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Originally published November 17, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 18, 2005 at 11:23 AM

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Movie Review

Fine "Goblet of Fire" delivers a dark and more grown-up "Harry Potter"

The new "Harry Potter" movie begins with the franchise's familiar music theme played in a chilling minor key, and ends with the camera panning...

Seattle Times movie critic

The new "Harry Potter" movie begins with the franchise's familiar music theme played in a chilling minor key, and ends with the camera panning into a rather cloudy and ominous sky. These are indeed dark days at Hogwarts, where being 14 isn't just giggles and pimples — for young Harry Potter, it means risking his life in the Triwizarding Tournament, only to ultimately face his demonic nemesis, Voldemort. Perhaps kids in the real world, who will flock to this film like wizards to a Quidditch tournament, might think of Harry's plight when next tempted to complain about homework. As we're quickly learning throughout this series, life is tough when you're a famous kid wizard.

Not so tough, though, for an audience member — the "Harry Potter" franchise, now on its fourth film and third director, continues in ripping good form. (Directing these films, it's turning out, is kind of like being a Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor — a high-profile yet mysteriously brief gig.) Mike Newell, at the helm this time, is this very British series' first British director, following Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuarón, and he takes to it like a duck to water. There's a to-the-manor-born poshness to this film that feels just right, from the newly upgraded Gryffindor Common Room (drenched in red velvet, it looks like a Pottery Barn version of Buckingham Palace) to the endless rows of toast racks at the Hogwarts breakfast table.

Sneak peeks

The film will have midnight screenings at a number of local theaters tonight and begin its regular schedule Friday; see movie listings at www.seattletimes.com/movies for theaters and showtimes. The movie also opens in IMAX format Friday at Pacific Science Center's Boeing IMAX Theater; see www.pacsci.org for more information.

For this crowded film, the now-familiar regulars are joined by a host of newcomers. Hogwarts here plays host to a pair of rival schools, both of whom make spectacular entrances into the school's now-familiar Great Hall. The all-girls Beauxbatons Academy, whose pretty members wear sky-blue costumes and huffy expressions, look like leggy '30s-movie chorines; the manly fellows of Durmstrang Institute punch a rhythm with their walking sticks and turn random cartwheels, like a road company of "Stomp."

From these ranks come Beauxbatons' Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) and Durmstrang's Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), who join Hogwarts' Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) to battle dragons, evil mermaids and a vast, mist-shrouded maze in which, as the august Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) warns, "people can change."

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 3.5 stars

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith. Directed by Mike Newell, from a screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. 157 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. Several theaters.

The tournament, combined with some comic relief in the form of the angst-ridden Yule Ball, takes up much of the fourth year at Hogwarts for Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). And some new faces haunt the Hogwarts halls. Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, skulks around taking slugs from a flask, gazing at Harry with a tethered eye that clearly has a life of its own. Muckraking reporter Rita Skeeter (a very funny Miranda Richardson) stalks Harry in search of fodder for her column, licking her teeth like a satisfied cat when she finally corners him.

While much of this is comic, overall "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" takes a tone even darker than its somber predecessor, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Much has been made of the film's PG-13 rating — the first in the series — and it's well-deserved. Parents should think carefully before bringing young or easily frightened children. The ultimate appearance of Voldemort (played by an especially reptilian Ralph Fiennes) is quite terrifying, and the meticulous realism of the dragons in a gray, gladiatorlike pit makes you genuinely fear for poor Harry's life.

Coming up: Kids' reviews

The six winners of our "Harry Potter" contest chime in with their reviews of "Goblet of Fire" on Saturday in Northwest Life and here online.

But this is as it should be, as J.K. Rowling's series marches resolutely to its ultimate showdown between good and evil. The audience is growing older, as are the young stars: Radcliffe, Grint and Watson (who gets a lovely Cinderella-on-a-staircase scene at the Yule Ball) are more confident than ever in front of the camera.

Radcliffe, in particular, now has the chops to carry a movie. Steve Kloves' screenplay sometimes feels a bit too lickety-split (though he's made some wise cuts, particularly the tiresome house-elf subplot), but Radcliffe now seems able to take his time, to let an emotion develop. He's a boy who holds the weight of the world, and an actor who holds the weight of a franchise, and he carries both with a reluctant ease. Though the special effects in this film are often breathtaking, the real drama is here is exactly where it should be: in a young man's frightened but resolute eyes.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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