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FILM REVIEW ‌ Smells Like Teen Spirit

Goblet of Fire offers torture as metaphor for adolescent angst

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The horrors of Harry Potter 4: Dark Lords, dragons, torture, and chicks
  • The horrors of Harry Potter 4: Dark Lords, dragons, torture, and chicks
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and many, many others
Rated PG-13

This Radcliffe kid, you have to wonder: does he have any idea? Does he look around every day at work and say to himself, "Holy crap, there's Maggie Smith. That's Michael Gambon. And they're calling me to the set with Alan Rickman!" Or are they all just a few more annoying and clueless adults who make his teenage life a living hell?

I wonder partly because, if he's paying attention, he's gonna have some incredible stories for his tell-all autobiography in 30 years. But if he takes the clichéd route of other superfamous child actors -- Drew Barrymore comes to mind -- well, then he'll probably tell us how he was terrorized by the Method practitioners unleashed upon him at a tender, vulnerable age.

Rickman, for instance, this time out is having way more fun than usual with Professor Snape -- the Hogwarts teacher everyone loves to hate -- literally rolling up his sleeves to bang student heads together: Harry (Radcliffe) and his best pal, Ron (Rupert Grint), take more than a couple knocks to the noggins, but it's the glee with which Rickman delivers those blows that is almost as disturbing as it is hilarious (maybe having all those hormonal teenagers around is driving the grownups on the set batty).

But Rickman's got nothing on Ralph Fiennes, who is horrifyingly disgusting as Lord Voldemort, a.k.a. "He Who Must Not Be Named," a.k.a. "You Know Who." Which is as it should be: Voldemort is Darth Vader and Satan in one slithery package, and if he's terrifying enough that the characters don't even want to speak his name, then he should be, well, terrifying.

For the benefit of the two people on the planet who don't know Harry's story so far: Goblet of Fire is all about You Know Who bringing to fruition a major portion of his two-part plan, which involves restoring his physical incarnation and exacting his revenge upon Harry, who managed to thwart the Dark Lord's evil plans when he (Harry, that is) was just a baby. Now, when he finally gets his hands on the boy wizard, he -- not to put too fine a point on it -- tortures him.

Oh, man, the finale of Goblet of Fire is unsettling, in a way that'll have you squirming in your seat. Which is also as it should be. We're not used to seeing this onscreen, the torture of a child. And not to impugn young Mr. Radcliffe, who is surely at that age (15 when the movie was shot) when kids rankle at being called "children" ... but I can't even think of another film that puts a child in such dire straits as Harry sees here, the object of such personal animosity as what Voldemort aims at him. There is a level of horror operating here that raises this beyond escapist family fare and into the realm of cutting metaphor for adolescence. Which is, again, as it should be -- it's in keeping with the darkening tenor of Rowling's novels and with the grim turn the last film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, took.

There's a lot that's disconnected and disjointed in the muddled middle of Goblet -- even with massive chunks excised, the film still runs close to three hours. And for all the startling and delightful bits that remain -- the carnival atmosphere of the Quidditch World Cup lends a genuine sense of the wizarding world in all its diversity; there's a battle between Harry and a dragon that is stunning; and in addition to having to face dragons and Dark Lords, Harry and Ron are discovering the scariest creatures of all: girls -- most of the characters other than Harry do suffer a bit from dramatic malnourishment.

But that ending ... whew. Nightmarish. It'll stick with you. And if Radcliffe goes off the deep end in a few years, we'll know it stuck with him, too.

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