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November 16-22, 2005

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Photograph by Murray Close
Book Learning: Rupert Grint (left), Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe cram for their finals in 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.'

Dragon Season

'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire': going whole Hogwarts

By Richard von Busack

IT IS FAIR to call Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the series' Thunderball—bigger, more sprawling and with an underwater sequence. Just as the Bond films eventually had to show the scarred face of the Man With the White Persian Cat, the fourth Harry Potter film finally ponies up "You know who"—as the leery wizards all refer to the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published in 2000, an Olympic year, and is the jockiest novel so far. The Goblet of Fire is the first prize in a Triwizard Tournament among Hogwarts' rivals in France (the Beauxbatons school) and a Bulgarian academy, championed by famed Quidditch player Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), a burly but not too bright Slav. Although 14-year-old Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is too young to be in the tournament, some enchantment recruits him. Bad news, for not every apprentice wizard makes it out alive.

Oddly, the Granger-Weasley-Potter axis seems younger this time. Rupert Grint's Weasley is the most mature of the three and not just because he is starting to fill out in the shoulders and getting a deeper voice. He picks a silly feud with Harry that sums up the inexplicable grudge between high school boys. But Hermione (Emma Watson) appears eclipsed by the action and subject to childish moods. And Harry seems to be pushed from one adventure to another by mysterious forces and plots. The gimmicks are starting to carry the show.

Mike Newell is the first English director of the series, and he drops in some British slang that adds needed flavor. But crowd-wrangling is not every director's métier, and Newell doesn't distinguish himself in bringing out distinctive faces watching Harry's feats. Still, the supporting characters are reliable pleasures. Alan Rickman's Snape is getting tangier. Why is it that the meanest teachers have the most charisma? The suicide, Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson), has turned into a ghostly coquette, pestering Harry in his bath and trying to get a peek under the water at his sorcerer's stones. Maggie Smith has but a few lines but gives them all her unmatchable Victorian severity: "We never use transfiguration as a punishment!" The new professor on campus is Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a war-wounded flask-guzzler, not quite sane, blasted beyond good and evil. Thanks to Gleeson's force as an actor, the spinning artificial eyeball strapped to his head isn't the most uncanny thing about old Moody.

Of all the episodes in this episodic holiday pleaser, the finest is Harry's duel with a Hungarian dragon. Harry enters an arena with a wicked-tempered reptile that is chained to some rocks. The dragon breaks its chains and starts chasing Harry through the air. Our hero plays hide and seek with the beast on one of Hogwarts' King Ludwigish conical towers, 500 feet above the ground. If only all the graphics were as fine as this furious, scrabbling dragon. The title goblet flashes with economical, synthetic blue fire. Another purportedly big moment is the arrival of a coach and seven Pegasuses, which aren't necessarily seven times more impressive than the nag in the Tri-Star logo. "That's not something you see every day," a character sighs, and the answer should be, "No, only every year."

Movie Times Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (PG-13; 157 min.), directed by Mike Newell, written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, photographed by Roger Pratt and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Alan Rickman, opens Friday valleywide.

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