One step back

Perfecting a move first executed by Daniel LaRusso in Karate Kid<i>, Harry Potter uses the crane technique to kick Voldemort’s patootie.</i>

Perfecting a move first executed by Daniel LaRusso in Karate Kid, Harry Potter uses the crane technique to kick Voldemort’s patootie.

Rated 3.0

Some Harry Potter-heads might think what I have to say in the following review is a little disheartening. Just know that this review comes from a guy who liked two of the first three movies, thought the third was the best and hasn’t read a page of the books.

While still a decent piece of entertainment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a two-and-a-half-hour chapter in the ongoing travails of the boy wizard, is somewhat of a step backward for the film series. The movie intermittently comes to life through numerous fantasy sequences, but it also drags with long intervals of shallow teen drama that make it feel like Saved By the Bell at Hogwarts.

For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a brief synopsis. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has invited some international wizards and witches to Hogwarts for a massive wizardry tournament. The tournament, a series of dangerous, life-threatening challenges, can only be undertaken by those 17 years and older, yet Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself thrust into the competition when his name is inexplicably spat out by the Goblet of Fire.

The film doesn’t have the feeling of completeness and solidity that its immediate predecessor, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, possessed. Even though it clocks in at two-and-a-half-hour hours, it feels like nothing more than an overlong transitional chapter rather than one where much of interest happens.

The first chapter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was a big golly-gosh epic where child actors were set loose on big sets, and unneeded exposition on wizardry and magic resulted in sleep fuel. Chapter two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was a huge step forward, where the series became a bit darker, and the film felt more fully realized. The third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was, to put it simply, a masterpiece.

Goblet of Fire maintains the sinister vibe that started in Chamber and carried through Azkaban. Director Mike Newell, the first Brit to direct in the series, fails to achieve the majestic heights that Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron achieved. Newell’s film is not bad, but it does feel a bit choppy and meandering at times.

Harry’s battle with a dragon is a wondrous visual experience even if it does end abruptly. An appropriately creepy underwater sequence probably stands as the film’s best overall achievement. A scene where Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black shows up results in a very strange and wonderful sort of cameo. The film’s finale, which involves a shrubbery maze straight out of The Shining and a cemetery showdown with a dark lord (played by Ralph Fiennes) is quite scary.

For each of its triumphs, the film has its shortfalls. The visual effects work supremely in spots, but moments where the actors seem lost and out of synch with the effects surrounding them are numerous. Continuity and editing also suffer at times (in one scene, Hermione Granger, played by Emma Watson, has tears in her eyes before her character actually starts crying). Little things like this are a nuisance considering how fully realized and damned near perfect Azkaban was.

Radcliffe is continuing to emerge as an excellent actor. All traces of the boy who didn’t really know what he was doing in the first film have fallen away. Rupert Grint manages some good laughs as the glum Ron Weasley. Watson tries a bit too hard in some of her emotionally demanding scenes, but her overall performance is good.

Sure, it’s nice to have Harry’s adventures at such a quick pace (Azkaban was released just last year). Nevertheless, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire probably needed another couple of months in post production. It feels a little rushed, and while it is still worth seeing, it stands as one of the weaker chapters in the Potter series.