Friday, July 15, 2011


There were rumors of long, horrible lines and mass hysteria. It would be a madhouse, surely, when the final film was released at midnight. The truth, for my little band of adventurers at least, was that we arrived at the AMC around 8:15pm for our 9pm showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. There were a couple dozen people, perhaps, hanging about outside, waiting to be able to sit for their midnight showings, but we marathoners walked right in – as we’d been doing all week, and as the single-night experience-seekers (seeing both parts 1 and 2 last night, instead of just the final flick) were also doing – and made our way easily to screen #4. The small room was nearly full, but that had been the case all week. We selected our seats near the front and settled in, not for the first time wishing we were in one of the larger screening rooms (as the single-nighters were, since there were more people interested in that), so we’d have a bit more seating to choose from. Still, we were excited. We’d brought in wands and worn referential shirts and everyone around us was eager to talk amongst each other and share their anticipation. Before long, the lights dimmed, and we all cheered. The night did not disappoint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1

For a movie that takes place over several months in which all our heroes do is move from campsite to campsite, a lot of things are accomplished in this movie, and it moves along pretty quickly. I have sentimental attachments to some of the scenes that were omitted, most notably the chapter entitled “Kreacher’s Tale”, but the animated story of “The Three Brothers” is exquisite no matter how many times I see it, and Hermione’s economical narration is haunting. And unlike the previous films, Hermione is really allowed to stand out as the heart of this one. She has accepted the task before them and is prepared and unafraid. She stands up for herself and her friends. She suffers at the hand of Bellatrix Lestrange but doesn’t let it deter her from their mission. And her love for Ron is so pure, so quiet, so deep yet unspoken that your heart breaks for her more than once. The end leaves me in tears again, wishing upon each rewatch that the blade doesn’t find its mark, but last night it also left me excited, because the conclusion was right around the corner. Last-minute realization: I don’t know how many times I’d seen this movie before last night, but it took me exactly that long to realize why the sharp focus on Bellatrix’s hair as it floated down onto Hermione’s “Mudblood” scar was so important: part 2!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2

Anticipation during the break was high. The concession stand lines were clear to the front entrance. The lines for the women’s restrooms were long as well (the men had no lines, of COURSE), but thankfully moved pretty quickly. And the costumes! There were Hogwarts students of every shape, size, sex, and house. There was a Hagrid, a Mad-Eye, a Sirius in full velvet-suited galore, several Bellatrixes, and a girl in front of me in the bathroom line that had drawn a bloody hole on a piece of paper and taped it over her left ear. Harry Potter fans are marvelous.

As part of the marathon package, everyone in my theater got a special pair of 3D glasses that were in the style of Harry’s own specs. We donned them to great fanfare and applause, sat through a painful array of previews (because of the wait, not the content), and then we were on our way. I won’t spoil the movie for you if you don’t already know what happens, but suffice it to say that it’s a very satisfying end – both as an adaptation of the nearly perfect final book, and also as the finale to the film series. If you’re familiar with the book, you may balk at some of the changes that are inherently necessary in film adaptation for the purposes of efficient storytelling and proper pacing and overall visual appeal, but I believe that on future viewings you will come to appreciate the success that it is, just as I’ve come to better appreciate its predecessors. There are, I’m sure you know, devastating moments, and I will not deny that I wept openly at all of them. But there are also moments of great triumph – cue the audience cheers again – and moments that are nothing less than thoroughly gratifying. There are also reminders for us, the fans, that while Harry is gone (there are no more movies to come, after all), he will forever live in our hearts. He will be with us always because he IS part of us, and we are a part of him. Final thought: Thank you, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, for such a fantastic voyage. It was wonderful being part of your world, even for a little while.

And then there were none.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


It was the penultimate installment of the week, and things were getting heated. Voldemort was back in earnest (not that people wanted to believe it), and the stakes were raised yet again. But these two films, which it occurred to me tonight really work well together as a pair, also raise the stakes emotionally, as relationships are forged and tested and two beloved characters meet their ends.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

When I first saw this, it was easily my favorite movie of the bunch. The pure evil of Dolores Umbridge is perfectly captured by Imelda Staunton, and her almost erotic pleasure in the pain and torture of others makes her villainy even creepier. Not only that, but seeing all the films in sequence allows one to appreciate how truly scary this one is – one of the scariest, in fact – because while the other films frighten us with magical creatures and curses, this one deals in the all too real horrors of living under fascist rule. No one is allowed to speak up against Umbridge, much less the Ministry, lest they be considered traitors, and their tyranny continues virtually unchecked. In this new order, people can be tossed out of their homes, or thrown in jail, illegally questioned, corporally punished, or even tortured, all on the whims of those with the power. It is the actions of a select few, brave enough to dissent against what they know is wrong, who make the biggest difference. And that, is exactly the point. Dumbledore’s Army does what is right, even though it is not easy – another key moral in the series. Of course, Harry pays a terrible price for his bravery in the end. The loss of Sirius has always been a devastating one, but last night, watching it again, wishing it would end differently this time, I simply wanted to sob for days. Subtlety win: Every time Harry and Cho are seen or mentioned together, Ginny’s in the background, unhappily eyeing and assessing the situation.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This book is all about the history of Tom Riddle, about the discovery and understanding of the horcruxes, about Harry’s certainty that Draco is up to no good, and about Snape’s dreadful reveal at the end. Unfortunately, none of those things are easily transferred to the screen, given that they are mostly comprised of discussions and theories over actions and confrontations. Therefore, the movie becomes a showcase of the maturing relationships of our heroes and heroines: the stark pain of Hermione seeing Ron with Lavender, the shy awkwardness of Harry realizing his feelings for Ginny, the hopefulness and loneliness and confusion that comes with love. To underscore the importance of these developments, the reveal of the central mystery – The Half-Blood Prince – is secondary, downplayed against the other gut-wrenching events taking place. Some facts are altered or omitted in service of expediency, but as with Prisoner of Azkaban, I found on this viewing that I’m not as bothered by it as I was at first, because the efficient storytelling is so much more visible in the marathon setting. As the movie closed, a smattering of soft crying could be heard throughout the theater. Mourning our loss, we braced ourselves, as Harry did, for the daunting task to come. Continuity win: In Slughorn’s memories (the altered and the original), Riddle is wearing his grandfather’s ring (referred in the movie as his mother’s), which Dumbledore later reveals as the second horcrux.

Tonight my journey comes to an end, as Harry confronts old Tom Riddle for the very last time (after going on a long and stressful camping trip), and Bellatrix finally gets what’s coming to her, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, parts 1 and 2. And then I might cry for a while.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Last night, adorned in my time-turner necklace (an homage to my favorite book in the series), a hoodie aimed at warding off the theater’s chill, and a purse full of dollar store candy, I continued my journey through the world of wizards and witches with the next two movies of the Harry Potter series. By the time these were originally released, I'd caught Harry Potter fever and had read all the books, so I went in to the movies with more knowledge, and hence more expectations, than ever before.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Even now, having devoured the four outstanding books that followed it (twice), this one is still my favorite. Rich in the history that brought Harry to where he is, this is the book that really started to give shape and definition to the universe, and complex story arc, that Rowling had created. It was with a certain amount of trepidation, therefore, that I went into this film initially. Not surprisingly, I wanted all that nuance from the pages to come to life on screen, and on first watch I must admit I found it slightly lacking. Where were the lovely details about how Lupin’s friends transformed themselves so they wouldn’t have to leave him on the full moon? Where was the winking indication of how they got their nicknames? Where was the secret of Snape being saved by James, and the resulting resentment toward him and Sirius that Snape has carried ever since? These were crucial points, I felt, and I was sad to see them edited out. Over the years I've come to better appreciate the film, and how it allows a lot of those nuances to be implied, but last night I truly marveled at how streamlined and focused this film is compared with the first two. Gone are the drawn-out endings and superfluous scenes. The childishness is gone, too, as new director Alphonso Cuaron allows the children to grow into teens, maturing emotionally along with the story, the themes, the humor, and the dangers. Embarrassing fact: Despite this film featuring my most beloved Sirius, my favorite part will forever be Hermione being distracted by how her hair looks from the back, because it is exactly what I would do in that situation.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It was when the worldwide frenzy occurred over the release of this book - a massive tome by any standard, let alone a young adult one - that I became really aware of the popularity of the novels. Everyone, it seemed, had a copy of this and was toting it around to read at every opportunity. This was the first book I owned - it was a gift - and because I am OCD that way, it meant I needed to buy and read the first three before I could tackle this one. It took me no time to get through the first two, since I'd already seen the films, and I devoured the third because, as I said, it instantly became my favorite. Within a week I was ready for this one, and it took me a mere three days to finish. I loved it, of course, but I had no idea how they would turn all of it into a movie. Answer: Pretty damn well. Once again, this movie is more streamlined than the first two, a fact that is made quite clear watching all the movies together in this marathon fashion. Pertinent items are still addressed, but extraneous ones are cut. The movie also takes another step forward in the maturity of the students (also more noticeable in the marathon setting, since it allows you to see the subtle gradations of change more clearly, like watching a blossoming flower over time-release video). Social standing and romantic leanings become the forefront of their everyday lives, and the primary arc of the Triwizard Tournament enhances that change by putting everyone in new and awkward social situations, be they first crushes, school dances, or petty rivalries. Of course, the tournament in itself is harrowing, and once again the stakes are raised, this time resulting in tragedy quite close to home. And while the movie ends on a dark note - it leaves me in mind of The Empire Strikes Back in that respect - there is still lightness and humor and hope to be had. Draco as a ferret, Moaning Myrtle in the tub, and Fred and George forever are just some of the abounding happiness to be found, as well as the reminder that Harry has friends and people who love him, which means he is never alone. Despite all the dark, all the terrible change to come, we can hold onto that hope that, united with his friends, Harry can overcome the evil awaiting him. Mind-boggling note: To maintain the disguise of Mad-Eye Moody, Barty Crouch Jr. was required to drink Polyjuice Potion every hour on the hour for about nine months straight.

Tonight the movies get even better while Harry's troubles take a turn for the (even) worse with Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince. And then I'll be back tomorrow to talk about them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This Friday marks the beginning of the end.

Ten years and eight movies after the books became a literary phenomenon come to life on screen, the Harry Potter saga will at last come to a close as the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, is released in theaters. To commemorate this auspicious event – as any Harry Potter fan will tell you it is – my local AMC theater, along with dozens of other cinemas around the country, offered an opportunity to see all the films in the theater once more, every night for several nights, leading up to the midnight release – 12:01am, Friday, July 15 – of the newest film. Frankly, there was never a question of whether I would go. I’d been preparing for the end myself, recently having finished rereading the entire series, and since the third film I’d never not seen one on its very first showing. I was so there.

AMC’s plan was to play two movies a night for four nights, and last night I attended the first installment. There was a whisper, a faint buzz, of giddy anticipation in the air, and more people than I expected crowded into one of the smallest screening rooms, but when the movie started – without preamble – we were all instantly transfixed.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I never saw the first movie in the theater. In fact, I pretty much ignored it, assumed it was a kid’s movie I’d have no interest in. (I’d never even heard of the books.) It wasn’t until it came to HBO that I got around to watching it, and boy, was I impressed. Yes, it was a kid’s movie, but it was a really well-done one, with heart and adventure and characters I easily found myself invested in. Seeing it last night on the big screen was a moving experience. Unsurprisingly, I’ve seen the film numerous times on TV and DVD, so I was familiar with it from start to finish, but sitting there in the dark, front row center, I felt transported back in time, watching something both familiar and completely new. The characters were all babies then, shockingly so. And the overly cutesy, jokey style of the film is largely incongruent with the tone of the films to come. It is overlong and drags in places, trying to fit everything in, and yet it is joyful and loving, without losing any of the thrill provided by the climactic gauntlet of tasks leading to the Stone. Sap factor: I cry every single time Dumbledore gives out the points at the end-of-year feast, particularly when he gives those last ten to Neville.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I still hadn’t read any of the books at this point, but I enjoyed the first movie so thoroughly that when my dad came to visit his infant grandson in November 2002 and expressed an interest in the sequel, we left the baby with his father and went out opening night. I clearly remember my shock and fright at the nature of the film. Yes, it still had the shine of director Chris Columbus’s jokey sensibilities, but this film was much darker, and much scarier than the first. Watching it again last night, it’s lost none of that terrifying feel. The spiders descending en masse upon Harry and Ron is a scene straight out of my nightmares, and the primary focus of the film – the Chamber of Secrets – is wrought with tales of death and monsters and unspeakable evil, not to mention the exposure of the all too real evil of racism – as much of a horror in the magical world as it is in the Muggle one. The themes are more mature than they are in Sorcerer’s Stone, and the villains are more plentiful, more powerful, and more frightening. But dark cannot survive without the light, and that holds true here as Chamber of Secrets introduces one of the simplest, yet most important and uplifting lessons of the series: We are all a product of our choices, and we have the power to choose to be better people. It’s a theme that will be revisited again. Of course, once again this movie ends about twenty minutes later than it should, but it’s still a thrilling, unnerving experience that leaves its audience hungry for the next installment. Punchy and exhausted as we all were after sitting in that space for six hours, there was much clapping along with Dumbledore and the rest of the school when Hagrid returned from Azkaban, and cheering for a successful first night. It was not unlike the first time I saw the film, with people who had read and loved the books, had eagerly anticipated the movies. I remember walking out of there that night with my dad, all those years ago, and expressing my shock at how scary it was for a kid’s movie. “It gets a lot scarier,” he said, having already read the next book. I was taken aback, and instantly hooked. Scary thought: Lucius Malfoy is halfway through “Avada Kedavra” when the newly-freed Dobby knocks him back and defends Harry. Was he really going to kill Harry Potter in the middle of Hogwarts, ten feet from Dumbledore’s office, just for thwarting his plan and losing him an elf? Seems like an overreaction.

Tonight I see films 3 and 4 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban & Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (hopefully with better seats) – and will be back tomorrow to discuss.