Paul F. P. Pogue

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter

OK, so odds are if you have any interest in Harry Potter you've already seen the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This isn't aimed at you. I'm looking at YOU there in the back, yes, you, dude, who hasn't read a single line of Goblet of Fire and couldn't muddle through the Chamber of Secrets film.

Here's the wickedly ironic dark secret of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: It actually works better as a movie if you HAVEN'T read the book on which it's based. As a film it's grand entertainment, with one wild set piece after another trying to top the last. Readers have long wondered how the enormous tome, with its hordes of subplots struggling for space, would fit into a single movie, and the answer is surprisingly simple: Cut EVERYTHING that doesn't tie into the central plot.

It boils down to three things: Harry Potter. Mysterious new teacher. Three tasks of the Triwizard Tournament. Everything else? GONE. No more Hermione founding an elf-rights movement, no more Dobby, no Dursleys and precious little of teen-agers making goo-goo eyes at each other. And the cuts are more skillfully executed, unlike the previous film, Prisoner of Azkaban, in which there are major pieces of absolutely essential information cut from the narrative, any of which could have easily been handled in three lines of dialogue.

The result is a surprisingly tight piece, tinged with darkness and escalating mayhem. One of the early action scenes, Harry on the run from a dragon hellbent for a wizard snack, tops anything from any of the previous films.

It's far from perfect; in fact, the last half hour represents screenwriter Steve Kloves' biggest failure to date, when he makes such errors as moving a crucial Dumbledore speech from the great hall in front of everyone into a small room with Harry. The whole POINT of said speech, even in the context of the movie, is because EVERYONE, not just Harry, needs to hear it.

So, yeah. As a fan of the books I was a bit let down. There was all sorts of exposition and character stuff I wanted to see, but you know what? As a film fan I didn't miss it at all. Everything ties together neatly enough that the film is a self-contained chunk of wonder all its own. It works well enough that you almost don't have to have even seen the previous films to get what's going on. Let's hope Kloves and company work out the kinks for the next couple of books and end up with a full rendition of which they can be proud.

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