Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), left and Emma Watson (Hermione) in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
Rupert Grint (Ron), left, and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
Brendan Gleeson, as Mad Eye Moody the new defense against the dark arts professor in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
The recipe for the newest installment in the Harry Potter franchise includes a long list of ingredients: foreboding dreams, danger, dread and dragons; irony, eccentric characters and sardonic wit; fierce rivalries, teenage awkwardness, and, of course, young wizards in love.
But this isn't your kid brother's Harry Potter.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" continues the cinematic presentation of J.K. Rowling's series of books centered on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The fourth episode, preceded by "The Sorcerer's Stone," "The Chamber of Secrets" and "The Prisoner of Azkaban," sustains an underlying theme as the boy wizard finds himself once again a reluctant pawn of greater powers. Forced to compete in the Triwizard Tournament against his will, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) must endure the criticism of his peers while preparing to face three perilous tasks.
These aren't pin-the-tail-on-the- donkey games, either. We are informed that the tournaments have a gloomy history and that contestants sometimes die. Death is what makes "Goblet of Fire" different from its predecessors.
Until now, all the deaths in the story have been offstage. Not so this time around. In fact, the movie opens in a dismal graveyard presided over by a statue of the Grim Reaper. Although it's part dream, part divination, the vision foretells the resurrection of the sinister Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and portrays the franchise's first onscreen murder.
While the deaths depicted in "Goblet of Fire" are neither graphic nor gory, parents should take note. For younger children who have not read the book, and therefore aren't expecting it, the second death scene in particular might be a bit emotionally jarring. Unlike the first three films, "Goblet" is rated PG-13.
Did I say Harry faced three perilous tasks? Actually, outside the tournament, he faces an equally daunting test: He must find a date for the Hogwarts Ball. While it would seem out of place in any other epic fantasy, director Mike Newell manages to capture the grandeur of the gala without making it look like an outtake from a Disney film. Actually, it's an integral part of the coming-of-age subplot, conveying that pubescent clumsiness and social ineptness that makes Harry and his friends human.
Radcliffe, Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) have honed their acting skills. Instead of summoning up echoes of their depictions from the previous movies, each brings something new to their own character. Harry, Ron and Hermione are growing up, after all.
Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has an expanded role in "Goblet" while other familiar Hogwarts staff members become less visible. Brendan Gleeson, as Mad Eye Moody, delivers one of the best performances with his portrayal of the unconventional and downright creepy new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.
As each book is a shade darker than the previous one, "Goblet of Fire" is darker in tone and more mature and intelligent that its predecessors. From the ominous nightmare that foreshadows Voldemort's return to the terrifying chaos at the Quidditch World Cup where Death Eaters attack bystanders, the movie quickly establishes an almost macabre feel with topnotch effects, a beguiling visual quality that has become a hallmark of this franchise and a plot that advances steadily and leaves no room for tedium. Clearly a transitional piece, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" will appeal to adults as well as younger generations.