When we left Harry Potter and his dealings with the mysterious Prisoner of Azkaban from the third film, I noted that looked at the film as a transition was to its benefit. In viewing that as transitional for the characters, the fourth film in the series, titled Goblet of Fire, dispenses with a lot of the youth and innocence from the first three films, and looks at the characters having a better understanding of the dangers they face now, made all the more complicated by the dramas of adolescence.
Steve Kloves returns to adapt J.K. Rowling's book into a screenplay, and in an interesting change, Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) directs. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself attending the Quidditch World Cup with Ron (Rupert Grint) and his family shortly before the start of his fourth year at Hogwarts. The enthusiasm at the event is shattered when members of Lord Voldemort's army invade it, culminating in the appearance of Voldemort's symbol in the sky. While this is minor cause of concern, Hogwarts takes some extra steps to protect themselves, as they hold a Triwizard Tournament, which plays host to the best 17 (or older) year old from Hogwarts in a competition with two other schools. Harry's name is magically thrown into the competition and, not being of age, the decisions on whether to include him in the tournament, along with any personal investment in his entering, are questioned. The decision is made to allow him to compete in the Tournament, next to Hogwarts' entry Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson, New Moon). Along with the competition are the normal trappings that teens tend to face, particularly interacting with the other sex. A winter ball makes Harry, Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson) look at each other differently, both in overt and obvious manners that seem to be more than just friendly glances.
I haven't seen the last Harry Potter film (The Order of the Phoenix) yet, but there's so much in this one (titled Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire) that makes it my favorite film of the bunch. First, Newell's resume would lend itself to understanding the dynamic between men and women, or boys and girls in this case. And without a noticeable attachment to the fan base, he handles the scenes between the three stars superbly. Throwing in the other Triwizard competitors Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) and Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy) help serve as possible distractions for Hermione and Harry from whatever their true feelings may hold. Second, there are small moments when Newell makes the film feel "British." It is hard to describe, but there are quick moments between the three that might not have come from another director. Hermione responds to a tiff that Ron and Harry are having by saying, "I'm not an owl!" meaning that she's not the messenger of course, but would that type of line (or scene) showed up in this film if done by a different director? Doubtful.
The actors' performances in Goblet of Fire are certainly their best to date too. Radcliffe and Watson continue to grow and expand their range, and Grint turns in a slightly underrated performance by extolling some jealousy towards Harry about the Tournament. The Hogwarts' faculty continues their fine work in the film, with this year's new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher being Alistair "Mad-Eye" Moody Robert Pattinson, In Bruges), a slightly maniacal one-eyed man who may be acutely aware of the battles Harry might see in his future. We see Voldemort in Goblet of Fire for the first time too, and if you haven't seen it I won't spoil the surprise, but my only reaction is damn, he just wants to play ugly people in all his roles nowadays, huh?
In retrospect, Azkaban should have served as a warning to those of us unfamiliar with the books that the heavy lifting within the story and its characters was about to begin. There are moments of action and suspense (not to mention oodles of digitally-created creatures), but the emotion and drama the main characters carry is the most they had to undertake to that point, and they did it remarkably well under Newell's direction. He manages to capture everything imaginable in Goblet of Fire, the conflicts, the drama, the loss, and in Radcliffe, we see the additional emergence of a quality actor.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner displays Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with a 2.40:1 high-definition widescreen presentation that employs the VC-1 codec. Coming back from the presentation of Azkaban took a second to get used to but when you do, there are some good visuals here. Blacks are deeper and more consistent than the previous film, colors are reproduced accurately without over saturation and flesh tones look accurate. There are moments of image softness when focusing on the children, but overall this is a nice-looking film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track sure does bring the noise and ruckus when it's called upon. Starting early with the World Cup sequences and even at the end of the film when the other two wizard schools depart Hogwarts, the subwoofer puts in more work than I recall hearing from any other Potter film. Yet it manages to retain some of the smaller effects as well. Dialogue in the Great Hall provides a surprising level of immersion, particularly when Harry's name is pulled from the Goblet. Dialogue sounds balanced through the film with little in the way of dropouts. This certainly is the best sounding film in the Harry Potter franchise.
The feature includes the In-Movie Experience from Warner Brothers. Hosted by James and Oliver Phelps (who play Ron's older brothers Fred and George, respectively), it includes a bevy of on-set rehearsal and comparison footage to the final product, along with interviews from the cast about their roles in the feature. For fans of the film, they'll get a kick out of watching this extra, though from an IME perspective the content was pretty ordinary.
The fourth installment in the eight-part "Creating the World of Harry Potter" making-of features is included, focusing on the sound and music for the films (54:12). The cast and crew share their thoughts on the importance of music in the film, and the composers of the series' music share their respective approaches to scoring their work. John Williams (composer of the first three films) recalls his inspirations for the music in the first film, and there is loads of side-by-side footage of a scene next to a scoring session with an orchestra. There are examinations of music for a character or given scene and discussion on how it came together. The sound effects group discusses the sound intent and design for the films, from the actual effects to the Foley artists and ADR sessions. It's more technically-based but well worth the ride if you're interested.
The rest of the Blu-ray includes a decent amount of material from dated interviews and features. "Conversations with the Cast" (30:36) is a loosely conducted interview conducted on set by Newell's friend (and Love Actually director) Richard Curtis as he asks the kids about their experiences through the first three films and this one, and how they have evolved as actors. It's an engaging segment, but problem on the extras is that this theme tends to be repeated on many of the other featurettes. "Behind the Magic" (48:51) is a British television special that presumably aired near the film's premiere, with loads of "exclusive sneak preview" footage both on set and from the feature. It looks at the production and set design with a Host, and there's the obligatory cast and crew interviews, along with the challenges in adapting this particular edition for film. The creature and digital effects teams get a chance to chime in as well.
"Inside Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (43:48) includes the stars talking about the previous films in a mix of old and new interviews, and they talk about this one, along with their thoughts on Newell's work with them. The new cast additions touch on their individual contributions to the production, and some more coverage of the creatures and on the tasks in the Triwizard' Tournament. "The Adventure Continues" (24:13) includes cast and crew interviews, but they are more focused on the fourth film rather than the previous three, but they do provide s review of the story to date and a small preview of the fourth along with the new characters in the lore. "Dark Matters, New Masters" (13:02) includes yet more recollection and anticipation by the actors, but has more dated footage than the other segments do. There are eight deleted and extended scenes (9:58), including a complete performance of the song at the Yule Ball, but they don't add anything to the story. A teaser, trailer and three advertisements for some Potter merch complete the disc.
The standard definition disc of extras starts by showing us teasers of Happy Feet and The Ant Bully, reminding us how long it's been since Goblet of Fire was released. From there the film's extras are broken into four sections, with three of them housing a set-top games related to the Triwizard Tournament. In the "Dragon Arena" section, "Harry vs. Horntail" (6:08) breaks down the first challenge Harry has to face, replete with interviews from the cast and digital effects team. "Meet the Champions" (13:01) shows us a day on set with each of the new cast additions to the film. Warning: loads of Pattinson fun time here. In "The Lake" section, "In Too Deep" (9:48) examines the second task and the difficulties in shooting and creating it. "The Maze" section shows us a breakdown of that task (6:48), along with Fiennes' transformation into Voldemort (11:08), along with his thoughts on said transformation and the character itself. The "Hogwarts Castle" section replicated the interview Curtis had with the kids, along with the deleted/extended scenes. "Preparing for the Yule Ball" (9:03) shows us the process that went into transforming Hogwarts for the elaborate sequence, along with the dance rehearsals and costume design for the characters. "Reflections on the Fourth Film" (14:12) includes some more reminiscing from the cast, while the trailer (1:17) and some DVD-ROM content follows. There are also two more character cards as per previous Ultimate Editions (for Ron and Moody), a 44-page photo book discussing the sound and music used in the films, and a redeemable code for a downloadable digital copy of the film completes things.
Hermione says at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that things have changed and this guy feels the changes through the film were for the better. Technically it might be the best of the Potter discs to date even though it lacks some on the bonus material side of things. Regardless, It's worth your time even if you're new to the world of wizardry.