Another year, another “Potter”

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Another year, another “Potter”


When the writers of action television run short of ideas, they often resort to the tournament story. It guarantees a series of tense trials capped by a climactic moment when something could go wrong and everyone realizes ― gasp ― this isn’t a game anymore.
I have not read the “Harry Potter” books, so I can only judge the films on their own merits. The previous installments repeated a certain plot structure, to be sure, but each sequel took the series another step forward.
“The Chamber of Secrets” filled out the main villains, while “Prisoner of Azkaban” darkened the tone and blurred the lines between the good guys and the bad guys.
But instead of taking us to the next level, “Goblet of Fire” hews too closely to the standard tournament plotline.
It’s their fourth year at Hogwarts, and Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) are growing up. The Triwizard Tournament will be held at the school, and two groups of guest students are there to compete. One group is full of manly men for Hermione to drool over, the other has magical ladies for Ron.
Preparations for a school dance provide a counterpoint to the scary tournament. Ron decides he’s jealous of Harry’s celebrity, while Hermione sulks about being ignored. It is fun to watch the characters acting like stupid teenagers for a while. But there is very little magic involved and Radcliffe seems to be a black hole from which no emotion escapes.
Harry’s love interest, Cho Chang (Katie Leung), is introduced here. I don’t recall seeing any Asians in the last three years at Hogwarts, but in “Goblet,” probably to set the stage for Cho’s future importance in the series, the place is suddenly full of ethnic diversity. Of course, I’m not against Asian students at Hogwarts, but if there had been Asian students in the books, Warner Bros. should have included them from the first film.
Despite an age limit that should have prevented him from being selected, Harry’s name pops out of the hat (rather, a magical chalice) as one of the four champions to compete in the tournament.
There’s a new creepy teacher of the Dark Arts: Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a former Ministry of Magic investigator with a terrible case of lazy eye. Naturally, he turns out not to be what he seems. Harry also has more mysterious visions, which culminate in a surprisingly stark finale to set up the next movie.
The effects in the tournament’s three rounds, which involve dragons, merpeople and a man-eating maze, are naturally eye-popping. Harry’s flight from a flying dragon is particularly exciting. But these three action set pieces can’t breathe life into the rest of the film.
This is particularly so for those of us who haven’t braved Rowling’s six brick-sized books. “Potter” films do have a guaranteed audience, but while the many who did read the book may be prepared to forgive any holes in the film, if you haven’t read the books, you may feel left out in the cold.
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is a well-crafted episode in the series. But those who only have the films to go on will find it makes too few additions to the Hogwarts curriculum.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Adventure / English
157 min.
Opens Thursday

by Ben Applegate
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