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.