Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Directed by Mike Newell

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Upon beginning his fourth year at Hogwarts, teenaged wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is mysteriously selected to participate in the potentially deadly Triwizard Tournament against another student from his own school, a young woman from a magic school in France, and a brutish young man from a third such school in Bulgaria. While doing so, Harry is forced to remain alert, as Voldemort, the evil sorcerer who murdered his parents, appears to be on the verge of returning.

I greatly enjoyed all three of the previous Harry Potter movies and I had fun watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well. Sadly, although it is an entertaining film, Mike Newell's contribution to the series is, by far, the weakest of the four.

One element that made the earlier movies especially enjoyable and which is conspicuously absent here is the camaraderie shared by Harry and his two best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Although both of these supporting characters are present, the latter plays such an insignificant role that she could easily have been lifted from the movie without affecting it and the former appears only to have a petulant, forced, and quickly forgotten spat with Harry. Neither is given much of an opportunity to contribute to the narrative.

The movie's other characters are no better employed by the director than are these two, however. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) shows up to give speeches that explain plot points to the viewer. Snape (Alan Rickman) makes a very brief cameo to pointlessly threaten Harry, and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) does nothing more than give a dancing lesson and lend her face to crowd scenes. Even Harry's supposed new love interest, Cho Chang (Katie Leung), is wasted. The character appears only to smile at Harry from a distance a couple of times and to have one extremely short conversation with him. She is allotted so little screen time, in fact, that the viewer is never able to feel Harry's infatuation for the girl, which really is a shame.

What is more, the world in which these persons live is as diminished and shallow as they are. The director has, for instance, done away with nearly all the details of Harry's life at his school and reveals little of the protagonist's classes, of his concerns about his grades, or of his interactions with his teachers and fellow students. Nonetheless, with its pervasive celebrations of British customs and eccentricities and its stereotyped presentations of people from other lands, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire certainly has the most uniquely British feel of any film of the series. Luckily, by playing on trends found in the United States and in the United Kingdom, namely, many Americans' wide-eyed but somewhat blind captivation with and idealization of other cultures and many Britons' provincial infatuation with their own culture and insecure fear of those of others, this quality will, undoubtedly, appeal to countless persons on either side of the Atlantic. There is, however, an irksome superficiality and grating falsity to this approach, as there always is in idealizations, and this is sure to bother some viewers. What is worse, the director's depiction of the Bulgarian students as rough, militaristic oafs and his dressing of Voldemort's followers, the Death Eaters, in black robes and pointed caps, like Spanish penitentes, tinges the movie with a vague but distracting xenophobia.

Because of the predominance of such flawed qualities, other than presenting the various deadly events of the Triwizard Tournament, the movie really has almost no individuality, very little narrative, and even less emotional impact. The director has reduced the occasionally wonderfully exaggerated, often charmingly delineated, and always engaging characters of the first three movies into automatons performing a variety of stunts. He has erased any sort of dramatic trajectory from the story he tells, and, by doing so, he has allowed what anxiety he does arouse, which is mostly produced by the hints he gives about the eminent reappearance of Voldemort, to fizzle out. In fact, rather than bringing his narrative to a satisfying conclusion, Newell just stops it, leaving the viewer feeling as though he has watched a chapter in a larger work instead of a complete whole.

That said, the film's action sequences are usually very well done and truly exciting. The moviegoer is sure to be thrilled with the sight of Harry being chased through the air by a fire breathing dragon, of his dive into the depths of the sea, where he encounters a school of less than friendly mermaids, and of his duel with the hideously deformed Voldemort in the middle of a graveyard. Moreover, not only are all of these sequences suffused with a rousing sense of adventure, but they also have a magical quality that consistently adds to their appeal.

Whatever its shortcomings, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a fun film to watch. It does give the viewer the chance to savor an almost non-stop excitement. Unfortunately, it provides little else in addition to its thrills.

Review by Keith Allen

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