Regardless of all that, Mike Newell does an exceptional job translating the fourth book to the screen, showing a remarkable flair for cutting-edge visuals that one might not expect from the director of "Four Weddings and Funeral," "Pushing Tin" and "Mona Lisa Smile." An early scene at the epic stadium hosting the 422nd Quidditch World Cup match immediately conjures blood-pumpingly spectacular magic of both the supernatural and Hollywood varieties. But an all-too- quick cutaway back to the fans' camps finds the revelry short-lived as a band of Death Eaters -- skull-masked supporters of the evil Lord Voldemort -- storm through and lay waste to everything in sight. There are dire implications that we can only assume our protagonists are pondering as they're rushed aboard the Hogwarts Express.
Back at Hogwarts, the chop-chop pace (and chop-chop editing) continues, with headmaster Dumbledore announcing that representatives from two rival schools -- the mesmerizing mademoiselles of Beauxbatons and the brawny brutes of Durmstrang -- will be competing with Hogwarts in the legendary but potentially lethal TriWizard competition. The visitors' entrance is another dazzlingly memorable scene that sets the tone for what Hogwarts is up against. Harry has zero interest in the attention and peril such a competition brings, but someone secretly enters him in the contest and he has no choice but to participate -- even though it's widely suspected that dark forces are at play.
Amidst all of this, Newell is determined to show that the students are, at heart, regular teenagers, with petty jealousies, vulnerabilities, conflicted instincts and all- around souped-up emotions. This is mostly effective, though a rock group at a Hogwarts ball feels a little false. (The background sobbing girl being comforted by friends, however, is all too authentic; has there ever been a dance without her?)
The action and stakes are upped in "Goblet of Fire," warranting its PG-13 rating but doing justice to the book and the very nature of the Ultimate Good vs. Ultimate Evil challenge Harry must rise to meet. While Newell's own challenge might not involve a wand duel with Lord Voldemort and the fate of his immortal soul, filming a "Harry Potter" must be almost as harrowing; he deserves his own TriWizard Cup for pulling it off. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Pattinson and Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Mike Newell. Written by Steve Kloves. Produced by David Heyman. A Warner Bros. release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. Running time: 156 min