That pesky scar. As 14-year-old wizard-in-training Harry Potter prepares for his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he is plagued by nightmares of the dark lord who killed his parents and left that nasty, increasingly painful lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. In those tormented dreams Harry sees the diminished Lord Voldemort plotting with his evil minions. Their goal: Restore Voldemort’s former power and finish off the boy wizard once and for all.
The first sign that something is amiss occurs during the selection process for the prestigious Triwizard Tournament. A student from each of three European schools of witchcraft gets to compete in its celebrated, perilous games. No one under 17 is eligible. After the lucky trio is formally announced with much fanfare, the crowd is shocked when a fourth name emerges from the mystical goblet of fire: Harry Potter. An outrage! Did he cheat? Is this a vain grab for glory? His peers think so, which makes Harry an outcast even in the eyes of his best friend, Ron Weasley. Regardless of how his name was illegally manipulated into the giant chalice, the flaming goblet’s word is final and soon a reluctant Harry Potter finds himself risking life and limb for “eternal glory” against older, far more skilled wizards.
Lined up for Harry in Goblet of Fire are angry merfolk, a fire-breathing dragon and a killer hedgerow manicured into an enormous maze. There’s also a climactic showdown with Voldemort in the flesh. However, none of those trials compares to Harry’s most daunting challenge—finding a date for the Yule Ball. Yes, they’ve finally reached that age. In addition to spells, spills and thrills, this fourth and darkest chapter (so far) in J.K. Rowling’s bewitching saga finds friends Harry, Ron and Hermione facing off against hormones and all of the awkwardness and angst that comes with adolescence.
Harry proves himself virtuous by putting the welfare of others ahead of his own glory and safety. Despite the psychological fog induced by the maze, Harry is clear-headed enough to rescue a fallen competitor rather than let him perish. He then insists they share the prize. His underwater heroics save a girl’s life at personal expense, and the tournament committee sees fit to honor his selflessness with a reward for “outstanding moral fiber.”
In spite of conflict and misunderstandings, loyal friends stand by one another. Hermione boldly speaks out on behalf of a classmate in crisis. The Weasleys are a close-knit clan generous to Ron’s friends. A fallen student is honored for being kind, honest, brave and true. Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore calls for unity, friendship and cooperation among students from different schools and cultures. Viewers are reminded of how Harry’s mother sacrificially gave her life to save him as a baby.
It is deemed unlawful to use three “unforgivable curses” designed to control, torture or kill.
Without magic and the occult there is no story. Supernatural goings-on inhabit every corner of the film. Harry and others fly on brooms, wield magic wands and utter incantations. Humans are transformed into animals and "hybrids." Words recited skyward cause clouds to form dark, foreboding symbols. Objects are endowed with the ability to transport anyone touching them from one place to another.
While navigating the hedge maze, a competitor is “bewitched.” Harry has an encounter with Moaning Myrtle, the ghost of a student murdered in the girl’s restroom. A disturbing scene in a graveyard finds one of Voldemort’s toadies tossing the shriveled wizard into a cauldron before adding other ingredients (including his own hand) that fuel a macabre transformation. The spirits of Voldemort’s most recent kills appear to Harry and talk to him.
Young men and women are flush with a newfound awareness of the opposite sex, though their interaction remains innocent. Still, the camera lingers on a group of girls’ backsides wiggling in unison. While dancing with a woman, Hagrid's hand wanders south of her waist (she is quick to move it back).
A giggling female ghost makes a game out of trying to see Harry naked through the suds of his bath. Hermione backpedals after describing her reticent new boyfriend to Harry as more of a “physical being,” leaving viewers with no reason to think the couple has gone very far, physically.
A student is killed by a blast from a wand. So is an old man unfortunate enough to be caught eavesdropping on Voldemort’s plans. An evil servant cuts off his own hand and draws blood from Harry’s arm to cast a spell. A high-ranking official is found dead.
Voldemort assaults Harry, both verbally and with powerful magic. The Death Eaters, a sinister, Klan-like group with pointy black hats, crash the Quidditch World Cup event, creating chaos and decimating a campground by hurling fireballs (Harry gets knocked unconscious). A fire-breathing dragon knocks Harry about, chases him through the air and stalks him on a rooftop before it plummets into a chasm. During an underwater trial, Potter is accosted by octopus-like creatures that nearly drown him. And he's bitten on the hand by an owl and a bowlful of squirming “snacks.”
A boy possessed by an evil spirit attacks an opponent who is then entangled by vines and dragged into the maze wall. The walls also threaten to crush people. Roots erupt and wrap themselves around another boy whose life is saved at the last minute.
Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, Hogwarts’ latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, casts torturous spells on a bug before killing it. Professor Snape whacks disruptive boys over the head with a book.
Crude or Profane Language
Ron has the habit of saying “bloody h---” and angrily tells Harry to “p-ss off.” A student exclaims “oh my god.” Harry uses the phrase “I don’t give a d--n.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mad-Eye’s desperate sips from a flask turn out to be doses of a potion, though for most of the film we’re led to believe he’s drinking alcohol. A visiting headmistress notes that her carriage horses drink only malt whiskey.
Other Negative Elements
The audience is made to feel good about Mad-Eye’s pragmatic disregard for rules and protocol. Some images (skulls, serpents, headstones, etc.) may not be spiritual or violent per se, but they convey an aura of wickedness and death.
Although I’m not a big Harry Potter fan, I can't question this film’s quality on an artistic level. The production values are amazing. The architecture and fantastic European locales are Gothic yet charming. Central characters grow in interesting ways, while newly introduced ones—notably Miranda Richardson’s gossip columnist and Brendan Gleeson’s pirate-like professor with a goofy, roving artificial eye—are quirky and energetic. First-time Potter director Mike Newell had hard choices to make about what parts of the mammoth book to leave out (Goblet still clocks in at two-and-a-half hours) yet manages to create a cohesive product, and does a good job of marrying the story’s bustling action with quieter moments of coming-of-age teen turmoil.
Nevertheless, no matter how skillfully the story gets told or how selfless, ethical and heroic Harry may be, it's impossible for me to invest myself in a series that glamorizes witchcraft. It’s easy to laugh when spineless bully Draco gets turned into a ferret. But it gets harder to make light of the sorcery when a potion requires that a man hack off his own hand, borrow a bone from a rotting corpse and drain blood from Harry’s arm.
Whether it’s grim treachery or comic relief, the film’s wall-to-wall sorcery is birthed from a faulty worldview that taps into the occult and never recognizes any divine authority. Unlike The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, the entire series is built on a shaky spiritual foundation that sends young fans confusing messages about the morality and merits of the dark arts.
Of course, this is film four. Families that consider the supernatural sinew that binds Harry Potter together more trouble than it’s worth probably put the kibosh on it a long time ago. The ones still with it have decided either a) sorcery isn’t a big deal, or b) while they oppose real-life witchcraft, non-stop spells and incantations are acceptable when used as a literary device.
Even those in the "go with it" camp may find their patience tested with Goblet of Fire, the first film to warrant a PG-13 rating. It’s extremely grim at times and even features the death of a Hogwarts student. I was amazed at the number of small children seated around me in the theater. At what point will moms and dads who’ve been saying “yes” to voracious young Potter fans decide that things have gone too far? This could be it. Dumbledore warns Harry, “Soon we must face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” They’re not the only ones.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley; Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; Michael Gambon as Dumbledore; Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody; Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid; Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort; Maggie Smith as Prof. McGonagall; Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter; Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory
Mike Newell ( )