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HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE – Fantasy leaps into fright

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Director: Mike Newell
Rated: M

I THINK J.K. Rowling deserves a Nobel Prize for literature.

Not that her prose would earn her the award, although her literary style has improved as her monumental series has progressed.

Her award would be granted for doing what few of us would have guessed could have happened in our lifetime – having children line up around the block to be the first to buy and read a book.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth and latest film in the series is, as you have no doubt heard, the darkest of the tales filmed so far.

The Australian censors have given this film an M rating with good reason.

The Goblet of Fire is not for small or impressionable children. It has a few genuinely frightening scenes and a lot of implied physical and emotional violence.

Harry is now 14 (though Daniel Radcliffe looks considerably older), and is completing his fourth year at Hogwarts School.

Principal Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) announces that the college will be hosting three other wizardry schools for the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament.

Although entry is restricted to senior students, Harry Potter’s name is secretly entered and accepted by the Goblet of Fire.

Against the background of these magical Olympics, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) rises from the dead and draws Harry into a confrontation wherein he intends to murder him. Voldemort killed Harry’s parents.

With Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, and a new teacher at Hogwarts, Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Harry is helped to do his wizardry duty at the games and survive to play another film against his evil nemesis.

There is much to admire about The Goblet of Fire.

Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Traffic and Mona Lisa Smile) thankfully takes a scalpel to Rowling’s bloated prelude in the book and starts the action within 15 minutes of the film’s beginning.

He maintains a good momentum throughout, even though he drops many of the book’s subplots and some of the characters we have met in the other films.

Newell and screenwriter Steven Kloves cannot, however, save this film from being too long.

At 157 minutes I got bored, and so did many of the children with whom I saw it.

Furthermore, the acting is not universally good.

The old English stalwarts are outstanding: Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Timothy Spall among them.

Daniel Radcliffe has also listened and learnt as he has gone on and, even though he now looks physically wrong for the part, Daniel is convincing as Harry.

But Emma Watson’s Hermione and Rupert Grint’s Ron remain the weak links in the film. It is not all their fault.

Hermione is as painful on screen as she is in the book, and Ron is as big a dullard.

But good actors, even young ones, find ways of developing nuances in long-term characters that attract the viewer to want to watch them. That’s not true of Ron and Hermione.

The values of the Goblet of Fire are as solid as in its predecessors. Harry’s noble defence of his parent’s death, and his special gifts mean he alone has to lead the final showdown with the dark forces of evil and destruction. More than a little of a messianic mission here.

And unlike nearly every other superhero around, Harry can’t fulfil his mission on his own, so on the way he needs assistance, support, tutelage and friendship.

For fans of the books and the other films, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is necessary viewing, though the box office returns have been steadily declining with each film.

For the uninitiated it may be better to wait until the whole series comes out on DVD and you have a week to watch them all in one go. The fifth film is on the way.

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