Harry Potter's trial by fire
``Goblet of Fire," fourth in the Harry Potter series, opening today, explores a darker and more menacing side of the Rowling saga.
DOOM AND GLOOM : The latest Harry Potter story turns into a supernatural thriller with adult overtones.
"Everything's going to change now, isn't it?" asks Hermione Granger in the latest, fourth instalment of the Hogwarts saga, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" that opens worldwide today (November 18). That turns out to be true in more than one sense.
Considered by many as the best of the six Potter books published so far, `Goblet of Fire' reveals a darker, more adult side to the saga of the schoolboy wizard Harry Potter and his two friends Hermione and Ron, at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Translating the 636-page book into a 157-minute movie, British Director Mike Newell who takes over from the American Chris Columbus and the Mexican Alfonso Cuaron, subtly morphs what has been a spooky `kid-pic' into a supernatural thriller about kids - one aimed more squarely at young adults.
The suspense and horror are sustained and the finale set in a graveyard is said, by those who have seen the previews, to be rather gruesome.
Indeed, this is the first time that certification agencies in both the U.S. and the U.K. have deemed a Potter film unsuitable to be viewed by children below the age of 12 or 13, unless accompanied by an adult which effectively shuts out the core readership running into millions, of the printed originals. Indian censors too have rated the film, not `U' for unrestricted viewing but U/A, the half way category to an `Adults Only' fare.
"Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry... soon we must all face the choice between what is right... and what is easy," intones Albus Dumbledore (played again by Michael Gambon) the ageing headmaster of Hogwarts.
The darkness begins at the International Quidditch Tournament, which Harry, Hermione and Ron attend, a sort of battling broomsticks display which is overshadowed by the evil Lord Voldemort, the man who killed Harry's parents played with villainous relish by Ralph Fiennes ("Schindler's List" and "The English Patient").
The sinister stakes are sharply hiked at the Triwizard Tournament, where students from three different schools of wizardry compete in a series of challenging contests. When the names of the candidates are drawn from the Goblet of Fire, an underage Harry finds that he has been short-listed as the fourth candidate. But the goblet's decision cannot be defied and our 14-year-old hero has to go through some gruelling challenges - taking on a fire-breathing dragon, navigating a `chakravyuh' of a maze, diving into the depths of a lake. An unseen enemy seems to have designed these tests to finish off Harry.
It is not for nothing that Director Mike Newell asked Daniel Radcliffe to see Alfred Hitchcock's ``North By Northwest" as preparation for making this film: There are Hitchcockian elements to Harry Potter's obstacle course over unseen evil.
Perhaps even more daunting for the young wizard, is the need to muster courage and ask a girl on a first date.
"We are dealing with more adult themes here. These kids are growing up and you can't turn the clock back," says Newell - and this may be why "Goblet of Fire" is being called "Harry Potter meets Puberty Blues."
Ron Weasley informs Hermione: "You're a girl!" "Well spotted!" retorts Hermione, who has just got herself a first boyfriend in Triwizard contestant Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski).
Harry on his part suddenly discovers the charms of Hogwarts' fellow student Cho Chang (Katie Leung).
While all this teenage angst may prove mildly interesting to a teens-n-twenties crowd, one wonders what hardcore Harry Potter fans, who are traditionally in their pre-teens, will make of this.
There are a few lighter moments to relieve the doom and gloom, mainly contributed by Miranda Richardson who plays a muck-raking journalist, and Brendan Gleeson, a new face who plays Mad-eye Moody, a new and boozy, magical member of the Hogwarts faculty.
A stunningly captured rooftop dragon chase and some eye-catching underwater sequences may serve to distract those who are either too young or too old to appreciate the running amok of adolescent hormones.
"I have been filled with all the same emotions as Harry," said 16-year old Daniel Radcliffe, talking to (London) Daily Mail. Unlike the fictional Harry though, Daniel is a multi-millionaire, having been paid a reported $9 millions for his fourth outing in the Harry Potter role.
Indeed, with this film, Daniel joins the brat-pack of high-paid stars that includes American kid stars Haley Joel Osment ("The Sixth Sense" and "AI") and the 11-year-old Dakota Fanning, who appeared recently with Tom Cruise in "War of the Worlds."
The makers have also decided to widen the appeal of the film in Asia, by including two Indian characters, the Patil twins played by the U.K.-born Bangladeshi kids Shefali Chowdhury and Afsan Azad. In India, the success of earlier Potter releases has encouraged Warner Brothers to release "Goblet of Fire" in Hindi and Tamil as well.
Daniel and his two fellow child stars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are said to have been locked into contracts for at least three more Harry Potter films.
But who knows, by then, we may no longer have to worry whether they are old enough or mature enough to watch their own action on the screen.
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