Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—the fourth entry in J.K. Rowling's ludicrously popular (and ludicrously good) Potter literary saga—is 734 pages long. They're a busy 734 pages, too—when the young wizard returns to Hogwarts, he must fight his arch-nemesis, Voldemort, compete in a wizarding tournament, and deal with an ever-burgeoning supply of hormones.
You'd think it'd make for a hell of a movie—maybe even a worthy successor to last year's excellent, heartfelt, and otherworldly Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was deftly crafted by Y Tu Mamá También auteur Alfonso Cuarón. So it's disappointing that the latest Potter feels less like Cuarón's effort and more like the overstuffed, lackluster films that director Chris Columbus kicked off the series with.
I don't fault director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), who has a solid grip on the film's dark tone and finagles solid performances out of the cast. But the series' screenwriter, Steven Kloves, is content with the previous films' persistent faults—claustrophobic pacing and muddled plot points.
Goblet does have its moments: One of Rowling's most vigorous and cinematic passages—in which Harry faces a vicious dragon—is handled perfectly; Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is wise, likeable, and badass; and Brendan Gleeson is a blast as Hogwarts' latest professor, the batshit crazy Mad-Eye Moody. But thanks to the impossibilities of adapting such a massive book, a lot more gets lost in translation: Harry's friend Hermione (Emma Watson) is left with little to do but act shrill and contradictory; the usually charming Rupert Grint, as Harry's pal Ron, gets lost in the shuffle; and even the emergence of Voldemort (a snaky Ralph Fiennes) comes so late and so briefly that there's little verve to what should be a chilling climax.
Overall, Newell seems content with moody cinematography and bursts of lip service when it comes to the plot—enjoyable things are always happening in Goblet, but the film rarely expresses why they're of consequence. For a film supposedly about the extraordinary, Goblet is rather rote and pedestrian.
Then again, turning 734 pages into a 157-minute film is no easy task. At least there's always hope for the next film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Or perhaps not—Phoenix weighs in at 870 pages.