Friday 1 December 2006

Friday 1 December 2006
DIRECTOR: Mike Newell
WRITER: Steve Kloves (based on the novel by J.K Rowling)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Brendan Gleeson ("Mad Eye" Moody), Robert Pattinson (Cedric), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Alan Rickman (Snape), Jason Isaacs (Lucius), Roger Lloyd Pack (Barty Crouch), David Tennant (Barty Crouch Jr), Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter), Stanislav Ianevskin (Viktor), Clemence Poesy (Fleur), Katie Leung (Cho) & Frances de la Tour (Maxime)

Harry finds himself competing for the Tri-Wizard Cup in a trio of dangerous tasks that will ultimately lead him to face his nemesis...

The fourth Harry Potter film finds the boy wizard encountering his greatest challenge yet -- girls. The Goblet Of Fire is notable for its move into adolescent territory, hinted at in Alfonso Cuaron's The Prisoner Of Azkaban, but given full attention in Mike Newell's installment.

The movie's middle concerns the Yule Ball, an event that creates plenty of anxiety and embarassment for the characters: Harry (Radcliffe) struggles to find a date, Hermione (Watson) feels unwanted, while Ron (Grint) suffers ridicule thanks to a frilly tuxedo.

It's pleasing to see the humanity of J.K Rowling's universe holds its own against the special effects, although the visuals are never in short supply: flying horse-drawn carriages, submersible sailing ships, fire-breathing dragons, sinister mermen... there's a huge array of creatures and imaginative wonders to keep your mouth slightly ajar.

Mike Newell (the first British director of this quintessentially British franchise, amazingly) successfully handles the staggering amount of visuals and location shooting, but his real success comes from coaxing better performances from the young cast. Film being a collaborative effort (and Potter almost an unstoppable filmmaking machine), it's perhaps not surprising that the technical aspects of the film run quite smoothly of their own accord, leaving Newell to focus on the acting.

Daniel Radcliffe still overplays reactions, or fumbles the odd emotional moment, but he's at his best when the story takes a darker twist in its finale and can always be relied on to make Harry engaging and not irritating.

Rupert Grint's performance as Ron is interesting, adolescence placing a huge chip on his shoulder that leads to an outburst of swearing (more stunning than any magic spell). Ron loses his wide-eyed innocence from the previous films, and is recast in a more awkward and frustrating mould. His is the most interesting change, by far.

Emma Watson veers from sweet and endearing to bookish and irritating, although she strikes the right balance when it really counts at the Yule Ball.

Beyond the children, it's the adults who really impress -- as usual. The returning cast are all as effective as usual, particularly Michael Gambon's Dumbledore, but it's the new characters who make a lasting impression. Brendan Gleeson is superb as Alistair "Mad Eye" Moody, a cantankerous Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher with a bulging eye, who has been sent doolally through his work sending wizards to Azkaban prison. Gleeson is magnetic to watch and Moody is a fantastic creation.

Ralph Fiennes takes the iconic role of Lord Voldemort, Harry's arch-enemy, whose presence has been felt throughout all the movies, but only now is he seen properly -- in superb, and surprisingly scary, fashion. Fiennes is a gifted actor and the ideal choice for the role. He is magnificently theatrical and sinister, crafting an effective and memorable nemesis.

Narratively, The Goblet Of Fire is weaker than previous adventures. The Tri-Wizard Tournament gifts the film a trio of tentpoles to hang the film on, but the screenplay also includes the Quidditch World Cup (albeit cut short) and the Yule Ball. As such, Goblet Of Fire is more episodic than the previous films, leaping from set-piece to set-piece with a throughline mystery that doesn't equal the textured plotting of Chamber Of Secrets or Prisoner Of Azkaban. In fact, with hindsight, the plot to capture Harry is so needlessly convoluted it's quite amusing.

But, no matter what contrivances rear their ugly heads, the love bestowed on everything can't help but sweep you along for the ride. The production is as sumptuous as ever (Cuaron's cold, autumnal style is continued), with breathtaking scenery and some thrilling sequences -- particularly a dragon chase around Hogwarts' rooftops.

The climax in a spooky graveyard between a resurrected Voldemort and Harry is emotionally charged and my investment in the situation took me by surprise -- a testament to the power of simple archetypes and the hero's journey. For my money, the Harry-Voldemort face-off equals that of Luke-Vader in Return Of The Jedi, and it's essentially only an appetiser!

Overall, the Harry Potter series refuses to falter. Goblet Of Fire doesn't have the best storyline of the films released, but the teenage angst it stirs into the mix (not to mention some stark moments of horror) more than make up for that shortcoming. This is another enchanting slice of magical adventure that cements Potter's reputation as one of the most consistently excellent movie franchises.