I must say, it's been fun watching the Hogwarts children grow up. Why, I can remember when the only thing on their minds was where the next bag of Jelly Slugs was coming from. But with the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this year's installment in what I've come to think of as The Never-Ending Story, hormones have become the magic potion du jour. While He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named ' okay, Voldemort ' lurks in the shadows, building his strength toward a final showdown with the most wonderful wizard of all, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, sporting a new coat of fur on his legs) seems mostly concerned with landing a date to the upcoming Yule Ball. I guess the end of the world will just have to wait while the savior of the world screws up the courage to ask Cho Chang to dance.
As trivial as this may sound, it gives the series an element of Muggle-like humanity that makes the liftoff into fantasy all the more effective. And it has us pulling for Harry in a way we haven't quite before. When the movie opens, he seems to have forgotten all over again that he's a child of destiny, but participation in the Triwizard Tournament ' a series of Herculean labors that Hercules would have labored to get out of ' reminds him of the great expectations we all have for him. Unfortunately, it also provides Voldemort with the opportunity to extract three drops of Harry's blood, the final ingredient in a recipe that transforms He-Who-Has-Never-Been-Seen ' okay, Voldemort ' into what looks like a young, slender Uncle Fester. Ralph Fiennes, yet another accomplished British actor added to the cast list, slithers nicely, but some things are better left to the imagination, and the source of all evil may be one of them.
Joining Fiennes are Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, and Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter, a gossip columnist posing as a reporter. Both are enjoyable, although not as enjoyable as Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, who've been relegated to the sidelines again. There simply isn't enough time for everybody and everything, the 734 pages of J.K. Rowling's book having been whittled down to two and a half hours. But director Mike Newell and scriptwriter Steve Kloves have carved out a story that works for those of us who only got through the first hundred pages or so. And the movie is filled with wonders, even if it didn't always fill me with wonder. I'd have been happy if the Yule Ball had never ended. That's where the true magic lies.