Tuesday, July 12, 2011 , Updated 12:53 p.m., July 15, 2011
UPDATEDx3: Movie marathon: Harry Potter fan counts down to release of final film
Before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 premieres on Friday, a dedicated Potterhead treats herself to four nostalgic evenings of movie magic.
A plethora of fan cultures exists beyond your imagination. We’ve heard of Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics, but in the last decade a growing number of younger fans have taken comfort in the world of witches, wizardry, spells, and cauldron cakes. And for those fans, this has been one bittersweet week. You see, Friday marks the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and local Potterheads find themselves both anxiously waiting and dreading having to say goodbye to Ron, Hermione, and Harry in this final installment.
Day One: Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets
Starting Monday, Metroplex multiplexes began putting on their own fan appreciation events. Cinemark West Plano is doing a 2-day marathon for the more hardcore, while both AMC Grapevine Mills and AMC Northpark have arranged for a less intensive 4-day marathon, which equips participants with handy lanyards and a commemorative booklet so they’ll never forget the nights they spend with 150 other Potter lovers. I wisely chose Northpark's 4-day “Harry Potter Experience,” which kicked off yesterday with the first two films in the series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
I hadn’t watched either of these films in its entirety since the DVD releases, but I knew I needed to revisit these old friends before I watched part two of the final Potter installment. Since we arrived at the theater a little later than we should have (WARNING to other marathoners: Get there an hour early to secure a seat!), my party of four Potter-loving adults sat in the third row, but it actually turned out to be a great spot, with other avid fans all around us. We chatted with our rowmates about our favorite films in the franchise — Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban seems to get the most thumbs up — and how we all wished we could devise Time-Turners so we could travel forward to Thursday. But we forced ourselves to remember that patience is a virtue.
Once the credits started rolling on Sorcerer’s Stone, audible “awws” and passionate squeals echoed through the theater. Our shared memories of the first time we saw the sign for Privet Drive and glimpsed the Boy Who Lived in the squalor of his cupboard under the stairs fueled us, but the knowledge that this was quite possibly the last time we'd see all eight films on the big screen lurked under the surface emotions of everyone in the audience. I had forgotten about the charm and innocence of the children in these early installments, in which even the darker moments near the end still had a sweet coating of hope. Much different than what we will see in the later films. The print was blurry and the special effects during the Quidditch matches looked hokey, but compared to the darker tones of the later films, this first one is heartwarming, engaging, and most of all magical.
While I knew I was going to have to brave it through the more childish first two films, I didn’t expect to like them more this time than I did when I first saw them (eight and 10 years ago, respectively). The positivity of Sorcerer’s Stone, with its focus on love and finding a home, sweetened the experience; in addition, I could appreciate the camp and hilarity of Kenneth Branagh’s pitch-perfect Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets more as an adult than I did when I was 18. I walked out of the theater thinking that Chamber of Secrets is quite possibly the funniest film in the series, and the best cast — something I would have never noticed if I'd watched the films at a more leisurely pace.
But, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. There are still three nights and six Potter features left to go!
UPDATE — Day Two: Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire:
So, here we are at the halfway point of this little Harry Potter adventure. I’ve now revisited four of the eight films, and I have to admit I haven’t been disappointed yet. Tuesday was not a day I looked forward to, as my favorite Harry Potter film would be paired against my least favorite. I’ve always had such an affinity for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as both a book and a film, and out of the entire series I still watch that one regularly. I cannot say the same for either incarnation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I know this is controversial, but with this in the back of my head, I bit my tongue and headed back to NorthPark.
We got there early this time, as my companions did not want to sit in the third row again. Arriving early also allowed for some fun nerd talk with fellow Potterheads, who were buzzing with excitement for the next two films. Come start time, there was a little trouble when the projectionist played the beginning of Goblet of Fire instead of Azkaban, and in the kerfuffle of switching to the correct film, the staff forgot to turn the lights down. But after a few minutes of dark time and a loud baby behind us, Harry greeted us by blowing up his aunt and running away to Diagon Alley on the Night Bus. The thematic and visual tones of Azkaban begin the dark shift that encompasses the rest of the films. It’s not a kid’s movie anymore, and I would have never noticed how dark this particular film actually got if I hadn’t seen the dreamy sweetness of the previous two films the day before. However, with such intense viewings of the series, audiences are made aware that these films all belong together despite their varying tones.
Mike Newell (Goblet of Fire) and Alfonso Cuarón (Azkaban) both know how to work with their subjects, but Cuarón pushes the kids to actually bring something unique to their characters, while Newell presses them to emote angst. These two are clearly different, and when watched as a pair the differences are striking. Cuarón chooses to jump right into Harry’s story, dismissing the typical extended Hogwart’s Express and sorting scenes. Of all four films so far, this one can stand on its own as a singular story — and so it does. The director turns towards the dark, but still allows for some lightness and jokes on screen — unlike Newell , who saturates the screen with blue tones and cuts almost all the levity. It's an approach that David Yates continues to use in the last four installments.
From here on out, the films get darker and more disturbingly real, and lives are at stake. Tonight I'd better bring tissues.
UPDATE x2 — Day Three: Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince:
The thing about spending three days in a packed theater with the same people is that you start to notice more than just their loud popcorn eating ability. You start to recognize their mannerisms, their way of being, and their stories. And even if you don’t talk to them, you can get a sense of who they are just from sitting next to them.
I may not have occupied the same seat for this entire Harry Potter adventure, but no matter where I’ve placed myself, the people around me have been almost as interesting as the films themselves. Take for instance the row of young girls in front of me. They could not have been more than babies when the first movie came out, but they each wore their own Death Eater shirt and Dark Mark tattoos. Clearly Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are their favorites. They could quote (thankfully quietly) all the venomous lines from Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), sigh with satisfaction when Sirius Black dies at the hands of Bellatrix LaStrange (Helena Bonham Carter), and even win the intermission trivia contests put on by the AMC staff. These youngsters impressed me with their passion for the films and their dedication to the Death Eaters … I guess we shouldn’t tell them it doesn’t end well for their team today.
Along with the fervent young fans surrounding me on all sides came the older, scholarly adorers. Next to my brother was an older gentleman committed, despite his tendency towards mid-movie napping, to watching the whole series unfold. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen all the films before or if he had waited 10 years just for the opportunity to watch them all consecutively in a theater. I found myself wondering if maybe he was a college professor interested in Potterdom, or if he just really liked wizards; regardless, he isn’t going to let the slower parts of the films deter him from getting the full experience.
As for me, I’ve found myself noticing how each of these films fits so perfectly together. I always thought each film could stand on its own, but watching them so close together makes one realize they were well planned from the beginning of production — despite some disappointing book omissions by the filmmakers. The whimsical first two match the tone and darkness of Order of Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, while all of director David Yates’ installments complement each other and the whole series.
Deep breaths, tonight it all ends…
UPDATE x3 — Day Four: The Deathly Hallows:
I remembered going to the book store in 2007 to wait in line for my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I remember the mixed feelings of joy and depression washing over me that entire time, and when I finally got the door-stopper of a book in my hands I couldn’t wait to start reading it. In that moment, the conclusion of that story meant more to me than anything. And the thing is, everyone in the store was sharing that exact same moment.
Thinking back to Gwen from July 21, 2007, I knew I would once again feel that bag of mixed emotions when the final installment of the films premiered. The excitement and sadness for this final night of Harry Potter madness sat over my shoulders all day and while I couldn’t wait to get to the theater four hours early to secure the perfect seat, I also dreaded it. This was the last time I’d see Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) played by these actors. This was it.
The night started off with lines upon lines of fans. The second floor of NorthPark was taken over by wizard robes, Hogwarts tee shirts, brooms, wands, and Potter glasses. Everywhere you turned you’d see another character from the movie come to life. Thankfully we had our marathon lanyards and easily avoided standing in the massive snake-like lines, and headed straight to our theater for a seated waiting period. Before I entered the theater, I turned to take one last look at the fanatical Potterheads wrapping around the AMC lobby. I realized once again this was the last time I’d ever see this sort of dedication to an entire series. Each of them buzzing with excitement, but would they know what to do with themselves tomorrow once it was all over?
Once the room fell dark, the screams I’d become so used to hearing the last three days got loud and more frantic. The last two movies were really what everyone in the room wanted, and nothing could stop us from sighing, laughing, and crying. Watching both parts of Deathly Hallows back-to-back was exactly what I had hoped for. They are a complete set, and need to be watched together. I had forgotten little things in Part One that were revisited in Part Two, and the emotional intensity was overwhelming in the best of ways. I won’t say these were the best in the entire series (that distinction still lies with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, thank you very much), but I will say the catharsis offered from this pair of films is the sweetest of all. I honestly miss them already.
I learned this week that while future generations of Potter fans may never experience this moment, these films will be forever cherished and honored. Just like I thought when all seven books were readily available, the films will now find new audiences year after year, and Harry, Ron, and Heroine will live on forever.
Read Pegasus News' review of the final Harry Potter movie here.
Guest correspondent Gwen Reyes loves sitting in a dark room with a bucket of popcorn. Thankfully, she gets to write about these experiences at reelvixen.com.