Harry's Clumsy Step toward Manhood
The transitions between boyhood and adolescence, adolescence and manhood are trying for most every guy. Potterphiles know they will be especially challenging for the orphaned wizard due to his status as the chosen one. After seeing him leave behind childish things in last year's Prisoner of Azkaban, anyone rooting for the bespectacled Harry will be pleased to see him take a big step closer to manhood in this fourth installment. He has not successfully navigated the passage into adulthood however. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, mirroring the main trio of once-child actors, takes on the characteristics of awkward, hormonally-charged adolescence and can't shake them off.
Part of this has to do with the saga's natural progression. The movie's most significant non-action set piece, a ball for the Triwizard Tournament being hosted by Hogwarts, amounts to a high school prom. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are now interested in girls, and the feeling is mutual at least in Harry's case. Hermione (Emma Watson) becomes an object of affection as the date of a Romanian stud. Even Hagrid finds a soul mate, one of similarly gargantuan proportions. Love is in the air and the three principals are experiencing unfamiliar stirrings.
The discomfort that accompanies this sort of blossoming is underscored by the actors, who are too mature to be playing fourteen-year-olds. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson don't seem at ease in their skins. They are betwixt and between, caught in the often shy, stammering zone between child actor and adult performer. This puts additional pressure on their resources and invites a different kind of scrutiny.
Focusing on their acting talents and suitability for their roles would be largely irrelevant if it didn't spill over into the production. Goblet of Fire is relatively clumsy when not in the realm of action sequences and magical special effects. And the time drags between these feats of cinematic abracadabra. The editing is sloppy and helmer Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) can't find a rhythm. He retains the darker tones introduced in Azkaban but doesn't integrate the quieter moments with the quaffs of action, which, in isolation, are intense.
Harry is too young to participate in the Triwizard Tournament but is mysteriously thrust into the fray, competing against the female representative of Beauxbatons Academy, the brawny brute from the Durmstrang Institute (who escorts Hermione to the ball), and a strapping kid form Hogwarts. They must complete three tasks: steal an egg from a Dragon, plunge into the late to rescue cherished things, and wend through a maze. There's no lack of peril in completing these tasks and the movie soars during them. The time in between is mostly a bore.
It's all building up to Harry's graveyard encounter with the unmentionable Lord Valdemort (Ralph Fiennes channeling his disfigured character from The English Patient), the fallen wizard who killed his parents. While certainly pushing fright boundaries for young children, this scene is as kitschy as it gets. Such camp isn't out of place but it signals the series might be losing its hold on the imagination.
The only major adult additions -- Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, an expert in defending against the Dark Arts portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, and a humorously snarky journalist (Miranda Richardson) -- seem lost somewhere between Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Lord of the Rings.
Harry makes a move away from teenage yearning toward adult troubles in this episode. He's passed a challenging and confusing test that involves overcoming physical obstacles, coping with the first stirrings of lust, and confronting the pain of his parent's demise.
Yet, as Dumbledore warns, it's only going to get more difficult. The same is true of the Harry Potter movie franchise. Sipping from this fractured vessel and getting a taste of life on the cusp of manhood comes dangerously close to being its own trial by fire.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.)