Book Review · Film

Hogwarts, a Personal History

In the fall of 2001, I had never heard of the wizard named Harry Potter. I was nineteen—a sophomore at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I lived on South Green on the second floor of O’Bleness Hall. My roommate was Pam Prinz, a woman who could always make me laugh.

Do you even recognize the girl I was back then?
First quarter of my sophomore year was moving along slowly, probably because I was miserable my sophomore year. I was a theater major at the time; it didn’t take long for me to realize that being a theater major was akin to paying people to make you feel bad about yourself. I would change to Creative Writing the last quarter of my sophomore year, and I would discover my purpose in life. But that was still months away.

As we prepared to head home for Ohio University’s six-week Thanksgiving/Christmas break, I remember Pam was really excited about a new movie about to open in theaters: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’d never heard of Harry Potter; I was a Lord of the Rings girl, and no one could ever compare to my Tolkien. But knowing how fragile I was at the time—and knowing me quite well in general—Pam shoved a book under my nose and told me to read it over break.

The book looked exciting. It was light in my hands and a bit tattered around the edges from too many readings. An awkward teenage boy on a flying broomstick lingered center stage, and although the cover was filled with imagery, most of it didn’t make any sense to someone who’d never heard of Harry Potter, let alone JK Rowling.

I opened the book to Chapter One … “Mr. And Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense …”

I liked the tone—light, funny, interesting. I liked the idea: some kid who’s a wizard but doesn’t know he’s a wizard. I particularly liked the world of magic, and soon I would find I loved the world of Hogwarts. It didn’t take me long to finish Harry Potter, Book 1. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I saw the movie over Christmas break, and well, I was done for.

The good news? This JK Rowling chick had been writing Harry Potter books since 1997! I had catching up to do! I had to read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Then, I had to read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Then, I had to … wait. And wait. Until July 30, 2002, when I stood in line to buy Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (my favorite) at midnight. For every book, there was another movie, and I often stood in line to see the movies at midnight, too. I was hooked, gone, addicted.

Sophomore year at Ohio University, Harry Potter saved me. He allowed me to escape the misery that was being a theater major. I would have given just about anything to be accepted into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I still would, I suppose, although I guess I would be a professor by now, wouldn’t I?

The Harry Potter kids, circa 2001.
In a little over twelve hours, I will sit in a darkened theater and watch the final installment of the Harry Potter movies. The book series ended years ago; now, finally, the movies have caught up. Tonight represents the end of a ten-year love affair.

I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and as enthralled as I was back in 2001, I am now completely crushed. I can barely read the words without getting teary-eyed. I remember that naïve eleven-year-old Harry back in Book 1 who didn’t know about magic. He didn’t know about Hogwarts, and he certainly didn’t know that Book 1 was the beginning of a tragic series of events that would eventually steal most of the people he would come to love. He was so innocent back then, and in 2001, I guess I was, too.

As Harry’s years at Hogwarts passed, I became a junior at Ohio University. Then, I was a senior. Then, I graduated. Now, I’m twenty-nine. I’m a writer. I’m marrying Prince Charming. And finally, Harry is graduating, too.

In regards to his final day of shooting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Daniel Radcliffe said: “They came up and said, ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing?’ And I couldn’t find any words, and I said, ‘I just want you to know, I’ve had a really nice time.’”

And I’m crying again …

I’m ready for the final film. It had to come sometime, and tonight is the night. However, I will always remember that sad nineteen-year-old girl, sitting on the floor of her dorm room, waiting to go home for the holidays … and how she has been saved many times by a kid named Harry and the world known as Hogwarts. Thank you, JK. And thank you, Mr. Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter kids ... er ... adults, circa 2011.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I on Saturday, because I’m too old to stay up for the midnight show and too impatient to fight crowds on opening night. My general review: Loved it. Quite in touch with the book, and creepy as ever. For more details, read on. (And don’t worry; I don’t give anything away, unless you haven’t seen the other Harry Potter movies, and if you haven’t … well, why would you go see the seventh one without seeing the other six?)

As you may have noticed on the trailers, the seventh movie does not take place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—a challenge for director, David Yates, to be certain. The very first scenes are downers, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione prepare to say goodbye to the lives they know and go off on their own, in search of Voldemort’s hidden horcruxes (since the only way to kill Voldemort is to kill his horcruxes).

Directly following these downer moments, however, there is comedy. The Order of the Phoenix arrives to take Harry to a safe house, but in order to so, they must use polyjuice potion to become Harry. The Weasley twins, Fred and George, represent the comic relief, and at times, the movie theater sounded as it would during a comedy, instead of a drama—which Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 definitely is, without question.

In regards to the dramatic, somewhat depressing content of the film, don’t worry—you won’t leave the theater with your head hanging low. For instance, I only cried ONCE (and that’s saying something for me). Seriously, though, the screenwriter did a masterful job of weaving comic moments within the darkness. Just when you think the characters are going to burst out in tears, someone says something that makes the characters and audience giggle and realize that it’s all going to be okay … hopefully.

That being said, this is not a kids movie. For one thing, it’s scary. I mean, like, really scary. I jumped a couple times and screamed once. The action sequences are thrilling, but people do die. Oh, and my favorite part? Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, literally comes slithering out of a woman’s dead body. The special effects made it feel real, and in the realness, it was creepy. I would not bring a small child to this movie; I don’t care if it’s Harry Potter. There’s also a random bit of sexual content. (Didn’t see that coming.) It’s in Ron’s nightmare, but I swear, I saw some Hermione side-boob. It wasn’t necessary, I don’t think, and would just confuse the young ones.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is admittedly very clever. With Voldemort in power, the Ministry of Magic takes it upon themselves to hunt down muggle-borns. In one scene, there’s a book called When Muggles Attack in a desk drawer. In this way, the movie felt like an historical look at America’s Communist red scare of the 1940s and 50s. Also, the retelling of the story of the Deathly Hallows is brilliant. Told not with actual actors, it is instead relived via what resembles a moving, breathing black and white story-board. It sounds simple, but with the expert computer graphics, it was one of the most visually stimulating parts of the film.

And the film is visually stimulating. The filming locations look like dreams. The magic / spell-casting sequences are mind-bending. The special effects wizards at Warner Brothers deserve a pat on the back. They’ve mastered their art, and this is the most beautiful example yet.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, you won’t be lost in Part I of this, the last Harry Potter adventure. If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen the movies, I would suggest at least watching Harry Potter 6 (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), just to ignite your memory. Also, when it’s over, you won’t feel cheated, as if you’ve only watched part of a movie. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I has a beginning, middle, and end. And it ends at a good place, especially since we have to wait eight months for Part II. I would suggest seeing it in the theater, because it’s a beautiful film.

At least for me, it’s easier to cry over a movie when it’s dark all around. And if you’re a Harry Potter freak, you will cry.


Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Hype

Before you even ask, no, I didn’t see the movie last night at midnight. (Curse you, Sam and Mary. Curse you.) I’m seeing the movie tomorrow, because I’m too old to stay up past midnight on a school night. However, I have partaken in much hype surrounding the movie. It’s kinda unavoidable, when you’re a Harry Potter freak like me.

The seventh book in the Harry Potter series is entitled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read it in one day, hung-over, sitting curled up against the Midwest cold on my used couch in Perrysburg, Ohio. Upon its completion, I remember thinking: Wow, that was heavy. (I may have been crying …) But I also remember thinking: Damn, that’s gonna be a long movie!

Evidently, the movie men thought the same thing, which is why they split the book into two movies, the first installment of which opens today. So we have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, today; we have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, July 15, 2011. Regarding Part I …

Quick synopsis from IMDB: “Voldemort’s power is growing stronger. He now has control over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to finish Dumbledore’s work and find the rest of the Horcruxes to defeat the Dark Lord. But little hope remains for the trio, and the rest of the Wizarding World, so everything they do must go as planned.”

Of course, nothing ever goes as planned in Harry Potter movies.

Anyway, this one is a huge challenge, because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are nowhere near Hogwarts for the entire film. It’s quite a stretch from the norm. Most of it happens in a forest (which, I admit, was a little long-winded in the book). I’m very curious to see how this goes … And in case you’re curious, Part I supposedly runs through chapter 24 of the seventh book, totaling about 146 minutes run time.

Hermione? Is that you?
Random trivia:
1. Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) finally got to cut her hair! She recently showed up on the red carpet with a pixie doo. Looks cute. And hey, it’s understandable, with the crazy curls she’s been rockin’ since the age of 9.

2. Evidently, tourists have been visiting an Israeli cemetery to see the grave of a British soldier who was killed in 1939. The name of that soldier? Harry Potter. Tour guides say the tombstone, located at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Ramle, has turned into a bizarrely popular attraction.

3. Affection for Potter’s white owl Hedwig is fuelling the trade in Indian owls, as too-eager fans seek to idolize their fictional hero. Although Hedwig spends much of her time in a bird cage in Harry’s room, real owls do not make good pets! Stop buying owls for kids, people. Please.

4. After ten years, the Harry Potter films have made over $7.5 billion in ticket sales. The mega-successful blockbusters have also racked up about $1 billion in profits when income from home-video, merchandise, games, and other products is tallied. YIPES!

So here we go: today, Part 1 of the final installment of the Harry Potter movie series hits a theater near you. Are you going to see it today? Tomorrow? Did you already see it? I’ll be seeing it Saturday morning. The review will be up on my blog Monday. Fingers crossed. I’ve never been disappointed by a Harry Potter movie yet. I’m not expecting it to happen now …


Harry Potter Freak

HP, Circa 2001.
My name is Sara Dobie … and I’m a Harry Potter addict. It started sophomore year in college, when I first discovered the books. For years, I would be one of the only college kids in line at midnight outside Barnes and Noble, waiting for the newest release. Kudos to JK Rowling—a modern day rags-to-riches story; the kind of story that keeps writers like me writing—who created a world so easy to sink into and long to be a part of.

My literary addiction transferred to the movies, which is why I’m writing this blog entry: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, comes out Friday. I’ll get into all the hype about the newest flick later. For now, I’d like to take a look back at Harry Potters past. It’s jarring to watch all the movies in one week (which is exactly what I’m doing). It’s easy to forget certain details of each film, which dwindles the Harry Potter 7 experience. And I would hate to do that. So here we go …

2001. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
This film introduces the world of Hogwarts to an unlikely, lonely kid named Harry Potter. Everything is new and shiny—for Harry and for the viewer. Voldemort is trying to come back from “the dead,” after an infant Harry seemingly sent him there. Hidden deep within Hogwarts castle is the sorcerer’s stone—exactly what Voldemort needs to come back. Harry and his new friends, Ron and Hermione, have to stop this from happening. The special effects were mind-blowing. Everything looked just as I’d pictured in the books, including the Hogwarts sport, Quidditch. (Damn, that was thrilling.) The kids couldn’t really act in this one. Yet, they each looked the part, and so my fondness for Daniel Radcliffe began …

2002. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Holy crap, the boys hit puberty. All of a sudden, they had deep voices. Weird. Anyway, in this one, Dobby (not to be confused with “Dobie”), a house elf, appears to Harry and tells him not to go back to school. Harry doesn’t listen, of course, and soon, students at Hogwarts end up petrified by some monster from the so-called “Chamber of Secrets.” Harry realizes he can speak parseltongue—or speak to snakes, just like Voldemort. AND Kenneth Branagh makes an excellent cameo as Gilderoy Lockhart. At this point, the Harry Potter movies still have happy endings. Not so for much longer.

Sirius Black.
2004. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
I love Gary Oldman! I love Sirius Black!! (I get really excited about these movies.) So Sirius Black (Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison, and everyone thinks he’s coming after Harry. Dementors are looking for Sirius, protecting the boundaries of Hogwarts. Harry can’t handle the Dementors. The character of Lupin (a werewolf) is introduced as Harry’s mentor, who helps him form a “Patronus” to protect himself from them. Harry learns Sirius Black isn’t quite what he seems. Note: They start switching directors from this one, forward, and the change is pleasant in each. For instance, this film is darker than the first two, and rightly so.

2005. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
My favorite book. Yessir. Darn good movie, too. Harry is inexplicably entered into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, intended only for upper-classmen, and he has to fight for his life. Voldemort is gaining strength, collecting his Death Eaters, ready for revolt. Notably, one of the other wizards taking part in the Tri-Wizard Tournament is Cedric Diggory—played by Robert Pattison, now famous for Twilight. The kids are becoming adults. They’re noticing members of the opposite sex (i.e. Harry and Cho, Hermione and Ron). There’s even a school dance, which exacerbates the situation. This is also the first appearance of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. I couldn’t have cast that role better myself. It’s also the first time a tragic death ends a Harry Potter film, and well, the movies are pretty heavy from here on out …

Bellatrix Lestrange.
2007. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
You can tell me I’m a gross old woman, but by this movie, I had a terrible crush on Daniel Radcliffe. I’m a dork. AND I DON’T EVEN CARE. The kid is freakin’ Harry Potter, okay? Anyway, Harry tries to tell the world Voldemort has returned, but no one believes. To keep an eye on Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic has hired a new teacher—the evil Dolores Umbridge. Seriously, I hated her guts. Also, we get to meet Bellatrix Lestrange, played by Helena Bonham Carter. I love her—not the character; the actress. She’s real good at being wicked. I can’t get into the plotline of this one in less than 600 words. Let’s just say Voldemort is looking for something. Harry is trying to stop him. And the WORST CHARACTER DEATH EVER happens at the end of this one. Ask Jake; I turn off the movie before the end, every time.

2009. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Another one I turn off before the end. Horcruxes are introduced—magical items, within which Voldemort has hidden parts of his soul, in order to be immortal. Harry has to find these and destroy them … but I guess we’ll talk about that in Harry Potter 7. Severus Snape, played by Alan Rickman, is a HUGE part of this one, as is Draco Malfoy, played to perfection by Tom Felton. Young Voldemort is played by the unknown—and disturbing—Frank Dillane. He nailed it.

HP and Malfoy, Circa 2009.
This is just a really heavy movie, especially for kids. I do like the whole Harry/Ginny Weasley romance. There are some nice comic moments, but generally, this one leaves you feeling down. Which is unavoidable, if you know how it ends. In contrast to Harry Potter 1, though, the kids are all grown up. They’ve learned how to act. They’ve gone through puberty. Daniel Radcliffe can now legally DRINK! Weeeeird.

So now, we wait. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, opens Friday. I’m warning you: I don’t think Part 1 will end well. I don’t know where they’re making the cut-off between Parts 1 and 2, but I know that halfway through book 7, things weren’t comin’ up roses. We shall see. I’ve already warned Jake I’m going to cry. I already cry, just watching the trailer (check it out on the HP website). I’m gonna sob in the theater, and when Part II comes out in July, I’m really going to lose my s@#$. But it’s all in love—love for characters, love for story, and love for the world of JK Rowling.