Finally, Harry is becoming a boy of substance and not merely a follower of magic. In the last three Potter films, he’s done nothing to deserve his name in the titles. He escapes strangling vines because of Hermione’s impeccable knowledge. He wins a game of chess because Ron tells him how. He discovers the Chamber of Secrets because Moaning Myrtle describes her death. And he survives The Prisoner Of Azkaban because Hermione holds his hand the whole way through. Up till now, he’s been nobody.
The Goblet Of Fire changes all that. Harry is pushed into a perilous situation by an unknown force or person, and to come out alive he has to deal with deadly dragons, menacing mermaids, and a malevolent maze all by himself. Sure, he is guided along the way, but not once is he force-fed tactics. He is growing up with the world around him, and he’s realising that darkness awaits (most of this movie takes place either at night or in daylight that’s been shrouded in an impenetrable mist to look like night). When Dumbledore warns him towards the end that “dark and difficult times lie ahead”, his words have never been more treacherous, considering the magnitude of dark and difficult times that have already passed.
The Goblet Of Fire is one of the best of the early Potter movies. Where the danger of Potter’s world only began to stir in The Prisoner Of Azkaban, here it is fully charged and ready to go. There is, if you’d like, a fourth act in this movie that sees the physical return of Lord Voldemort. He is played stupendously by Ralph Fiennes as a serpent-like barefoot man with no nose. His robes are formed of smoke and ash, and his bald head gives him the sheen and glow of a malicious soul. His return, no doubt, spells trouble for the forces of good, particularly for Harry, whose forehead scar is like a homing beacon for the Dark Lord.
The film’s plot centres on the Triwizard Tournament, a competition between three wizarding schools for the ultimate prize: The Triwizard Cup. Besides Hogwarts, the competing schools are Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. The former an all-boys school of what I can only surmise are Eastern Europeans (though Rowling has said that the school is located somewhere in Scandinavia), and the latter a French girls school (it is co-ed in the novel). Each submits a participant, and together they will face unbelievable obstacles. Harry, as I mentioned earlier, is the fourth contestant.
This tournament is the movie’s highlight. It expands the magical world into areas unknown and unheard of. We get to see new headmasters. We are treated to romances and the Yule Ball, a dinner and dance that perfectly encapsulates every boy’s most dreaded fear: Asking a girl to be a date. The obstacles of the tournament itself are dark and very spooky — “People die in this tournament”. And the unified camaraderie between the students of all three schools is a feature that the rest of the Potter series sorely lacks.
In terms of story, Goblet doesn’t disappoint. There’s the introduction of three new characters: Barty Crouch Sr, a Ministry of Magic employee played by Roger Lloyd-Pack; Barty Crouch Jr, a convicted Death Eater played by David Tennant; and Prof. Mad-Eye Moody, an unorthodox one-eyed wizard (the other is an eyeball that can spin 360 degrees, lodged into an eye patch) who takes over the Defense Against the Dark Arts class, and he’s played by Brendan Gleeson. There is a little trickery to this character that I shall not outline. Let’s just say that his involvement in the Triwizard Tournament is unusually invasive, given that this movie is his first. Together, the three men weave a mystery around the Triwizard Tournament that underlines its seemingly innocuous challenges, and it makes for wonderful storytelling.
Apart from this dark, dark story that haunts Harry’s fourth year, our young students must also face the difficulty of adolescence. In The Goblet Of Fire, more so than any of the previous three movies, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and the rest of the fourth years must contend with dancing, dating, and alas, rejection. There is a rather humorous scene that involves Harry and Ron sulking at their table during the last few hours of the Yule Ball while their dates for the evening struggle to find new partners. And just in case you’re wondering, Hermione is neither’s date. This is good drama because throughout the movie, it is hinted very strongly that perhaps Ron — and to a lesser extent Harry — has a thing for the young Miss Granger.
But at long last, the hero of the movie is Harry. Not Dumbledore. Not Hermione. And certainly not Ron. Harry, the young boy who always had the disadvantage of growing up in a non-magical environment, gets thrown in the deep end and is forced to be okay with it. He has to deal with the perilous tournament, the untimely return of Voldemort, and the rage of his hormones. All in one year. We know that he survives, of course — there are still four more movies to go. But here, he comes the closest to death.
Best Moment | The Triwizard Tournament. I also found the whole Barty Crouch Jr/Mad-Eye Moody plot to be rather enjoyable.
Worst Moment | “No! I won’t leave him!”. Yes you guessed it. It’s Harry’s crying at the end of the tournament.