HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE Directed by Mike Newell, written by Steve Kloves from J. K. Rowling's novel, with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. 157 minutes. A Warner Bros. release. Opens Friday (November 18). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Harry Potter films contradict the idea that directors are moviedom's creative centre. Alfonso Cuarón, who took over from Chris Columbus for the third instalment, was hailed as the series's saviour, but with the same cast, producers and screenwriter, he was unable to affect much of a transformation beyond gritty-ing up the visuals. The fourth flick, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, is directed by Brit Mike Newell. Hogwarts is hosting the dangerous, centuries-old Triwizard Tournament, in which Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) mysteriously finds himself competing. This may be a nefarious plan hatched by Harry's nemesis, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Aside from the tournament's challenges, Harry must face the fact that Hogwarts is no longer safe.
Visually, it's the most spectacular of the films. Newell accurately captures the panic during the riots at the Quidditch World Cup, and the Death Eaters (Voldemort's followers) recall the Klan with their scary hoods and masks. Hogwarts has never looked so beautiful or so ominous, and scenes with dragons and mermaids show the best of what CGI can do.
But Newell can't overcome the fact that this is the weakest and second-longest of the books, which means lots had to be cut. Nor has he fixed the pacing problems that plague the films: dialogue that should move along snappily languishes, while events that should be savoured are rushed.
Is the writer or the cast to blame? Steve Kloves's scripts have generally been crap; he obviously doesn't get the books' very English sensibility. He should be arrested for his character assassination of Ron (Rupert Grint), and for giving Ron's lines to Hermione (Emma Watson). Grint is reduced to mugging, and Watson is a lovely girl but acts mostly with her eyebrows.
As for Radcliffe, he seems like a funny, engaging young man, so it's a mystery why so much of Harry's quick wit is missing onscreen. But there are moments in Goblet when faint glimmers of real emotion break through in Radcliffe's performance. This bodes well for the future. The test for the trio will be the next film, which Kloves is not writing.
If the script gets better, perhaps they will, too.