With each successive movie in the Harry Potter franchise, the action level is amped up a notch. There is no doubt about that in Harry Potter and the Tri-Wizard T—I mean Goblet of Fire. The 700-page story has been neatly trimmed (i.e. most of the side plots have been left out) around what is arguably the most magnificent event in the entire series so far—the Tri-Wizard tournament—an athletic competition between three rival wizarding schools. The tournament events (or “tasks”) are incredibly well done. The dragon chase combined the best of past quidditch flight scenes with the hippogryff ride from Prisoner of Azkaban. The underwater task was pretty cool, and the maze was appropriately disorienting and creepy. One visual change is that everything seems taller and loftier: Hogwarts is full of spires and staircases now, and even the library seems to have limitless ceiling to accommodate the super-high stacks of books that float about. The nearby forest seems to be newly replanted with towering trees that dwarf even the half-giant gameskeeper, Hagrid. This new grandeur gives this movie a sense of epic scale that the previous ones didn’t have.
Another much discussed aspect of this story is the onset of teen angst. Poor Harry must brave the intimidating prospect of asking a girl to the special Yule Ball. As much as I was excited to meet the dreamy Cho Chang, object of Harry’s affections, their one scene together was way too brief. It was great fun to see how unsure of himself Harry was in the romance department, especially when other characters were around for him to be compared to—including Hogwarts champion and BMOC, Cedric Diggory. Hermione, played by Emma Watson, fared much better and stunned her friends and fellow classmates, walking beautifully down the stairs in her ball gown. Despite a somewhat underwhelming graveyard scene (though Ralph Fiennes made an excellently serpentine Voldemort), my only complaint (as I do with every Potter film) is that there was too little of it (despite its 2.5 hour run time). I didn’t re-read the book beforehand because I knew that would only focus my attention on all the stuff they had to cut out of the story, but still I wish they could have spent more time on the relationships and Hogwart’s life (which is given very little screen time—in fact there’s only one scene of the kids having classes).Nevertheless, it’s great how movies can also surprise you by bringing a scene to life in a way that is more than your expecation. I had not been really struck by the arrival of competing Tri-wizard schools Durmstrang and Beauxbatons in the book, but I was delighted by the way their entrances were presented in the movie. The girls of Beauxbatons were the quintessential French beauties and danced their way into the Great Hall, gracefully bewitching every boy in the room. Then the boys of Durmstrang marched into the hall to a strong, bold rhythm, breathing fire and striding forward as the archetypes of athletic, masculine energy. All credit to director Mike Newell for turning a relatively simple scene into a thrilling spectacle.
I don’t want to undervalue some of the themes in the film, and some of the character development that went on, but this time around they were definitely subservient to the engrossing visuals. This is a big-screen movie without question (so see it on the IMAX screen if you can). The next film, Order of the Phoenix, will have a hard time topping this one in that department, but knowing what the book has in store, there will be plenty of other things to tackle. However, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the action apex of the series. 4.5 out of 5