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Potter, puberty, PG-13 make fourth installment a hit

You would think that with four movies and three directors, the “Harry Potter” series would lose its way somewhere. Yet somehow, each installment has managed to stay consistent in terms of style, while bringing just the right tone to the screen.

The fourth addition, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” is no different, despite the presence of yet another new director. It succeeds in every way, surpassing the first three Potter films on the shoulders of its intense story.

In 2000, Chris Columbus was tapped to handle Harry’s early years. With “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets,” he succeeded in creating a successful, kid-friendly atmosphere. Harry’s initial endeavors were perilous to be sure, yet they had an endearing and light quality to them, as was the intention. After all, Harry was still a young boy.

For “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” the third chapter of the series, Columbus was replaced by Alfonso Cuar?n. Despite the reservations of some fans, Cuar?n proved his worth. As Harry’s story got darker, so did the look of the world around him.

The story gets even gloomier in “Goblet of Fire,” as Harry’s latest director, Mike Newell, expands further on Cuar?n’s vision. A veteran television director with a few successful film credits, Newell wasn’t the consensus’ choice to direct, but he has certainly shown he has what it takes. This sequel definitely earned its PG-13 rating.

“Goblet of Fire” follows Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) during his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In this year, Hogwarts has the honor of hosting the legendary Triwizard Tournament, where students from three rival schools battle in a series of increasingly challenging competitions.

The competitors are chosen by the Goblet of Fire, a magical, flaming chalice that spits out the name of one individual from each school. An apparent glitch causes the impossible to happen, and an underage Harry is chosen as a second representative from Hogwarts. From there, he is thrust into a fierce competition for eternal glory. It is a contest he is not ready to – and does not want to – compete in.

“Goblet of Fire” – which runs about two and a half hours – starts slowly, picks up speed and then never hits the brakes until the credits roll. Newell and his colleagues are bordering on epic filmmaking here, and they should be commended for their efforts. The special effects are flawless and the performances are pitch-perfect. Everything about this one feels big, even Harry himself, who is visibly in the middle of his transition from young boy to adolescent to adult.

The same can also be said for his friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Hermione must deal with newfound sexuality and her affection for a Quidditch star named Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski). Ron struggles with his jealousy when Harry is selected for the Triwizard Tournament. Harry has trouble battling with his ever-growing adult responsibilities, especially with the return of the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) lingering.

It’s these issues that are the heart of the film. At its core, the “Harry Potter” series is all just an elaborate coming-of-age story.

And with any coming-of-age story, the point is to actually watch the characters “come of age.” With four movies down and three to go, the executives at Warner Brothers need to be wary of allowing any major changes in the cast, regardless of monetary issues. Yes, they’ve proven that a new director doesn’t necessarily mean doom for the series, but imagine a different actor playing Harry or Ron. It would ruin the continuity of a saga that is seemingly gaining more strength with each consecutive film.

Several franchises are set to have this casting problem in the near future – most notably “Spider-Man,” after the release of its third movie in 2007. As for “Harry Potter,” Radcliffe is signed on to star in the adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” After that, nothing is certain. He has said before that he may feel the need to explore other roles. Other members of the cast could feel the same way as the years go by.

Still, if the producers can manage to keep the principal cast intact for the entire series, the “Harry Potter” franchise could end as one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history. Never has a series of books been so closely adapted, featuring continuity with nearly the entire cast. If “Goblet of Fire” is any indication, Potter fans have a lot to look forward to.


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