Daniel Radcliffe, Jennifer Aniston

As we prepare ourselves for Friday’s opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 1, EW continues looking back at the making of the film franchise. Today, let’s take a close look at the fourth entry: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Goblet was always going to be a nightmare to adapt. J.K. Rowling’s fourth Potter tome is 300 pages longer than Book 3, and over twice as long as Sorcerer’s Stone. It begins with an extended prologue at the Quidditch World Cup, and then the overstuffed plot kicks into high gear when the Tri-wizard tournament begins. There’s mermaids, dragons, Bulgarians, teeny-bopper romance (complete with a prom-like wizards’ Yule Ball), an encroaching sense of paranoia, and the first full appearance by Voldemort. In Goblet of Fire, Rowling was in full-tilt worldbuilding mode, revealing more elements of her magical Potterverse than ever before. “It’s fiendishly intricate,” screenwriter Steve Kloves told EW’s Jeff Jensen in the November 11, 2005 cover story. “It resists adaptation.” Warner Bros. even considered — shades of things to come! — splitting Goblet into two movies.

Enter Mike Newell, the journeyman director of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco. Like Azkaban‘s Alfonso Cuaron, Newell might’ve seemed like a left-field choice to make a boisterous fantasy romp, but Potter producer David Heyman explained to EW that Newell was actually his first choice to direct Sorcerer’s Stone. “[Heyman] had the following thought: Harry Potter’s British; perhaps the artistic sensibility translating him should be British too.” Although Newell turned down the original job, he took the gig for Goblet, figuring that he could bring a note of realism to the film’s portrayal of British school life. Regarding the first two films, Newell noted: “I felt the children were rather…oh, Stiff. My view is that children are violent, dirty, corrupt anarchists.”

Goblet accelerated the evolution that began in Azakaban from adorable-moppet kiddie interaction into hormonal teenaged drama. Daniel Radcliffe told EW his character “is going through that puberty crap. You know: the first crush. Of course, when it’s your first crush, it’s not just a crush — you looove her.” The “her” in question was Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Ravenclaw fifth-year and braincrush for a generation of shy high school lit geeks (or anyways, for this shy high school lit geek). In Goblet, though, Cho’s quite a bit more interested in a glamour boy athlete with the glamour boy name Cedric Diggory, played by a handsome glamour boy named Robert Pattinson who you might have heard of a few million times in the last couple years.

But Goblet was an evolution in another way, too. The movie begins in a rather jaunty tone that has more in common with the Chris Columbus films than with Azkaban. By the end, though, it’s gone to a far darker place than Cuaron’s movie. For Goblet ends (SPOILER ALERT!) with the terrifying abrupt death of Diggory, and before the audience has even quite recovered, Voldemort is reborn. (And what a Voldemort! Ralph Fiennes claimed to have used Hitler as a reference point in his performance, and the baddie’s snake-like nostrils were rendered with can’t-look-away freakishness.) Radcliffe described the shift in tone: “[Harry’s] life is taken out of his hands. Hogwarts isn’t a safe place for him anymore.” Kloves was even more philosophical: “[Goblet] is the hinge. This one closes the door on everything that came before and sets the stage for a new kind of Potter experience altogether.” Sure enough, Goblet of Fire was the first film in the franchise to garner a PG-13 rating.

You could say that Goblet of Fire is the middle child of the franchise…which might explain why it came out looking like a bit of a mess. EW critic Owen Gleiberman compared the film unfavorably with Prisoner of Azkaban, noting that the overstuffed plot “unfold[s] in a stagey, all-magic-all-the-time zone interrupted by functional clunks of reality. Newell, unlike Cuarón, jams sequences together like bricks of LEGO, without giving the story an emotional flow.…The biggest disappointment of Goblet of Fire is that Harry’s first romantic stirrings, stoked by his new celebrity status as a Triwizard competitor and also by the suddenly dolled-up appearance of Hermione (Emma Watson) at a Hogwarts ball, are every bit as self-contained as the action.” While praising individual sequences (like the kinetic face-off with the dragon), Gleiberman noted a simple troubling fact about Goblet: “The film peaks a little too soon.Goblet of Fire earned a B- from Gleiberman, the lowest grade EW’s given any Potter film. (So far. We’ve got our eye on you, DH:Part 2!)

Audiences responded to Goblet of Fire a bit differently, delivering the franchise’s biggest opening weekend to that point: $102.7 million in North America. The film went on to earn $896 million worldwide, the biggest global gross of the year. (That’s an improvement of over $100 million from Azkaban. Maybe people just dig mermaids?) I can remember walking out of the theater at the time feeling a bit disappointed. Goblet was always going to pale in comparison next to Azkaban, but I don’t think anyone expected just what a curious genre-mash Newell was going to make out of Goblet. (I happened to watch the movie again this weekend on ABC Family’s Harry Potter marathon, and it’s a little bit remarkable just how much better the episodic storyline plays with commercial breaks.)

In some ways, Goblet was doubly cursed when it hit theaters. Besides having to compete with Cuaron’s singular vision of Azkaban, the film arrived a few months after the bleak, tragic Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrived in bookstores, so the broad comedy sequences seemed a little bit silly. Personally, I’d call the Yule Ball one of my favorite sequences in the movie franchise: the awkward dancing, the Wizard-rock band, the arrival of Hermione in her ball dress (arguably, the scene that turned Emma Watson into a fashion icon). Goblet of Fire is a mishmash as a movie, but in its curious mixture of goofy romance and bleak paranoia, it’s a good summation of the franchise’s overall evolution from “Wow, look at all those moving stairwells!” to “Wow, look at all that death!”

PopWatchers, what are your favorite memories of Goblet of Fire? Do you think it was accidental that Harry and Ron both have much longer hair in this movie, or was that a serious artistic choice? How did you feel about Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody? Is it strange seeing Robert Pattinson playing such a happy-go-lucky kid, now that we’ve seen him in moody-glowy-vampire mode?

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