The Goblet's Half Full

The latest 'Harry Potter' movie is entertaining enough, but many of author J.K. Rowling's nuances are missing

MovieReview B-

November 18, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The movie, of course, is called Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but Harry's budding-beautiful friend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is the one who gives it a glow.

In this fourth installment of J.K. Rowling's saga, the legendary 14-year-old student wizard Potter and his two best pals, Hermione and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), face the turmoil of teenage crushes and competition under the far-reaching gaze of the evil, and increasingly close, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

Daniel Radcliffe does yeoman's work as the spooked and always-endangered hero. He makes an intelligent young actor's choice of playing each emotion close to his Hogwarts School uniform, including his furtive feelings for the appealing Cho Chang (Katie Leung).

Yet Hermione is the one who lets all the comic-dramatic complications of their age play out across her face. Watson is a natural in the role. The centerpiece of the movie should be the three trials Harry and a trio of rivals endure in a tri-school student-wizard tournament. Instead, it's Hermione's appearance at the Yule Ball in the company of a dashing Bulgarian champion. Watson makes Hermione's entrance as lovely as Eliza Doolittle's at the Embassy Ball in My Fair Lady.

Hermione's confusion of feelings - pride, release and concern for the reactions of her friends, especially Ron - is what finally wins an emotional reaction in this long, if well-paced, movie. Ron appears more woebegone and juvenile than necessary. He doesn't seem to comprehend that he and Hermione share a sexual tension that should be explored.

The rest of the movie made sense to me only after I read that the new director, Mike Newell, had called it a Las Vegas-like Harry Potter film. Newell stages the opening of the Quidditch World Cup with kitschy abandon; it's as if Vegas were hosting the Olympics, complete with tasteless, crowd-pleasing gestures like an exploding aerial leprechaun for the Irish team. But because of a dauntingly long narrative (the hardcover book runs 734 pages), Newell reduces it to some essential plot points and moves on to Hogwarts, where the action revolves around the Triwizard Tournament.

Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enchanted April) has always been a capable showman, and he doesn't cheat the Potter audience. Yet I don't think he wows it, either. The swirling entrance of the French team and the stomping entrance of the Bulgarian team into the Great Hall at Hogwarts promise a dancing payoff that doesn't happen, not even at the Yule Ball.

The three-part tournament has a potentially strong poetic underpinning. First, Harry must conquer an external hazard - a horn-tailed Hungarian dragon. Then he must bear up under the terror of seeing a loved one exposed to mortal danger. Finally, he must grow to understand that everyone, even good kids like himself, can find their morality and character altering under maze-like pressures. But Newell stages each segment for fantasy/horror film effect; a splashy underwater episode does appear to emerge from the bowels of some big Vegas hotel; the Bellagio, perhaps.

Newell slashes away at the book's whimsy - in the movie, Hermione doesn't try to liberate house elves from "slave labor" - so he loses Rowling's counterpoint of light and jet-black elements. Every time Ron's older twin brothers - goofy sprites - pop up with some foolishness like an out-of-control aging potion, they imbue the film with laughter and energy. So does Shirley Henderson as the ghost called Moaning Myrtle, who displays a naughty interest in Harry while he takes a bath. Too bad the bulk of Rowling's humor goes down a black-magic drain.

Maybe Potter books have become too involved and complex to be translated into conventional feature-length films. Brendan Gleeson brings gusto to the most engaging character introduced in this installment, Mad-Eye Moody, the new professor of Defense Against Dark Arts, who has an initially repulsive, eventually irresistible moveable eye. Maybe that's who needs to direct the next Potter movie: a filmmaker who can see every angle, with an eye that can move in the back of his head.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Wat-son and Rupert Grint.

Directed by Mike Newell.

Rated PG-13.

Time 157 minutes.

MovieReview B-

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