Smells Like Teen Spirit
The magic comes from the character growth in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
J. K. Rowling’s mega-selling series of books has been
talked about for any number of reasons—its pop culture
ubiquity; its ability to make a generation of video game and
iPod junkies actually read; its alleged unhealthy influence on
those same readers by dealing with the occult. What has often
been lost is how unflinching the author has been in addressing
the sometimes perilous touchstones of her characters’ growth
from precocious 11-year-olds into teenagers. Director Mike
Newell’s (Four Weddings and a Funeral) version of the
fourth book keeps a surprisingly tight focus on the unnerving,
dark, appropriately PG-13-rated changes in Harry’s world as he
wrestles with transformations that have nothing to do with
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE ( * * * )Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
(PG-13, 157 mins.) | At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinemas
In fact, magic takes a noteworthy backseat in Goblet of Fire. Yes, the centerpiece Tri-Wizard Tournament is a magical competition that pits host school Hogwart’s against two rival European academies. True, there are still classes to take for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), including yet another new Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson). And of course, there are still evil machinations afoot involving Lord Voldemort, whose band of loyalists called Death Eaters have re-emerged.
But from start to finish, there is less wizardry involved in Goblet than in any previous Potter installment. Instead, the emphasis falls on those bursts of irrational emotion and constant fears of humiliation that practically define adolescence. Harry and Ron have a falling-out over Ron’s belief that Harry has made an intentional grab for glory by sneaking himself into the tournament. Both of them agonize over finding a date for the Yule Ball, while finding it hard to wrap their heads around the realization that their friend Hermione is actually, you know, a girl.
Newell—a terrific director of actors—turns out to be an ideal choice for this particular installment, but he’s not as comfortable with the other places a Potter film is expected to go. The few action sequences—an attack by the Death Eaters; Harry’s duel with a dragon—feel awkwardly constructed. He hasn’t got the knack for grand-scale fantasy that Chris Columbus brought to the first two films, nor is he a visual storyteller on the level of Prisoner of Azkaban’s Alfonso Cuarón, so there are bound to be places where Goblet feels less thrilling than its predecessors.
It is, however, at times the best film of the bunch, simply because it gives its characters so much room to breathe. Perhaps part of that sense comes from the unique experience of watching its three young stars grow up, and grow more confident as actors. But growth is also a crucial element of this series of books and movies, more so even than wands and Whomping Willows. J. K. Rowling has created an epic about three young people on the complex journey towards maturity, and the most enchanting experience of all might simply be taking that journey with them.