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Harry Potter 4Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on DVD

Harry Potter is back in his most intense adventure yet, a film that may have young viewers hiding behind their home theater's pillows during its exciting climax.

It's another grand fantasy adventure in the series based on J.K. Rowling's books.

The fourth Harry Potter movie not only keeps up the high standard of quality of the first three films, in some ways it's the best of the bunch – and it's definitely the best DVD in terms of overall picture quality.

Besides being easily the most intense Potter, it's also the most delightful in many ways. Pubescents who watch this film – and those who remember those awkward days – will readily identify with many of the situations, from close friends whose relationships are strained due to peer pressure and misunderstandings, to the inner angst of screwing up the courage to ask a girl out for the first time. It's delicious stuff, and the familiar cast, writer Steve Kloves and director Mike Newell pull it off beautifully.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are in their fourth year at Hogwarts now, and have settled in rather well. But life is full of challenges, not the least of which is the hosting of the Tri Wizards Tournament, an affair in which students from different wizards' schools compete in a series of challenging – indeed, life threatening – events to prove their physical, mental and emotional mettle.

Naturally, Harry is chosen to represent Hogwarts, except that he's too young to be allowed – and he never submitted his name. But someone did, and the rules state that Harry must participate against older and more mature wizards including Hogwarts' own Cedric Diggory, the obvious local favorite.

But that isn't all that's brewing. He Who Must Not Be Named, also known as Voldemort, is turning out to be as ubiquitous as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the early Bond movies – and he's about to come back again with a, and for, vengeance. Can Harry survive the twin terrors of the Tri Wizard Tournament and the return of Voldemort?

Well of course he can, if only because there are more books in the series and therefore more movies to be made. But it isn't easy for him, and during the two and a half hours of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we see him tested severely and emerging (as with his friends) as a more mature young person who we assume will be more than up to the task of handling the challenges of that Hogwarts, adolescence, and the evil Voldemort will undoubtedly bring their way when Harry Potter 5 hits theaters.

The young actors have always done a good job, but they just seem to get better and more believable as they and the series grow. And it doesn't hurt to have some of Britain's finest thespians along again and, as usual, they've upped the roster ante with the inclusion of such names as Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson – and the new Doctor Who, David Tennant.

And while this is definitely the most intense of the Potter films so far, they've done a wonderful job of lightening things up with the subplots of the stars' reaching toward adulthood, which not only brings some smiles but also some wonderful character moments and even a hint or two at sexuality. Too bad Myrtle doesn't stand a ghost of a chance with Harry!

The overall look of the film is wonderful; as the series grows so, too, does its scale and scope and Hogwarts and its environs get more interesting and beautiful with each film. Likewise, the special effects also get better and better, and the digital creatures this time are the best yet. There are dragons and mer-people that would do Ray Harryhausen proud, and the flying scenes are the best and most powerful yet as well.

We'd recommend that parents with very young kids make sure they're on hand to watch the movie with them, because it's pretty scary at times.

As mentioned, it's the best DVD, too. We've always loved the Potter discs, but more for the quality of the movies than the discs themselves. But we have few complaints this time; we noticed no strange interference patterns during fade outs, the picture is wonderfully sharp and as colorful as the rather dark production design allows.

The DVD is available in both anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compliant, and Pan&Scan. We received the widescreen version and recommend it over the "full screen" one (something we do regularly, since 4x3 TV's are on the way out and if you're going to go widescreen, you might as well get the DVD versions that'll exploit it better).

We wish Warners would make more use of dts audio tracks, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this disc is just fine. Sounds are all over the place, anchored well at whichever speaker they happen to be emanating from at a particular time, and there's good bass without it being boomy.

Overall, a most satisfying disc.

And of course there's a second disc chock full of extra stuff that'll keep the kids occupied for, well, who knows how long?

Here's a list of what you get:

• Additional scenes
• interviews with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson and other conversations with the cast and crew
• Preparing for the Yule Ball
• Triwizard Tournament Challenges: Dragon, Lake, Maze, plus To the Graveyard and Back Challenge
• Other Triwizard Tournament and Voldemort features, and
• DVD-ROM features: a game demo, Magical Trading Cards, Hogwarts Timeline, Web Interactivity (requires installation of some software).

What a wonderful fourth installment! We loved it and are confident that episode 5 will be just as good or better.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, from Warner Home Entertainment
157 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible)/Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall
Produced by David Heyman
Written by Steve Kloves, directed by Mike Newell

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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