Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire serves notice that no one - not Warner Bros., not J.K. Rowling, not director Mike Newell - intends to dumb down the series to keep it accessible to young children.
As Harry and his friends move firmly into their teens, the dangers both outside and inside Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry grow along with them. This is a scary movie, the first in the series to be rated a well-deserved - and necessary - PG-13.
Goblet, in parts, is also incomprehensible, at least to those who know Harry and the rest of the characters only from the previous movies. Based on the fourth book in Rowling's series, which ran 734 pages, Goblet is simply too complex for a 2 1/2-hour movie. Readers who have immersed themselves in the books will know what's going on. Others are likely to be bewildered.
Director Newell and Steve Kloves, who adapted Goblet (as well as the first two Potter films) for the screen, have abbreviated great swathes of scenes, assuming the audience's imagination will fill in the blanks. For example, the first 100-plus pages of the book deal with the World Cup of Quidditch, which is sort of the Super Bowl of the wizarding world's favorite sporting event. This takes less than 10 minutes of the film.
Characters are omitted, notably the Dursleys, Harry's despicable relatives, with whom he lives when he's not at school, and all of the elves.
Some sequels can stand on their own; this one doesn't. But what remains is a movie filled with wonders, both fantasy and thoroughly human.
As Harry and his pals Ron and Hermione enter their fourth year at Hogwarts, changes are in the air - literally. The Quidditch World Cup ended in a riot caused by the appearance of Dark Mark, the skull-and-snake sign in the sky that heralds the coming of the evil Lord Voldemort. The sign had not been seen for 14 years, the night Voldemort tried to kill Harry and was himself killed by the infant, or so most everyone thought.
There are other signs that this is to be no ordinary year. One is that the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher is Alastor Moody, a former Auror, or hunter of Voldemort's followers. Moody is known as Mad-Eye, because he wears a false eye that has a mind of its own and because he is believed to have gone a bit crazy in his former line of work.
The school is also hosting the Triwizard Tournament, which brings representatives of two other wizarding academies - the all-girls Beauxbatons from France and the vaguely Germanic all-boys Durmstrang - to Hogwarts.
This test of skills is so dangerous, it has been a century since the last tournament, and no one under 17 is allowed to enter, much to the disgust of Fred and George, Ron's twin brothers. Entries are put in a magic fiery goblet that, at the appointed time, releases the name of each school's champion. Beauxbatons will be represented by the elegant Fleur Delacour, Durmstrang by the internationally known Quidditch champion Viktor Krum, and Hogwarts by all-around golden boy Cedric Diggory.
But then the goblet releases a fourth name: Harry Potter.
Harry is stunned; almost everyone is outraged. Not only is Harry just 14, this gives Hogwarts a second champion.
Harry protests that it must be a mistake because he didn't enter, but not everyone believes him and it doesn't matter. Rules are rules, and because his name was released by the goblet, Harry must compete in three competitions, to be held over the course of the year.
These aren't the only challenges of the year. Harry has a falling out with Ron, who is tired of being the sidekick, and everyone is having problems negotiating the trials of simply being a teenager. The scenes of Harry and Ron trying to get dates for the Yule Ball are some of the most credible and most sympathetic of the entire series. "I'd rather fight a dragon," Harry mutters.
It is in the dual trial of the Triwizard Tournament and the teenage years that Goblet works best. Director Newell and his crew toss in plenty of special effects, but they never lose sight of the human elements of the story.
This may have been made easy by the stellar cast assembled for the film. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson reprise their roles as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and they are getting more adept as performers with each film. They should, for they have been mentored by some truly awesome talents, including returnees Sir Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, Dame Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman as Professors McGonagall and Snape, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, and Gary Oldman as Sirius Black.
Newcomers to Goblet include Miranda Richardson as tabloid writer Rita Skeeter, Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, and, in a stroke of genius, Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List) as Lord Voldemort.
The film has two deaths as bookends. Evil continues to grow, not always from obvious sources. Those who warn against it are often ridiculed or ignored. Viewers seeking metaphors for today's world have plenty of fodder.
Ardent fans of the series will have much more. With its grand special effects, many small moments of charm, and continuing development of the characters, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire takes us into a world that, evil or not, makes us reluctant to leave.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org