Directed by: Mike Newell
Premise: The fourth film in the Harry Potter series. Harry (Daniel Radcliff) enters an interschool wizardry contest.
What Works: The Goblet of Fire is among the most impressive of the Harry Potter films. Building on the expansion of the story world in The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Goblet of Fire brings together the population of the Hogwarts school with two other institutions and as the student populations mingle the film again expands the fantasy world and uses that expansion to deepen its characters. By this point the main characters have entered adolescence and the film’s depiction of burgeoning adulthood is dead on. Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Redcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) discover romance and teen angst but unlike the melodrama of the Twilight films, The Goblet of Fire treats that angst with an appropriate level of humor while also being earnest about the drama of teenage romance. In this, The Goblet of Fire is fantasy at its most effective by playing out authentic human emotions within the settings of a fairytale. The genuine qualities of the teen romance, especially its emotional ups and downs, create a lot of reality for the characters and make the fantasy world very believable in a way that surpasses any Harry Potter film thus far. The lighthearted tone of the romance provides some relief from the intensity of the games and the brewing mystery. The Goblet of Fire is also distinguished in the way it ratchets up the stakes. Although Harry and his friends have found themselves in mortal danger in the previous films, they have always managed to escape with barely a scratch. But the events of The Goblet of Fire actually have life and death consequences and Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) return gives the film among the most effective endings in the Harry Potter series by simultaneously bringing the story to a big finish and directing the narrative, the characters, and the audience to darker and deeper issues to come in the next episode.
What Doesn’t: In an effort to raise the stakes, The Goblet of Fire stretches the story’s credibility. According to the rules of the tournament, Harry is too young to participate in the games but the adults are bound by protocol to include him when the Goblet names Harry as a contestant. This is clearly part of a broad critique in the Harry Potter series about the inflexibility of traditions and institutions but the adults’ blind compliance is nagging. The tasks of the game also overspend The Goblet of Fire’s credibility. The student wizards combat dragons and face killer mermaids, and while the scenes are thrilling and make Harry heroic, it is also hard to believe that a school would allow its students to participate in an activity that is so dangerous. The Goblet of Fire is also the fourth Harry Potter film in a row that locates a major reversal in the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. By now that is a predictable plot twist that any attentive viewer ought to see coming.
DVD extras: The two disc edition includes deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes, and trailers.
Bottom Line: The Goblet of Fire is the best film so far in the Harry Potter series. It surpasses the previous films in its balance of the serious and the humorous, in its fuller treatment of the main cast, and the more complex story.
Episode: #75 (November 20, 2005); Revised #349 (July 24, 2011)