- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

Attention, Harry Potter fans: Have no fear. Your film franchise is in fine hands with director Mike Newell (“Donnie Brasco,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”). Then again, the most important fingerprints on the new “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” — and the rest of the wildly profitable series, for that matter — belong to author J.K. Rowling.

It’s her boundless imagination and ability to allow her characters to fight evil while remaining relatably human that makes all of her stories such treats.

“Prisoner of Azkaban” director Alfonso Cuaron brought us a darker “Potter” than Chris Columbus, who directed the first two installments as if the text never left his sight. With “Goblet of Fire,” the fourth film adaptation of the series, Mr. Newell lets our heroes hit puberty as gracefully as their hormones will allow — and no amount of wizardry with computer- generated imagery can conjure up that transition.

“Goblet of Fire” opens with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, so consistently credible as our tortured hero) returning to Hogwarts Academy along with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). Harry is still bedeviled by visions of the defeated Lord Voldemort, but he gets a welcome distraction when the Tri-Wizards Tournament comes to Hogwarts.

The contest calls for the best wizards ages 17 and up to vie for the crown, but somehow the 14-year-old Harry’s name gets thrown into the hat, or more precisely the Goblet of Fire.

However, Mr. Newell’s film seems far more interested in the social dynamics swirling around campus than the tournament itself, or even the return of Voldemort. Harry can stare down a fire-breathing dragon, but the thought of asking a girl out to the big school dance scares him witless.

Tension builds first between Harry and Ron, and later Ron and Hermione scrap over her choice in suitors. Those who never cracked any of the “Potter” books may seek more context than is given here, but suffice to say age-old jealousies are in play.

The hard feelings boil over at the annual Yule Ball, a stately affair that might as well be dubbed the Junior Prom.

That the film turns such “Pretty in Pink” moments into fresh and witty exchanges speaks volumes for both Mr. Newell’s approach and his gifted cast.

“Goblet of Fire” introduces a number of wonderful new personalities to the mix, including Miranda Richardson’s pushy tabloid reporter and Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody. (It’s about time the constantly working Mr. Gleeson gets to shine under this bright a spotlight.) The additions mean less attention paid to “Potter” stalwarts like Alan Rickman — yet the British actor makes every screen second count as the persnickety Professor Snape.

Mr. Newell may be a stranger to computer effects, but “Goblet of Fire” delivers a few stunning sequences, including a sports stadium that reaches into the heavens and an underwater world teeming with sea monsters. The effects are seamless, the world they conjure remarkable.

Still, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” can’t match the action firepower of its predecessors, even when Ralph Fiennes finally arrives as the revitalized Voldemort.

The film is more concerned with a teen who just happens to weave magic when taking his first tentative steps toward adulthood.

***

TITLE: “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

RATING: PG-13 (Frightening imagery, violence and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Mike Newell. Screenplay by Steven Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.

RUNNING TIME: 160 minutes

WEB SITE: https://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/gobletoffire/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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