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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Wiz Kids

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There's not a Muggle in sight in the new Harry Potter movie: It's all wizards, all the time, including Lord Voldemort, whose corporeal reappearance comes about with a helping hand (literally) from his rodentine sidekick Wormtail, as well as a drop of Harry Potter's blood (what's a Dark Lord without someone else's blood in his veins?).

 

If none of that means anything to you, then you're either devoutly Christian or devoutly uncool. Still, this is a movie best enjoyed if you're already familiar with the Potter universe. We don't get reintroduced to Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Malfoy, Sirius, Hagrid and the rest, and the adventure begins directly with a snake, a spindly hand, and a plot to kill Harry.

 

Then, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire lets the games begin. First there's the Quidditch World Cup, interrupted and incinerated by Voldemort's soldiers (essentially, Klansmen in black pointed hoods). Soon it's time for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, hosted this year by Hogwarts, with the co-ed British home team competing against the French (a finishing school for wizard girls) and the Slavs (a boys' military academy) in a prestigious (and dangerous) contest that seeks to foster "international magical cooperation." (Their world is clearly post-détente but not without borders -- nor without British author J.K. Rowling's benign clichés about other cultures.)

 

The rules say that each team's sole entrant must be at least 17. But when the immutable Goblet of Fire spits out the names of the competitors, 14-year-old Harry is among them. Several dragons, mazes and mer-people later, Harry meets the nemesis (Ralph Fiennes, in a scalding cameo) who killed his parents and left his mark on Harry's forehead.

 

There's a load of plot in Goblet of Fire, and more than a load of thrilling spectacle, thanks to Rowling's boundless imagination. There's also an intriguing look at the wider world of wizardry, some snippets of Snape's sinister past and, of course, the raging hormones of the terrible teens. Our three central wizards launch their furtive sex lives at the Yule Ball, although don't take any bets yet on who ends up with whom, except of course that Harry won't end up with Ron.

 

Two new characters add to the fun: Miranda Richardson is a gossipy reporter who gets everything wrong for a racier story, and Brendan Gleeson is Hogwarts' new professor of the dark arts, who has an eye (not his own) for duplicity. (His juicy performance is supporting-Oscar worthy.) The director, 63-year-old Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco), is the oldest person and first Brit to helm a Potter movie, and his experience brings the right touch to both its intimacy and its gloom. Along the way we learn about friendship and cultural acceptance, although happily, the lessons get lost in the frenzy. We're left with a rollicking good time and, unhappily, two years to wait for more.

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