Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire(2005), Directed by Mike Newell. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Tom Felton, Miranda Richardson, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, David Tennant, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Stanislav Ianevski, Frances de la Tour, Katie Leung, Robert Pattinson, Matthew Lewis, Shirley Henderson, Ralph Fiennes.
Synopsis: Even before Harry can begin his fourth year at Hogwarts, sinister forces are afoot in the wizarding world. The World Quiddich cup is attacked by Death Eaters, the followers of Lord Voldemort. Harry and his friends are lucky to escape with their lives. Beyond that, Harry is having bad dreams about Voldermort, dreams that have a connection to the scar on his forehead. Things don't get much better when Harry returns to school. Hogwarts has been chosen to host the once-in-a-lifetime Tri-Wizard Tournament, in which a champion from Hogwarts will compete with champions from rival academies Durmstrang and Beaux Batons. Harry is too young to compete in the tourney, but other participants place their names in the Goblet of Fire, which selects Quiddich star Victor Krum from Durmstrang, Fleur de la Coeur from Beaux Batons, and Cederic Diggory from Hogwarts. Then after a magical hiccup, it selects Harry, even though Harry didn't submit his name. The Goblet, as the Ministry of Magic explains, is a binding magical contract. Harry has no choice but to compete. Meanwhile, Hogwarts has yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in Mad-Eye Moody, and Harry and his friends must face their toughest challenge yet: The Yule Ball and the opposite sex...

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Director Mike Newell is the first British director to try his hand at the Harry Potter movies. I'd like to say that his movie is the best of the bunch, but unfortunately, it's not. The film wisely keeps some of the design elements from Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban, but it doesn't import any of that film's visual wit. In Newell's defence, he barely has time to breathe as he hits the plot points of J. K. Rowling's second-longest Harry Potter novel (and I pity the screenwriter tasked with the next film, which will be based on an even longer book). The movie that results is a curious hybrid. It retains both the look and mood of the previous installment, complete with dawning adolescent angst, while reverting to some of the structural flaws of the first two films. I hadn't considered this before walking out of Goblet of Fire, but the first two films are structured like video games. Harry and his friends have to overcome some obstacle to get to the "boss" at the end of the level. The third film breaks this mold--it's more character driven than plot driven. Goblet of Fire is back to the video game structure. This may be an unavoidable consequence of the central plot device of a wizard tournament, but it's a regression, none the less.

Given the structure of the film, the thrills it provides rise and fall with the various set-pieces. The best of these is the first challenge of the tournament, in which Harry must duel with the Hungarian Horntail, a fire-breathing dragon with a bad temper. I have a lot of love for a good monster, and the Hungarian Horntail is a GREAT monster, perfectly realized. The second task is less thrilling, in part because the mer-people who constitute the primary threat never seem to be quite convincing. They never have weight or threat as anything other than special effects. The third task, set in a great topiary maze, recalls Kubrick's version of The Shining and signals the film's left turn into the territory of the horror movie.

Horrors: The Harry Potter movies have always flirted with the imagery of the horror movie, what with the great gothic haunted castle where the films are set and the menagerie of magical monsters. Previous films have included giant spiders, werewolves, ghostly revenants, basilisks, and evil trees. These elements have always been undercut by a certain amount of whimsy, but Goblet of Fire differs from these films by using the impedimenta of horror AS horror. The film's final set piece, in which Harry once again confronts Lord Voldemort, is worthy of Hammer Studios. Voldemort's resurrection is only a little removed from Dracula's ghastly renewal from Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The darkness of the film also brings with it a body count. More than the previous films, this one plays for keeps.

Performances: Daniel Radcliffe continues to grow as an actor, which is good since the films are now asking him to do more than react to the wonders around him. More and more, he is laying claim to the role the way Connery laid claim to James Bond. Rupert Grint's role has leveled off at the level of sidekick, which is easily within his range. Emma Watson, unfortunately, has fallen back on acting with her mouth and her eyebrows. She's the weak link in the equation. She was fine in the last movie, so maybe it's all a matter of having a skilled director. The rest of the cast is once again populated by a who's who of British worthies. The casting office continues to scour the island for talent. The juiciest roles go to Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody and Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. Moody in particular, is larger than life. Newell hands Gleeson and Fiennes their heads and both of them run with it. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of series regulars Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, who will have to take comfort in the juicier pickings in subsequent novels. Perhaps the most difficult--and thankless--part in the film is Cedric Diggory, who has to be a credible rival for Harry and a genuinely good guy at the same time. Robert Pattinson manages this with more pinnache than I would have expected.

What really frustrates me about this film, another problem that it shares with the Chris Columbus films, is the damned literal-mindedness of the thing. I have to wonder what a more daring director would do with something like Dumbledore's pensieve. This is an item that should be wonderous and strange. As depicted in the film, it's ordinary. This sort of thing plays havoc with the parts that ARE adventurous. I applaud the darkness of the film--and I have to admit to taking some sadistic pleasure at the distress the film caused some of the younger members of the audience when I saw it; that'll teach their parents to pay attention to the ratings. Heh.