For me, 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is the best "Potter" movie in the series, and watching it again in this "Ultimate Edition" Blu-ray set only confirms the impression.
The first two installments in R.K. Rowling's "Potter" series were cute and charming in a whimsical sort of way, culminating in exciting battles and all, but they were largely juvenile entertainments befitting Harry's young age. As Harry got older, the series got appropriately darker, with episode three, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," being very dark, indeed. I liked the look of "Azkaban," but it felt the most unfinished of the movies, like a mere transition, while the first two movies were fairly self-contained. In other words, although episode three looked good, it didn't have a lot to say. Then came "The Goblet of Fire," and all the best elements of the "Potter" films came together. The characters had matured, the tone and atmosphere were more serious, and the plot held together on its own. I find the movie highly entertaining.
The biggest knock I've heard from naysayers about "The Goblet of Fire" is that it cuts out too much of the book. Well, think about it: The book is enormously long, and the movie is about two-and-a-half hours. Something had to give, and I believe the screenwriter and director made the right decisions about what to keep and what to toss out.
OK, so we no longer have an opening episode with the Dursleys, Harry's horrid aunt, uncle, and cousin. We can live without it as it offered up nothing new in the book, either. Hermione has no crusade to free the house elves. Again, no loss, since it was extraneous to the story. The irritating, mean-spirited reporter, Rita Skeeter, shows up less often than she does in the book, as does Harry's godfather, Sirius; and there is little mention of giants. Plus, there are any number of tiny details that Rowling herself could have cut from the book to begin with. Face it, fans: Rowling seems to be an excessively wordy author who got wordier as the "Potter" books went on. She could have used a good editor, and the filmmakers probably did us a service trimming her material.
British director Mike Newell ("The Awakening," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Donnie Brasco") and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who scripted among other things "Wonder Boys" plus the previous "Potter" films) have appropriately pared down Rowling's sprawling 734-page hardbound novel into its most basic story constituents. The movie opens as the book does, with Harry having a vision of dire foreshadowing, and then it dispenses with the usual business of Harry's home life with the Dursleys. After all, we know that Harry has outgrown the Dursleys, and Hogwarts is Harry's real home now, so we shift immediately there and the Quidditch World Cup.
In this fourth installment, Harry has to face on the one hand his old nemesis, Lord Voldemort, determined to regain human form, and on the other hand an even bigger challenge--girls. Let's concentrate on the Voldemort side. It's time for the big Triwizard Tournament, a wizarding competition involving the best representatives of the three major wizarding schools in the world, and this year it's being held at Hogworts. However, you have to be at least seventeen years old to enter, so Harry knows he has no chance. If you're old enough, you throw your name into the Goblet of Fire, and the cup picks the best persons to compete; the goblet is kind of like the Sorting Hat, with a mind of its own. Then something surprising happens. Without entering his name in the competition, the Goblet chooses Harry along with another boy, Cedric Diggory, as Hogworts' representatives. So Harry is in whether he likes it or not.
The competition involves contending in several events with dragons and underwater rescues and mazes and such, but more important to our story is that Voldemort wants to use this contest to lure Harry to his death. It seems that only Harry's blood can help restore "He Who Must Not Be Named" to human form, and despite Dumbledore's best efforts to protect Harry, Voldemort is keen to grab him and do him in just the same.
The contests themselves are fun to watch, imaginative and exciting. Harry's interrelationships with his friends Ron and Hermione are more complex than ever, with mistrust and jealousies running amuck. Harry's evening at a big Yule Ball goes terribly awry. And his confrontation with Voldemort makes for a reasonably thrilling climax.
All the usual characters make an appearance, played by mostly the same actors as before, lending a nice continuity to the series; and a few new characters show up, too. Among others, Daniel Radcliffe is back as Harry; Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are again Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger; Michael Gambon is Albus Dumbledore; Robbie Coltrane is Hagrid; Maggie Smith is Professor McGonnagall; Alan Rickman is Servius Snape; Gary Oldman is Sirius Black (although you'd barely know him, his part is so brief); Julie Walters is Mrs. Weasley; Mark Williams is Mr. Weasley; Timothy Spall is Wormtail; Warwick Davis is Professor Flitwick; Robert Hardy is Cornelius Fudge; Tom Felton is Draco Malfoy; and Jason Issacs is Lucius Malfoy.
New to the cast are Miranda Richardson as the meddlesome reporter Rita Skeeter, a delightfully nasty character whose role in the film, as I've said, is much reduced from the book; Brendan Gleason as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, an eccentric old wizard pressed into teaching duties at Hogworts; Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory, Hogworts' co-champion; Stanislav Ianevski and Clemence Poesy as Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour, rival champions; Roger Lloyd-Pack as Barty Crouch, a representative of the Ministry of Magic; Katie Leung as Cho Chang, the light of Harry's eye; Frances de la Tour as Madame Maxime, a rival school's headmistress and the light of Hagrid's eye; Pedja Bjelac as Igor Karkaroff, another rival headmaster; and Ralph Fiennes, practically unrecognizable under a ton of reptilian makeup, as Lord Voldemort.
If anything, there are probably too many characters, new and old, for the good of a two-and-a-half hour film, so it's a good thing the filmmakers cut down some of the book's exploits. This single movie could have turned into a ten-hour miniseries. But I found the sets and costumes as impressive as ever (the Academy nominated the movie for an Oscar in Art Direction) and the visual effects and CGI great, with only the graveyard scene appearing a little too stage bound and static. In fact, I thought "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was among best fantasy adventures of the past few years.
As with the previous "Potter" films on Blu-ray disc, the screen size for "The Goblet of Fire" replicates the movie's 2.40:1 theatrical-release ratio. The "Ultimate Edition" uses a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec for the 1080p transfer. The opening sequence is purposely dark and murky, but it is now much clearer than in standard definition. A light veneer of natural print grain is hardly noticeable and, in any case, provides a realistic texture. Despite the director's iron-gray color scheme, the picture is remarkably vivid and lifelike. Faces are still a tad glossy, and there is a small degree of roughness in select scenes, but these are very minor distractions. Sharpness and detail are excellent, among the best in the series.
As with the other Blu-ray "Ultimate Edition" sets in the "Potter" series, we find the sound in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio, this one in 5.1 surround. The sound displays a strong, deep bass; a wide, smooth, natural frequency balance; good midrange clarity; and an abundance of subtle but pinpoint surround-channel activities. The climactic maze and graveyard scenes are where the rear channels come into their own, though, so wait for it.
As with "The Prisoner of Azakaban," this "Ultimate Edition" does not include an extended version of the movie. I don't know why as there are additional scenes among the extras. Oh, well. The big bonus in disc one, though, is the "In-Movie Experience," a series of picture-in-picture inserts you can watch simultaneously while viewing the film. Oliver and James Phelps, who play the Weasley twins, host these commentaries, which also include words from others among the filmmakers; and you can use your remote to move about, if you choose. In addition, disc one includes twenty-nine scene selections; BD-Live access; English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.
Disc two, which is also a Blu-ray with many items in high-def, contains the fourth part of the documentary "Creating the World of Harry Potter: Sound & Music," fifty-four minutes with the composer, sound designer and others on the movie's musical themes and effects. Then, we get "Conversations with the Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson," thirty minutes, hosted by Richard Curtis; "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Behind the Magic," forty-nine minutes on production design; "Inside Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," forty-four minutes covering the making of the first four films; "The Adventure Continues," twenty-four minutes on the fourth film; "Some Animal Magic," twenty-three minutes on the animals and creatures in the movie;
Dark Matters, New Masters," essentially a thirteen minute preview promo; a series of additional scenes in high def totaling about ten minutes; and a few teaser and theatrical trailers and promos.
Disc three is a regular DVD. It contains a collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes, with the usual cast and filmmaker comments: "Harry Vs. the Horntail: The First Task," five minutes; "In Too Deep: The Second Task," nine minutes; "The Maze: The Third Task," six minutes; "Meet the Champions," twelve minutes; "He Who Must Not Be Named," eleven minutes; "Preparing for the Yule Ball," nine minutes; and several tasks and quests (I could never figure out how to get out these games once I'd started). Then there repeats of the additional scenes; "Conversations with the Cast"; "Preparing for the Yule Ball"; "Reflections on the Fourth Film"; a theatrical trailer; and some DVD-ROM items.
Finally, because this is a big box set, you get a forty-four page photo book with rare images from years one through seven; a year-four lenticular card; two more in a series of character cards; digital copy access of the movie for iTunes and Windows Media (the offer expiring October 17, 2011); a fancy cardboard storage box; and a cardboard slipcover for the box.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" demonstrated that the "Potter" movies had not only not run out of steam but appeared to be getting better as they went along. For me, it is the best entry in the series--the sweetest, the most exciting, the most moving, and the most touching, all in equal measure.