Monday, November 28, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

We don't have time to sit in the Gryffindor home room by the fire and talk about the day's classes. Not in this movie. Just as soon as you mount your broomstick, you're flying to catch up to the plot, which has winged its way past you like a golden snitch.

I can't imagine that anyone in the theatre who hadn't read the book could keep up with the maddening pace Goblet of Fire presents. Faced with 700 pages of Hogwarts classes, Snape snubs, Ron and Harry's fight, Hermione's championing for Dobbys, and more, screenwriter Steven Kloves has chosen wisely to concentrate on the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the focus of the fourth book. Goblet is as much about coming of age as fighting evil for our young heroes, and so they also find themselves at the Hogwarts Ball, a dance, and the task of finding a date for this dance. And, as far as our teenagers are concerned, the latter may be worse than the three deadly tasks assigned in the Tri-Wizard tourney.

Harry finds himself nominated by the Goblet of Fire for the tournament even though he's underage and didn't apply. Worse, most of the school doesn't believe him when he protests, including best friend Ron Weasley. All of these points are covered, swiftly, by the movie so that we can get to the best of the movie: the three tasks.

In the end, we discover that Hogwarts is a darker place, no longer a safe place. Harry is a target, more and more, as well as a conduit to the thoughts of the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort, whom we meet for the first time. It's a time we won't forget, a terrifying time, even for those sitting safely in their theatre seats. Ralph Fiennes is unrecognizable as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but brilliant, coercing, evil. This fourth installment is the scariest, the darkest episode of all in the Harry Potter series. And probably the best.

Goblet of Fire is spectacular from beginning to end, from the outrageous Quidditch tournament in the beginning to the last task in the maze at the end. The special effects are a triumph, and are 100% better than those in The Prisoner of Azkaban. If there's a complaint at all, it's that we see little of our favorite characters. But take a look at the pages and pages of credits and you'll see why: there are no less than 30 recognizable characters! But when the Weasley twins get more screen time than their brother Ron, and Neville Longbottom more time than Draco Malfoy....well, we're in a snit about that. But Kloves and director Mike Newell chose to concentrate on the tournament and a few of the events leading up to it, and that means leaving out a dozen or so of our favorites, or giving Snape only two lines, etc.

When Hermione asks fearfully of Harry, "Everything's going to change, isn't it?" he replies strongly and assuredly, "Yes." Everything will change for these young men and women as they grow up, as they face the fears of adulthood and wizardry. And every prepubescent teenager watching this movie will nod right along, because they know it's true.

Harry Potter just keeps getting stronger. Thumb's up.


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