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Harry Potter and the Conclusion of a Beloved Franchise

July 11, 2011

By John C.

Daniel Radcliffe, J.K. Rowling, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint at last Thursday's London premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"

What started as merely an idea for a story and morphed into a franchise that is estimated to be worth over $6 billion, will come to a close this Friday with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  After first imagining the magical world in 1990, British author J.K. Rowling published her first story of the boy wizard back in 1997.  Since then, the series of books and movies has captured the attention and imagination of millions around the world.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the series for quite some time, and the books and movies certainly deserve all of the attention they have received.  Over the last fourteen years, the seven books have come to be translated into 67 languages, reportedly having sold an estimated 450 million copies around the world.  In all, the eight phenomenal movies that have been made over the last ten years add up to a total of approximately 19.6 hours, or 1178 minutes.

In 2001, Chris Columbus directed the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and it immediately became a magical modern fantasy classic for those of all ages.  Columbus was met with similar acclaim when he released his equally faithful adaptation of Chamber of Secrets in 2002.  Both films delivered huge box office revenue as well as excellent performances from their all-star casts, including the impossibly young leading actors who would hold the keys to the future of the franchise.

The series took a darker turn in 2004, with Alfonso Caurón’s take on The Prisoner of Azkaban.  The Mexican director created a somewhat more mature but equally stunning big-screen version of the already beloved third novel, seamlessly setting up the darker and transcendent themes that had started to become prevalent in the source material.  Mike Newell was behind 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, meeting the challenge of adapting the scenes where we first come to meet the evil “he who shall not be named,” Lord Voldemort.

In 2007, David Yates signed on for The Order of the Phoenix, which some critics saw as more of an important bridge between the stories and less of a standalone entry into the outstanding series.  But Yates did something truly special with 2009’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, delivering a darkly beautiful vision of what fans had come to expect from the series.  David Yates also received high acclaim for last year’s penultimate chapter in the epic two-part cinematic retelling of The Deathly Hallows, delivering a suitably atmospheric and emotionally satisfying ‘beginning of the end.’

Which brings us to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the eighth chapter in one of the best and the most succesful movie franchise of all time.  The final film premiered this past Thursday at London’s famed Trafalgar Square, and was unanimously met with rave reviews from both film critics and serious fans.  I’ll be seeing it later this week, but I already expect to have nothing but great things to say when we review it on Friday.  Few series have been able to sustain themselves with such a high standard of quality for eight movies in a row, and I attribute much of this success to the three young actors who have come of age over the last ten years.

Fans will always remember the moment when Warner Bros. first announced their plans for a movie adaptation, as well as that pivotal moment when it was announced that the leading role would be given to the 10-year-old Daniel Radcliffe.  With initial plans to shoot the movies in Los Angeles, at first his parents didn’t even want him auditioning.  After it was rightfully agreed that they would be filmed in London, Radcliffe signed on for the first two films, and the rest is history.  I do believe that Radcliffe is a good actor who will get other roles, but many will always see him as the boy wizard.  To fondly remember his many years on the set, the actor was allowed to keep two pairs of the iconic round glasses famously worn by his character.

Casting Rupert Grint as Harry’s close friend Ron Weasley was easier, as the actor who had previously appeared in a school play merely heard there were auditions and decided to try out.  His audition tape is said to have included him performing hip-hop lyrics he had written to promote himself for the role and he was cast shortly after.  As Radcliffe recently said, “It’s very different doing it in England.  In America, you’re treated as an actor first and a kid second.  Here, you’re very much treated as a kid first and an actor second. In fact, you’re not really treated as an actor.  You’re treated as a kid on a film set, which is how it should be, because that’s all you are that point.  No one’s an actor at 12.”

We can also not forget the often photographed actress who plays the highly intelligent and sole heroine of the trio, Hermione Granger.  Emma Watson has described the last ten years of her life on set as if she’s been to “the most difficult, hard-core film school of all time” and that she “can’t believe how lucky I’ve been.”  Describing her role in the final installment, she said “watching the new film I feel I’ve really learned something in these 10 years.  For the first time I really felt like an actress and I have an idea of what I can be as an actress.  And that is very exciting.”  After being under contract for ten years to not change from her character’s looks, Watson also had her hair cut fashionably short after filming wrapped last fall.

The impeccable casting is a big part of what has made the movies so succesful, but the books will always hold a special place in the hearts of readers who grew up with the series.  The stories of three friends growing up at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, fighting to bring down the evil dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort, offered escapist entertainment for many and were the subject of much debate and discussion for more serious fans.  After seven beloved books, eight excellent movies and an epic story where good ultimately triumphs over evil, Harry Potter will undoubtedly live forever as a defining classic of our generation.

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