Sunday, November 05, 2006

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

2005, US/UK, directed by Mike Newell

Rating: ***

The running time creeps back up again with the fourth installment of the Harry Potter film franchise, after a relatively breezy third episode, but that's hardly surprising given that this is the point at which the books become unwieldy (in the literal sense): even at over two-and-a-half hours, great chunks of the source material are omitted. There's no time at all to re-capitulate events from the previous films, which means that some references and characters are pretty confusing, and major on-the-page events are compressed into a few brief scenes onscreen (that's especially true of the abbreviated treatment given to the Quidditch World Cup).

The young actors are all more than familiar with the material at this point, and their acting talent is also that much clearer as they grow into the more adult parts; Daniel Radcliffe is fine as Harry, but Rupert Grint and Emma Watson outshine him as his best friends Ron and Hermione, and both are particularly good in the scenes, midway through the film, centered on a gala dance. As with the previous films, about half of the British film industry seems to appear in the adult roles, with Ralph Fiennes and Irishman Brendan Gleeson the key additions this time around (familiar faces like Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman get minimal screen time, though, which is unfortunate). As you'd expect, the action moves along nicely with veteran director Mike Newell at the helm: the main focus is on an event called the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and the key scenes of the contest are quite dramatic (particularly the menacing appearance, near the end, of evil wizard Voldemort himself), as befits the increasingly ominous overall tone. Newell also ups the local colour of the series, with some amusing little details - like the tea-lady on the train - drawn from a very recognizably British reality.

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