Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire is the fourth movie based on J.K. Rowling's popular but to Christians controversial series of novels. The young actors have become teenagers, growing from cuteness to adolescent ranginess. The core audience of Potter fans has also gotten older. The first three movies were rated PG, but this one is PG-13, with some bad language and-instead of the cartoon-like scares of the first movies-some serious horror.
But Goblet of Fire is in other ways the most positive of the series. The first movies had a lot of laughs contrasting the boring, earthbound "Muggles" with the exciting secret world of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although the witchcraft taught here is arguably not the same as that of devil worshippers or even Wiccans, parents were right to worry that the Potter novels and movies might make real witchcraft seem attractive to their children.
True, in the Potter universe, there is a conflict between good witches and bad witches, so that a moral structure prevails. But in the first three books and movies, the conflict between good and evil is mostly symbolic. The evil wizards who practice the "dark arts" are scary looking, while the good wizards use their magic to defend the world and are nice looking. But the good wizards-in-training do not act particularly good in their personal lives, feeling free to deceive, break rules, and use their powers to get even with Muggle bullies.
But Goblet of Fire is more mature. It does not dramatize the Muggle/Witch dichotomy, and the realm of magic is depicted not as fun but as a grim and dangerous place. The movie opens with the sports hoopla of the Quidditch World Cup, but the crowd-and the audience-is rudely awakened from that festive mood when evil forces invade and destroy it all. In this movie, the conflict between good and evil is genuine.
The Potter books and movies are essentially school stories. This one, like others in that genre, centers on the Big Dance and the Big Game. The movie's lighter moments derive from the middle-school angst of 14-year-olds working up the nerve to ask someone to the ball, with school dating politics straining the friendship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The new boy-girl issues are handled well, for the most part, despite a few innuendos and a regrettable scene with a female ghost in Harry's bathtub.
But the heart of the movie is the Triwizard Tournament, in which representatives from three schools compete in dangerous trials. Those who wish to enter throw their names on a piece of parchment into a goblet of fire, which chooses the contestants. Even though he is too young and never entered his name, the goblet chooses Harry. And in the ordeals, Harry puts others before himself. Instead of going for the win, Harry rescues his rivals. He does, however, score points for "moral fiber."
Evil too is grounded in character. Harry confronts Voldemort, the Dark Lord who killed his parents. We learn that Voldemort has been bound-turned into a shriveled dwarf-because of the power of love and sacrifice when Harry's mother gave her life to save her only son (note the symbolism of redemption). Now, through a gruesome anti-sacrifice, Voldemort has come back. His first act, contrasting with Harry's selflessness, is to kill the minions who did not "do enough" for him. And Voldemort brings death into Hogwarts, which is no longer such a naively happy place.
Harry and Voldemort have a stirring but inconclusive battle, but the saga continues in the books and movies to come. "Soon," warns Professor Dumbledore, "we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." Parents can use that line when telling their kids that they still need to stay away from Harry Potter.