Writer: Helena HonWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast:
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The serpent oozing insidiously into the title sequence portends the shape of things to come in this latest segment of the Harry Potter franchise. For "The Goblet of Fire", that shape is dark, even darker than Alfonso Cuaron's steerage of "The Prisoner of Azkaban" last year. The movie's sinister overtones are clearly announced in the opening through composer Patrick Doyle's weightier score, which retains only the signature motif of John William's, but in a minor key. It is clear from the start that "Harry Potter" has changed. For the first time since 2001, the bespectacled boy and his world of witchcraft and wizardry are being pitched to a more matured audience.
Gone are the 'cutesy wutesy' bits of the yesteryear segments, including, sadly, some of the charm and enchantment that were the trademark of past Potter films. Familiar characters such as Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) have all been sidelined while frivolous comic relief such as 'Nearly Headless Nick' and the Dursleys have been excised altogether In their place are the cast of newcomers notably reporter Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) and Voldemort (Ralph Feinnes) who compel this more grown-up tale of puberty, jealousy, violence and death.
For Mike Newell, the first Englishman to direct this essentially English movie, his most challenging task might have been squeezing the 734 page book into a two-hour plus screenplay. In doing so, he may have left a few connective threads of the storyline on the cutting room floor, causing those who have not read the book a little temporary confusion. But they would have been dazzled by the surrealistic imagery and special effects just the same.
Newell wastes no time in diving straight into the story, opening with the festivities at the Quidditch World Cup that the three protagonists Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are attending. All of a sudden, the stadium is 'bombed' terrorist-like by Voldemort's followers who announce their dark lord's return. Immediately after, the trio are told at dinnertime that Hogwarts has been chosen as the host for the Tri-Wizard Tournament: a challenging competition between three wizarding schools - Hogwarts, the Beauxbatons Academy and the Durmstrang Institute - for the coveted Tri-Wizard Cup. The contestants are chosen by the Goblet of Fire and the challenge consists of surviving three life-threatening tasks including snatching a golden egg from a fire-breathing dragon, rescuing marooned friends from the dark waters of the eerie Black Lake (while being attacked by rabid mermaids) and finding the challenge trophy inside a malevolent mind-altering maze. Needless to say, Harry is one of the chosen contestants.
Meanwhile, there is the Yule Ball to attend and this is where Newell delves into the human drama of Harry, Hermione and Ron as adolescents with hormonal urges, experiencing their first stirrings for the opposite sex. Sensuality emerges when Emma Watson is shown to blossom into a lovely young woman. Watch out too for the scene where Harry strips off his shirt for a moment in a hot tub. It will dawn on you that in a few years; Harry might well turn out to be the next sex symbol for his growing legion of fans.
For those holding their breath for the confrontation between Potter and Voldemort, the latter's appearance at the end of the film does not disappoint. Ralph Fiennes is incredibly good as the almost reptilian personification of evil, blazing madness from his eyes and displaying mood swings that charm and yet terrify.
On the whole, everyone holds his and her own in this film, particularly Radcliffe whose performance suggests he has the makings of an actor. But the film's disturbing undercurrents wrought with violent scenes and scary images may make it unsuitable for children of the younger set. But for the older set, Newell's intensity and pace, his ability to bring out the complexities of the adolescent condition, not to mention his spectacular feats of computer wizardry firmly place him on the same notch - if not higher - as his predecessors, thereby making this "Harry Potter" one of the best Potter movies ever made. Cinema Online, 23 September 2008