Faced with the challenge of adapting an immensely popular 700-page-plus book to film, knowing full well that virtually every cut would be greeted with wails from the book's millions of fans worldwide, director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steven Kloves made an entirely reasonable decision: They cut virtually everything from Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire that would be redundant with the previous three movie adaptations of J.K. Rowling's record-breaking bestsellers. Gone from the story: the usual intro featuring Harry Potter's obnoxious relatives, any scenes of the boy wizard learning or experimenting with magic, most of the conflict between him and his rival Draco Malfoy, and so forth. What's left isn't quite lean and propulsive: At over two and a half hours, it's still bulky, and a handful of scenes drag dubiously, while the opening and closing both feel rushed. But whenever it hits its stride, it's a well-acted, vividly executed, full-speed-ahead special-effects extravaganza that puts as much bang as possible into every remaining scene.
The fourth installment in Rowling's Harry Potter series catches up with the returning cast of the first three movies as they enter their fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where a traditional three-school wizarding competition is about to be held. Against his will and against the rules, Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) gets dragged into the competition, though not before a great deal of setup involving portentous dreams, the Quidditch World Cup, and the inevitable arrival of Hogwarts' new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher (Brendan Gleeson). Much of the movie is devoted to the contest, which lends itself to explosive setpieces involving dragons, mermaids, and a malevolent hedge maze, but Newell and Kloves manage to wedge in a great deal of economical setup and fulfillment, with foreshadowing, backstory, and intercharacter conflict all pared down to essentials but still given room to breathe.
By this point in the story, it's unlikely that the Harry Potter movies are going to win many new converts; to their credit, Newell and Kloves don't really try. With its slam-bang-whoosh-giggle-gasp mentality, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire could be a halfway decent thrill ride for newbies to the series. But its less-explanation, more-momentum mentality is really aimed squarely at the fans, who'd likely rather see more well-timed business from their favorite characters than a pile of dreary exposition and reminders about the story to date. For all its length, Goblet Of Fire speeds past all too quickly. But the real accomplishment may be that for all its brevity, it still feels like it tells the important parts of Rowling's story.