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Goblet's on Fire 

by Ed Symkus & r & I didn't give a negative review to the previous Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but neither was I all that thrilled with it. In fact, I was thinking that the series - at least in film form - was beginning a downward spiral. Its fantasy elements and character traits, I thought, were getting a little old. But after watching The Goblet of Fire - sometimes on the edge of my seat, sometimes wedged down into the back of it - I can hardly wait for the fifth installment (scheduled for June 2007).

I have only two problems with Goblet, both involving its ending. First, even with a running length of more than two and a half hours, it comes too soon. And in my only real complaint, the movie simply stops rather than reaching an actual conclusion.

Still, Goblet flies by like a veteran Quidditch player on a swooping broom, leaving out (some diehard fans will say) pages upon pages of the book's detail -- but not in a way that makes the main story suffer.

It begins with a sampling of full-fledged horror -- one of Harry's many very bad dreams involving the evil Lord Voldemort, just around a corner, just out of sight. But before you know it, Harry and pals are off to the 422nd Quidditch World Festival, where Harry, gawking at the sights around him, says to himself, out loud, "I love magic!"

A few more horror elements are introduced -- though not a single Quidditch match is played -- and then we cut back to Hogwarts School, where our heroes, now 14 years old, hear an announcement of the upcoming Triwizard Tournament. Seems that a member from each of the three wizard institutions of learning will compete for "eternal glory." An odd bit of storytelling conveniently makes Harry the fourth entrant.

But before the games can begin, we meet a gaggle of characters who make Goblet of Fire the best film of the series. For instance, the giantess Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour) is introduced as a friend for big, friendly Hagrid -- leading to some funny and endearing stuff. For all the journalists in the audience, there's bubbly Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), ace gossip reporter and total pest from the Daily Prophet. (While she interviews Harry, her quill and pad take notes for her.) But the character who will be talked about most is one-eyed, one-legged, scar-faced Alastor Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, played with scene-stealing glee by Brendan Gleeson. You'll know right off why his nickname is "Mad-Eye."

Lots of people are going to say lots of good things about this film. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) mixes experiments in scale (small objects and people in huge spaces) with riotous comic sequences (a bit of transfiguration involving a white ferret), a peek into some coming-of-age business and maybe even a little lust. And with the help of the storytelling skills of Joanne K. Rowling, Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who wrote all of the Potter films, along with the upcoming The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) fill the Goblet with emotional tension. There's even a rift between best pals Harry and Ron - and yes, one of the supporting characters is killed.

The exciting and dangerous Triwizard Tournament alternates from spectacular airborne action with a fire-breathing dragon to a perilous underwater sequence to some very dark moments indeed amid a huge, unruly hedge maze that is very much alive.

The film also finally introduces Voldemort (a noseless Ralph Fiennes) in all his malevolent glory, and includes a number of revelatory flashbacks about certain characters. There's not enough screen time for Professors Snape (Alan Rickman) or McGonagall (Maggie Smith), but Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is given some juicy moments. In the end, The Goblet of Fire is more involving, more scary -- simply more fun -than any of the previous three Harry Potter movies.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Rated: PG-13; Directed by Mike Newell; Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson

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