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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
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What was it like, we wonder, to have lived and been a theatre-goer in London, in that amazing period when Shakespeare, Jonson, Webster and the rest were turning out masterpieces by the yard. I'm almost tempted to say that we today are in the presence of another immortal when I read, reread, and see the films of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Am I overpraising? Well, I don't care. From the beginning her story has gripped me with its matchless understanding of love, fear, hatred, magical thought and the power of everyday life to ground us when all seems lost.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is the film of Book Four in the series. It is by far the darkest and most frightening, as is perhaps only right since its adolescents are coming closer than they may wish to adulthood. It carries a well-deserved PG-13 rating, and children who haven't read the book should think twice about approaching the film until they have. The film spends little time on life at Hogwarts; no Qwiddich competitions this year, no rivalries between Griffindore and Slytherin. Instead, there is the Tri-Wizard championship, with representatives from three schools, in three countries, competing in tests that can prove fatal. Someone has chosen Harry as a competitor, even though he is too young, at 14, to be eligible. But who did it? And why? The villains of Harry's world are closer and darker than ever, and now in the fourth film we must meet Voldemort; there is no softening of the Dark Lord for any squeamish sensibilities. He brings death - real death - with him.
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are of course Harry, Ron and Hermione again; what is interesting is that young Mr. Radcliffe has become more passive, less a presence on screen than we would like him to be. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times says in her review that he seems not to have the actor's ability to inhabit his character - that he struggles with it - and he is certainly not as interesting to watch as we might wish. Grint and Watson seem much more comfortable on screen than he does.
Most of the other regulars are back; Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Alan Rickman as Snape, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall. Michael Gambon, who took over as Dumbledore when Richard Harris died, has I think mistakenly given Dumbledore a loud voice and an excited manner that runs contrary to Harris's interpretation and that of the book. Dumbledore is the one rock on which Harry can count, and Gambon is too excitable to do the job. A brilliant new character, Mad-Eye Moody, makes his first appearance here, with Brendan Gleeson having a ball teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. He is delicious to watch. Ralph Fiennes is Voldemort, and he is as frightening a creature as can be imagined.
One more point: There seems to be a discrepancy between the film as reviewed in New York and Los Angeles, at 150 minutes, and the film as seen elsewhere at 137 minutes. I don't know what was cut out for the mass release, but I suspect it was the kind of interstitial connective tissue that makes a very good film into a great one; my guess is that it was scenes and sequences of daily life at Hogwarts: meals, classes (Snape is hardly in this film), what would be breathing space between climaxes. If so, I would want to see that put back; perhaps in the DVD.
11/18/05 <! new pasted review ends on line above>