(Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry)
In 2001 "Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone" hit theaters. I saw the ads on TV, and even though I knew there to be a lot of noise about it, I didn't really make seeing it a priority. It just looked like another "precious" kids film with adorable young actors and cheesy special effects. Don't get me wrong, there is room in my movie viewing schedule for a good cheesy children's film ("cheese" is something I appreciate...when it's so bad that it's good). "Sorcerer's Stone" was filed away in my 'when it's on television and there's nothing else to watch' file. Then I talked to some friends at work...
At the time I worked for an Entertainment company in Los Angeles. In other words, I worked in an adult environment. When the first Harry Potter movie had been out for a bit, I heard a couple of co-workers' chatting in the kitchen when I went in to grab a hot cup o' joe. The topic of conversation? The Harry Potter books. Their discussion was very animated. I couldn't help but listen in. They had just finished "Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban", and couldn't wait to get their hands on "Goblet of Fire". Really? They thought they were that good? Huh...at the time I just thought "to each his own", and went on with my day.
In 2003 the corporation I worked for closed the doors of the division I worked for (I had worked there 14 years). I went into a decompression period. While perusing the shelves of my local Blockbuster, I came across the DVD of "Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets". The titles I had wanted to rent were new releases and all copies were checked out, so I decided 'what the hey'...I grabbed a copy of "Chamber". It was entertaining.
Several days later I was in Target and was looking over their book section. Needless to say, they had piles of the Harry Potter releases at that point that were featured prominently. I said 'what the hey' again, and grabbed trade papers of "Stone" and "Chamber". Three days later I was back at Target picking up "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Goblet of Fire". It was while standing in the check-out line filled with excitement of what would happen to Harry and his pals next that I had an epiphany...I had officially become a Harry Potter geek...
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe); Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint); Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)
'Pottermania' was alive and well at the small West Hollywood apartment I was calling home at that time. I ravenously scarfed up the first four books within days. The world of Harry Potter was one I jumped into with both feet. Potterite, Potter head, Potty-head, Pot-head...there are a number of names for HP fans out there (I would say that the last two I mentioned are the derogatory ones). I prefer to call us Potter fans 'Harry Potter Geeks'. (Since I refer to myself as an HP Geek, of course I mean it in the most affectionate way possible.)
Let me say that when I started my journey with "Sorcerer's Stone", I found it to be a little slow on the uptake. But then a lot of books that are the launch to a series have a tendency to be a tad slow in the beginning as they are setting up some key elements for things to come in future volumes. At what point was I grabbed and sucked into the thick of things? Probably whenHagrid and Harry arrived at Diagon Alley. (Screw Walmart...that's where I wanna shop!) From that point on I spent just about every waking moment absorbing every word off of every page (which was the bulk of my day due to copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes...I have since quit smoking, but still have a coffee addiction...pardon me while I heat up the cup I'm drinking now). J.K. Rowling crafted a wonderful world and wonderful characters. I could tell with every line that she knows her "world" inside and out.
As I mentioned earlier, when I got 'hooked' there were the first five of the books available, or written for that matter. As any self respecting 'Geek' would do, I reread "Goblet" and "Phoenix" in anticipation of the release of "Half Blood Prince". I reread the preceding book to each remaining new release. I wanted to have the storyline as fresh and ready in my current memory of the time so I could hit the new book running. Buying an advance copy of each release at Target was something I did with those last books. It always proved to be unnecessary...on each release date the books would be in great supply. Better to be safe than sorry...
One thing that I appreciate about Rowling's story telling, is that she isn't afraid to get a bit dark. Yes, I realize that the Harry Potter books are technically children's fare, but she didn't veer away from injecting some unpopular events into the story. Things didn't always go Harry's way, but there was always a bigger picture. A 'silver lining' did appear here and there, but it wasn't flavored with saccharin and didn't come with a wink. The friendship and fun moments are interwoven quite well with the heart-wrenching and scary events. The darkness fell (with somewhat of a "bang") with book number three, "The Prisoner of Azkaban". This is where I was completely, 100%, no turning back, hooked on the books. The mystery...I couldn't wait to see what happened next. Rowling also was not afraid to kill off some of the characters we had grown to care for. (I've seen interviews with Jo where she talked about how hard and gut-wrenching it was for her.) I have to say that in terms of the story and how invested I was as a reader, the death of those characters effected me deeply.
Now that I have established that I am a big fan of the books, I will say that there are aspects of the movies that left me unsatisfied. Big shocker there. Rowling's books are very fleshy, very involved. Of course a film isn't going to be able to cover every event or nuance covered in the books. Since a book has to be distilled to a certain degree to put it on the big screen, I think it was very smart for them to have Steve Kloves write all but one of the screenplays. Not sure why they had another writer adapt "Order of the Phoenix" (Michael Goldenberg), but I am assuming that it's because of the rapid pace they were making the films at. Kloves was up to his eyeballs with "Goblet of Fire" (a doorstop of a volume...there was talk of making it into two films because of it's scope), and they needed to get "Phoenix" moving. Another thing that is crucial to a books introduction to film is casting. When I jumped on the Hogwarts Express, there were only the first two films out. Both of which left me wanting in some areas. "Sorcerer's Stone" skirted the 'precious kids film' genre a little close for comfort. "Chamber of Secrets" was a bit better, but those first two films just didn't capture the books enough for me. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was specifically bugging me. The kids were cast well. The teachers were cast very well (Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Brannagh...brilliant). So what was bugging me?
Richard Harris was a great actor, may he rest in peace. "A Man Called Horse"; "The Field"; "Camelot". That being said, it wasn't until I saw Michael Gambon step into the robes ofDumbledore that I realized that Harris was not on the money with his portrayal. I realize that there are some mega-fans out there that think of themselves as purists, and since Harris originated the role they think of him as Dumbledore. Not me. There is something quirky about Albus that Gambon grasped from the get-go. The actors in the films are just as I envisioned the characters when reading the books, and Michael Gambon filled a void for me with his first appearance. As for the others...Gary Oldman (meOW), Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs (meOW), David Thewliss, Emma Thompson, and so on. It's as if the producers took my list of favorite actors/actresses and cast them all.
The first movie that finally clicked in and took on the vibe of the books was "Prisoner ofAzkaban". The darkness is there. The fear is there. The story hit it's stride. Chris Columbus is a good director, but I don't think the vibe he injected was the right one. Alfonso Cuaron changed that. The films took a shift with new directing blood, and it's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. It saved the franchise.
**I'm going to throw in a SPOILER ALERT here. If you haven't read the books and DO NOT want to know about any fatalities in "Deathly Hallows", you might not want to read on as I will be talking about it.**
Before I turn this blog post into a massive ramble, I'll start to wrap it up. I felt the need to write a bit on Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the magic world I've felt a part of for many years now. It has been a great journey, one I've completed in book form. The film version of the journey's end will be hitting theaters on July 15th. In so many ways I have gone through the happiness and the heartbreak with Harry and all of the other denizens of Rowlings world. A number of characters we all have cared about die. Harry's faithful companion, Hedwig, and Auror Mad Eye Moody die fending off Death Eaters when the Order of the Phoenix are helping take Harry to their headquarters. Here's a real toughie...I was so devastated when Sirius died at the hands...or should I say "wand"...of Bellatrix LeStrange. It was even harder watching it happen in the form of Gary Oldman. (Not only is Oldman one of my top three favorite actors, Sirius is my favorite character.) I kept telling myself that Black would come back. That he wasn't really dead. No such luck (although we do see him again in "spirit" form). The last book, "Deathly Hallows", where Harry meets Voldemort for their "duel", is a real shocker. The death of Dumbledore. Ya know, I don't know if I really classify him as being "dead". I know the students and teachers saw his wrecked body on the ground. I think it's when he talks to Harry before the big showdown. It doesn't feel like he's out of the picture for good. The death of Dobby the house elf. Yeah, it was sad, but I have to say that I found that little bugger to be a bit annoying. Snape. Severus was a real jerk, but judging by his background growing up, wouldn't you be? Tonks, Lupin, Fred Weasley...all shocking deaths. I knew that there would be some notable ones, but it really got to me. It was as if I had learned that some dear friends had passed. Very emotional. Of course, there's the big one...Voldemort. But then I always knew Tom was going to bite the dust. Killing off Harry would have been too much, and not appropriate in my view.
"Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II" is a movie I will definitely be seeing on the big screen. It will bring the complete journey to it's end. We readers always knew that these books would have an end, and for me it was a satisfying one. Rowling wove it well, and tied it off without any real loose ends. I was happy with the ending of the book, so of course I know I will be happy with the end of this last film. I expect to get choked up yet again.
I have heard rumors that Jo Rowling has said that she might write another Potter book. Whether it's a continuation of the ones already published, or an off-shoot with other existing characters or even new ones...that I haven't heard. If she does write another Harry Potter book will I jump back on the train? Count on it!