My first trip to Hogwarts took place shortly after Thanksgiving in 2001. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a charming affair with Chris Columbus at the helm and adorable children with British accents practicing magic and running around in grown-up clothing. It was, to put it tritely, cute. My mom and I took in a matinee of the film and enjoyed the kid-lit adaptation at the Regal 18 in New Rochelle while I was home from college during my senior year. I thought it was a pleasant enough fantasy saga that would help me get in the mood for the forthcoming opening chapter of The Lord of the Rings. After all, everyone back then could have used a little wizardry; 9/11, having been only two months prior, was still fresh in our memories.
Then, the inevitable sequel came while I was still adjusting to my new life in Los Angeles. I kept seeing the words "darker" and "scarier" being thrown around to describe Chamber of Secrets, and after throwing down ten bucks to see it in Century City one autumn afternoon, I found myself just as charmed, jumping out of my seat once during the icky showdown with that giant snake. Again, cute.
Then, an interesting thing happened during the summer of 2004. And that was: The Prisoner of Azkaban. Gone was the Columbusian popcorny sheen of the first two movies and injected were an edgier tone and look. The camerawork was slightly rougher. Thank you, Alfonso Cuaron, for officially sucking me in to this captivating saga about an orphaned boy wonder who learns how to fight the forces of darkness with the flick of a wand. This was the movie that got me hooked. This was the film that sparked my interest in the novels. From then on, I made an effort to read each subsequent book before its film adaptation was released in theaters.
Goblet of Fire, or Year 4, was a doozy of book, and I ate it up before attending the opening night in Hollywood in the fall of 2005. For the first time, I was able to watch a Harry Potter movie with more of an appreciation and understanding of the characters and a keener sense of what was going on - and more importantly - what was left out or lost in the filmic translation. As for the actors, they were certainly growing up before our eyes. I considered this The Shaggy Year. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and some of the other male actors were sporting longer locks, and for those brief two hours it seemed as if the 60s were making a comeback (did you hear that rock band at the Yule Ball?). Speaking of that dance, this was the first time we saw Emma Watson's Hermoine glam it up for the occasion (cut to Ron: schwing!). And believe it or not, back then I took a liking to the actor who played the ill-fated Cedric Diggory and knew this wasn't going to be the last time we'd see the name Robert Pattinson on the big screen (for the record, the mania surrounding Twilight dumbfounds me - and irks me - to this day).
By 2007 I was a bonafide fanatic of the J.K. Rowling series. I scoured the Internet for first-look images, teaser trailers, and publicity shots of each upcoming film. The tagline for the fifth installment, "The Rebellion Begins," sent chills down my fanboy spine. Harry was getting ready to kick some dark wizard ass in Order of the Phoenix, and I got a kick out of seeing Dumbledore's Army coming together, rendezvousing behind Professor Umbridge's back. In other words, shit was about get real.
That summer also saw the release of the final book, a mammoth volume that created lines around Borders (remember that place?) and sold out within hours. I bought my copy knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to read it for a while (it's the only hardcover edition of the series I own).
The Half-Blood Prince was the calm before the storm. It clearly set the stage for the final battle and gave Harry plenty of ammunition to fight Voldemort. Unfortunately the whole Dumbledore Dies Plot Twist was spoiled for me before I could start the first chapter of the book. Regardless, I plowed through it before seeing it in the theater.
Part 1 of The Deathly Hallows was a stunner. Possibly the biggest character study of the seven films thus far, this was where we spent a lot of time away from Hogwarts, watching Harry, Hermoine, and Ron get quite a bit of facetime with each other while on the run from Voldemort’s minions. For the first time we saw these characters on their own, fending for themselves in a very scary, real world. And that naked Harry-Hermoine hallucination Ron experienced in the woods? Holy We’re-Not-in-Chris-Columbus-Land-Anymore Batman.
Now, as I sit and wait on the eve of the opening of the final movie in this enormously successful series, I anticipate a memorable and emotional cinematic experience (Tickets for the midnight screening at the Arclight in Sherman Oaks were purchased a month ago). I won't be surprised if a tear will be shed, especially during the flash-forward epilogue (SPOILER: In a very Six Feet Under-esque ending, we see our heroes grown up with children of their own). It truly is the end of a moviegoing era.
And while I look forward to seeing what Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and rest of the Hogwarts alumni will be up to once that final credit rolls, I thank everyone involved (especially you, Ms. Rowling) for giving the world a universally amazing piece of entertainment that defied all odds, instilled a healthy reading habit in a generation, inspired millions, and brought the word "Muggle" into everyone's vocabulary.
Raising my mug of butterbeer,