Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the first film in the series to take a dramatic departure from J.K. Rowlings hugely popular novels. It relies less on plot development and is more in the vein of a summer popcorn blockbuster. The film is laden with special effects and uses skillful editing to make the action scenes much bigger than anything we’ve seen in the franchise. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) brings a lighter approach that works well in the comedic scenes, but really fails during the darker moments. Die-hard fans of the book will still enjoy Newell’s take, but will probably be unsatisfied by the lack of dramatic depth.

Harry (Danielle Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) return to Hogwarts after a disturbing event at the Quidditch World Cup. Voldemort’s followers, the Death Eaters, have brazenly attacked the crowd and announced their return to the magical world. The students are uneasy, but quickly lose interest when they find out that Hogwarts has been chosen to host the lethal Tri-Wizard Tournament. The tournament consists of three incredibly dangerous tasks that will decide the best young wizard and give bragging right to the winning school. Three champions from the three magical schools are selected to compete by the ‘Goblet of Fire’. Harry finds himself an unwilling participant when the Goblet mysteriously chooses his name as a fourth competitor. He faces the perils of the tournament and the imminent return of the evil Voldemort.

The children have grown considerably since ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’. They’re full blown teenagers and their hormones have officially kicked in. The funniest scenes revolve around a Christmas ball. Harry sets his sights on the lovely Cho Chang (Katie Leung), but looks very silly when he works up the nerve to ask her out. Ron is dismayed to find out that Victor Krum (Stanislav Ianeski), a champion from the Durmstrang School, is taking Hermione. Director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves really nail the awkwardness of adolescence. We empathize with the characters. Their travails in love are quite humorous and add a lot to the pacing of the film; which clocks in at a whopping two and a half-hours.

The Goblet of Fire, without revealing spoilers, takes a dark turn in its conclusion. There is an incident that is pivotal to the progression of the story. It is a defining moment in the series and sets the tone for the upcoming films. I believe it is badly mishandled here. Mike Newell gives it a brief moment of deference before moving on. He takes what should be the emotional core of the film and treats it as blasé and inconsequential. As a fan of the book, this is very disappointing and will probably resonate poorly with audiences.

The Goblet of Fire is a more mature story and its young stars prove they have the acting skills to grow with their characters. Emma Watson in particular does a wonderful job. As the only girl with more than a few lines, she carries the feminine weight of the film and balances out Daniel Radcliffe’s heroics. Audiences are basically watching the cast grow-up on screen and it adds a real sense of familiarity to the films. See this one in the best theater possible; the special effects are truly remarkable.

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