Harry Potter is more than everyone's favorite boy wizard -- he's a cultural phenomenon of unmatched proportions. The original book series by J. K. Rowling has sold over 325 million copies worldwide, spawning the film series, at least five video games and over 400 other Harry Potter-branded products. The film franchise itself ranks as highest grossing book-to-film series of all time, having earned (as of this writing) $3.5 billion worldwide, beating even The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (which has grossed $2.9 billion). If that's not magic, I don't know what is.
This fourth film in the series finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) inadvertently selected to be a competitor in the Tri-Wizard tournament, a dangerous competition usually reserved for older students. Challengers arrive from other academies across the globe, while budding love seems to spring up at every turn, with Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) all stumbling through the awkwardness of adolescence to sweet and sympathy-inducing results. But pulsing in the background is the ever-felt presence of evil on the rise. Conspirators have finally manipulated events to re-open the world to Voldemort -- a staple, unseen villain in the series, responsible for the deaths of Harry's parents and the scar across his forehead.
As always, the most engaging aspect of this fourth film in the series is the absolute pitch-perfect casting of each character. The actors all bring their own personalities to the table and deliver performances that capture the nuances and mild complexity of well-developed children's book characters. The three teenage leads ground themselves in realistic emotions, despite all of the underlying magical shenanigans. Each one rings true as a teen lost in a world where they're unable to express their feelings for fear of rejection. The supporting cast is also top notch, although most of the players appear to hit one note in the plot before being whisked off into the background. For people who haven't seen the other films, the barrage of literally hundreds of characters may be daunting, as the pace of the film doesn't leave much room for introductions or recaps.
Thematically, the kids at Hogwarts have certainly grown up. There's a cynicism and foreboding doom hovering over every head, which really helps to build pressure in the plot. Voldemort is such an impending black hole in every character's life that his eventual appearance is seeped with an impressive sense of doom. Of course, the excellent Ralph Fiennes has a big hand in this, managing to craft a fierce hatred behind his bulging eyes.
Overall, I enjoyed the dark tone of this film -- it certainly makes the series a bit more accessible for adult audiences. But like 'Prisoner of Azkaban,' it doesn't mesh perfectly with the film's more kiddie-fare elements. For every tense moment where Harry fights a dragon or a swarm of underwater creatures, there's a counter-moment with comical glimpses of image-shifting badges, colorful smoke trails, and slapstick consequences to the misuse of magic. I understand these are key components of this fictional universe and fan favorite scenes from the books, but the result is a film that feels conflicted about its identity. It retains the things that made the earlier installments soft and whimsical, but adds in so much darkness that there seem to be two completely different tones fighting for dominance.
Having said that, I loved the Tri-Wizard tournament scenes (the horntail, the demonic mermaids, the hedge maze), quieter developments with Harry's awkward pursuit of love, and the sudden encounter with Voldemort. I was enthralled when Harry was put through the paces, and I found myself leaning forward whenever the film drifted away from dances, popularity contests, and high school antics. There's a kinetic energy to the emotionally and physically harsh moments, and happily for me, these are more prevalent in 'Goblet of Fire' than ever before.
In short, 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' is my favorite installment in the series -- there are some amazing scenes here that truly thrilled me. And while I found the film's inconsistent themes and lack of focus distracting at times, fans of the series will likely vibrate in their seats at every turn as they enjoy its particular blend of darkness and whimsy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
In an effort to avoid repeating myself, I'll suggest you read what I wrote about the packaging in my 'Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Edition' review.
Here I wanted to mention a few more things that I didn't mention in that review about what makes 'Prisoner of Azkaban,' and 'Goblet of Fire' different from the first two Ultimate Editions. No, I repeat, no director's cuts or extended cuts of the film are available. Many people were buying these sets to get a different, never-before-seen version of the film . Now WB is just recycling old discs and slapping them in new packaging.
I've already talked extensively about how much the new packaging annoys me, but I did want to mention that these sets are actually a tad bit taller compared to the first two sets. This creates even more of a problem with uniformity on your shelf. The first two sets had a nice embossed slipcover that simply slid down over the book structure and made it all perfectly presentable, but this new taller packaging complete with cheap-o-gram, I mean hologram, is just ridiculous.
The trading cards included here are for Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody and Ronald Weasley. The new Sound and Music booklet is full color and 44 pages long.
The Blu-ray edition of 'Goblet of Fire' is presented with a crisp 1080p/VC-1 transfer (identical to the previous Blu-ray) that showcases every pebble and crack the film has to offer. While it isn't quite as jaw-dropping as ' Order of the Phoenix,' it looks a hair better than 'Prisoner of Azkaban,' tops 'Chamber of Secrets,' and easily outclasses 'Sorcerer's Stone.' By further comparison, it makes the standard-def 'Goblet of Fire' DVD an absolute waste of shelf space.
Black levels are solid, colors are vibrant, texture detail is astounding, and the naturalistic CG creations are gorgeous. One look at a scene like Dumbledore's opening speech will leave you marveling at the tiny candles, the intricate weaving of the costumes, and the elemental detailing of rain, stars, and rocks. Then there's the battle with the horntail dragon, where leathery wings, crumbling stone, wood and rock at the base of the stadium are all on vibrant display -- I could go on and on for pages just talking about the technical treats in this scene alone.
The source is pristine -- there's no artifacting, noise, or problematic crush visible. Some of the film's more colorful CG looks a bit more artificial in high-def than it does in standard definition, but I was surprised to find that other CG effects actually looked more believable. The horntail, the underwater squid creatures, and the exterior shots of the school have a big impact and inject a welcome earthiness into the illusion. Shots of Hogwarts look phenomenal (especially the long tracking shot leading to the Owlery tower) -- if you so desired, you could count every brick on every building.
Darker scenes are still a bit soft compared to brighter exterior shots, but it's a negligible difference that doesn't undermine the showcase scenes in the transfer. All in all, 'Goblet of Fire' looks remarkable in its stateside high-def debut, falling just shy of a five-star video rating.
Just like the 'Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Edition,' 'The Goblet of Fire' comes complete with a newly minted 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. And just like 'Prisoner of Azkaban's new track this one excels in just about every way imaginable. It's a boisterous, thundering soundtrack that has even more LFE output that its predecessor because of the relentless action, dragon chases, and Quidditch matches taking place. From the screams of the crowd as Harry dodges fire from the Horntail to the soft, menacing growl of Voldermort every type of dialogue, loud or soft, is completely intelligible through the center and front channels. As Harry races away with the Horntail in hot pursuit, directionality works wonders, creating whoosh sounds that travel around the soundfield with fluidity and purpose. The rears are lively and engaged with the roars from excited crowds watching the Tri-Wizard tournament. All in all, the newly produced DTS-HD Master Audio experience is really the only reason someone might want to pick up these sets.
Other than the new audio, which sounds similarly just as good as its original audio, and the brand new hour-long documentary there are no other reasons to keep purchasing these sets. I hate to say it, but when it comes to collectors editions they've got to get the packaging right, and switching it up like they have is completely unnecessary and infuriating to fans and customers. Cap that off with the fact that nothing substantial has been added, like an alternate cut of the film, and you've got a few sets that have essentially been repackaged and sold for a quick buck. The first two Ultimate Editions showed intent on WB's part to create a wonderful set of editions for the fans of the films, and now they've completely backed out on doing that, hoping that a few trading cards and booklets will suffice. Shame on WB for already ruining their Ultimate Edition line with two less than stellar releases.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.