A teenage girl of our acquaintance was out of breath even before she started asking questions about the latest Harry Potter movie. "Is it better than the last one? Is it spectacular to look at? Does Harry seem grown up? What did they leave out of the movie that was in the book?" We had barely begun to answer (Yes; Oh, yes; Sort of; Don't know, didn't read the book) when she cut us off. She'd find out for herself soon enough, she said, as she and her friends were going to the very first showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at midnight on its opening day.

Such is Pottermania-a condition that has afflicted millions of the world's "twixters," teens and twenty-somethings, boys and girls alike (but mostly girls) who have read all six of J.K. Rowling's books about Harry and his Hogwarts pals, and have seen all three of the earlier Potter movies. There's no denying it, Goblet of Fire, based on the fourth book in the series, will be a blockbuster hit whether or not it deserves to be.

Fortunately, this one does deserve mega-hit status. Under the direction of Mike Newell and an increasingly creative production team, the action in Goblet of Fire is more exciting and faster-paced than in previous Potter films, and visually, it is by far the most splendid. The earlier movies were beautiful, but often a bit twee, as the Brits say. However, every frame of Goblet brims with artistic substance, and many sequences are disturbingly dark and dreamlike-some more so than others. In fact, a few scary scenes could easily become the stuff of nightmares.

With very little folderal, Goblet begins with the entire student body and faculty of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry trotting off to witness the Quidditch World Cup, which is held in a fantastical underground stadium that appears about as deep as the Empire State Building is high. When the camera sweeps over the packed stadium, picking up the color and speed and noise of the airborne game of Quidditch, it's a thrilling sight. Before the games can really get going, however, they're called off-after an invasion by the dreaded Death Eaters, followers of the evil Lord Voldemort, he who's still hanging around as a disembodied bit of ether, having been bested before by Harry Potter, "the boy who lived" after the murder of his parents.

For those who don't already know them, here's brief recap of some of the other plot details: Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) inexplicably finds himself entered into the Triwizard Tournament, in which he has to pass three tests: 1) stealing a golden egg from a fearsome dragon, the Hungarian Horntail; 2) rescuing best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and, perhaps, his other best friend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) from drowning in the watery depths they're tethered to; and 3) trying to dodge the killer hedges in a dark labyrinthian maze. It is in the third contest that Harry inadvertently unleashes the forces that will allow his nemesis Voldemort (a lizard-like Ralph Fiennes) to emerge and once again test all of Harry's magical skills.

All the usual Hogwarts stalwarts are on hand, including Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs). But Goblet includes some outstanding additions to the cast: Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, a professor with a keen interest in Harry; Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory, a noble fellow student; Katie Leung as Harry's prom date, and, most delightful of all, Miranda Richardson as a pain-in-the-neck gossip columnist.

Yes, Harry and Ron and Hermione are grown up enough to go to the prom. If there's anything that might make Potter fans go eeewwwww, it's the excessive amount of time the three principals spend in adolescent mooning around, getting all tongue-tied in the presence of the opposite sex. Cute, but irrelevant. What's important to a Harry Potter film are the ugly, wart-encrusted beasties and the swooping and darting of magical flying things. What we want to see are the sweeping views of magnificent Scottish mountains and the forbiddingly tall towers of Hogwarts' Gothic campus. What we need to be aroused by, again and again, is the never-ending struggle between Harry, as the embodiment of everything that's good, and Voldemort, as the very face of evil. Praise be to J.K. Rowling and all concerned, Goblet of Fire is a cup that's full to overflowing with such expected-nay, with such demanded treats.

-Shirley Sealy