At the Movies: ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’

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    By CHRISTY LEMIRE

    AP Movie Critic

    (AP) – If the third film in the Harry Potter series, last year’s “Prisoner of Azkaban,” seemed frightening with its soul-sucking Dementors and its German expressionist aesthetic, then the fourth installment, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” will have kids quaking in their seats _ and perhaps wishing they had an invisibility cloak to hide beneath.

    This “Potter” earns its PG-13 rating _ a first for the previously PG series about the boy wizard _ as Harry grows into adolescence and learns more about his powers and his past. Of course, young fans have already devoured the J.K. Rowling books that provide the basis for the films, so they know what’s coming. (The author is up to No. 6 out of seven planned.) But reading it on the page and seeing it on the screen can be two entirely different experiences, and several scenes will be disturbing to viewers regardless of age.

    “Goblet of Fire” features the return of the dreaded Lord Voldemort _ He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named _ the dark warlock who killed Harry’s parents and tried to kill him, too, when he was just an infant. (Having survived the attack is what gives Harry a certain mystique among his professors and classmates at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; it also gave him his trademark lightning-bolt scar on his forehead.)

    As played by an unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes, Voldemort appears hairless and noseless, hissing and threatening in the moonlight _ a smooth, almost effeminate incarnation of the Devil, surrounded by cloaked minions.

    Even scarier, though, is the maze Harry must navigate as a competitor in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament. The giant hedges that serve as the maze walls aren’t just tall and the pathways aren’t just narrow _ they’re also predatory, collapsing violently on their inhabitants, sensing and feeding on their fears, trying to swallow them whole. (Bet Stanley Kubrick wishes he’d thought of that when he made “The Shining.”)

    While these are the most extreme examples of the movie’s intensity, they’re also the ones that are the most emotionally powerful. Director Mike Newell has crafted a film full of images that are vast and wondrous, but strangely detached and obviously artificial, similar to the look of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. You can appreciate the enormity of the visuals, but they seem so distant, it’s difficult to feel engaged by them.

    But with Newell at the helm _ the first English director following American Chris Columbus, who did the first two parts, and Mexican Alfonso Cuaron, who did the third and best thus far _ “Goblet of Fire” seems more in touch with the innate Britishness of Rowling’s books, both in its sense of humor and in its boarding-school setting.

    Newell (working from a script by Steve Kloves, who has adapted all of Rowling’s books and had his work cut out for him with the 734-page “Goblet of Fire”) seems less interested in the whimsical magicality of Hogwarts’ halls _ thankfully, since we’re all over the moving staircases and talking portraits by now _ and focuses more on Harry and his friends as they come of age.

    “Goblet of Fire” is more effective in these smaller, more intimate moments than in the bloated bombast of its larger set pieces. One of Newell’s best-known and loved films is “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and he applies that same keen sense of romantic comedy timing here.

    Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, more confident than ever), Hermione (Emma Watson, more vibrant than ever) and Ron (Rupert Grint, who’s, well, still a little goofy) are beginning to figure out who they are and struggling to understand the opposite sex, something they’re forced to do upon the unexpected arrival of students from two other schools.

    The sophisticated young women of the Beauxbatons Academy and the virile, vaguely Eastern European young men from the Durmstrang Institute are visiting Hogwarts for the year to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. As headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) explains it, this is an opportunity to foster relations in the wizarding community; it’s also the first time for us to see that there is indeed a world outside Hogwarts and England.

    The Goblet of Fire spits out the name of one student from each school to participate in this grueling challenge: Hogwarts’ BMOC Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson); Beauxbatons’ glamour girl Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy); and Durmstrang’s Quidditch star Viktor Krum (Staniskav Ianevski).

    Then it offers a fourth name _ you guessed it _ Harry Potter, even though the rules state that he’s too young to compete at age 14. Surely darker forces are behind his selection, which he’ll have to confront in the film’s overlong climax.

    But first, he’ll have to dance at the Yule Ball _ awkwardly, of course, since he and his classmates have received only cursory, uncomfortable lessons from Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall. (Brendan Gleeson, a fantastic new addition to the cast as the school’s bad-boy Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, just stands in the corner with his flask and his one fake eye, which has a mind of its own.)

    The whole scene is like something out of a John Hughes movie _ funny, relatable and loaded with misunderstandings, with everyone in attendance wishing they were there with someone else, or not at all. In its realism, it’s one of the most magical moments of all.

    “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. Running time: 157 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

    Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions

    • G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.
    • PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
    • PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
    • R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
    • NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.
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