet cowering because he could deign to take their life at any moment. He is able to convey the evil of his character very effectively.
Miranda Richardson is also quite effective as Rita Skeeter, the muckraking journalist who begins to cover the story of Harry Potter, writing whatever she pleases.
"Goblet" is rated PG-13 and it could be a bit scary for some of the younger fans. This is both a blessing and a shame. The rating is more than appropriate for the tone, allowing Newell and Kloves to stay true to the material. They don't have to water anything down to meet an artificial PG. Because of this, the film feels authentic. On the other hand, this darker tone and feel makes it harder for young fans of the series to continue watching the films, which seems a shame, to exclude a certain portion of your demographic.
The special effects are also great. They add a lot to the Triwizards Tournament; dragons, merpeople, moving hedges, making everything seem as real as possible, given the fantasy elements at play in these scenes. I honestly couldn't spot any problems with the special effects, something that would signal that CGI was being used to create this or that fantasy world. Of course they used special effects, and a lot of them, but the quality was so high they seemed natural.
My one complaint is that the actors who play the core group of professors are starting to get short shrift. Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane seem to be pushed further into the background with each new film. They each have one or two memorable scenes, but they aren't nearly as prevalent as the characters making their appearances in each of the films. Rickman does have a great scene, perfectly reestablishing his menace, and he doesn't speak a word. Smith has a memorable scene attempting to teach the children to dance. And Coltrane has a fun subplot as he romances the female head of the French school, a woman who is at least eight feet tall. It seems a shame that these great actors are not as prevalent as they could be, because they provide so much depth and interest.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is a great addition to the series and a great film for the whole family. Adults who read the books will love it as much as the children.