Half- bloody re­venge

De­lay­ing the lat­est Harry Pot­ter film has in­fu­ri­ated fans, writes Lauren Schuker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

JEAN Fink, an artist who also works as an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant in Los An­ge­les, was so dis­traught af­ter a night of fit­ful sleep that she dashed off a scathing, mis­spelled mes­sage to the man who be­trayed her. ‘‘ I can’t breath amy­more be­cause you just ripped out my heart,’’ she wrote in an Au­gust 15 email.

Her tor­men­tor: Alan Horn, pres­i­dent of Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros. On Au­gust 14, Horn had an­nounced the un­usual de­ci­sion to de­lay re­leas­ing the new­est in­stal­ment of the Harry Pot­ter se­ries, ini­tially set for release in Novem­ber, for an­other eight months. ‘‘ What he was do­ing was screw­ing up the world,’’ Fink says. ‘‘ I wasn’t . . . go­ing to go kill the guy, but I was an­gry. And I’m not done yet.’’

To a world of wand- wield­ing Harry Pot­ter loy­al­ists, the stu­dio ex­ec­u­tive had crossed to the dark side. Within hours of the de­ci­sion to post­pone the release of Harry Pot­ter and the Half- Blood Prince to next July, hate mail be­gan to pour into the stu­dio. An on­line pe­ti­tion ex­press­ing fans’ dis­gust with the de­ci­sion gar­nered more than 45,000 sig­na­tures. The stu­dio says it even re­ceived death threats. ‘‘ I hope you choke on your own saliva,’’ one fan snarled in an email.

While ex­ec­u­tives’ pri­vate email ad­dresses cir­cu­lated via the web, an­gry home­made videos were be­ing up­loaded on to YouTube. In one, Greg and Penny Ger­sh­man over­laid their own sub­ti­tles to a Ger­man film about the fi­nal days of Adolf Hitler. ‘‘ How am I sup­posed to get my Pot­ter fix now!’’ Hitler vi­o­lently shouts, ac­cord­ing to the new sub­ti­tles, when told of the de­lay by one of his of­fi­cials. He adds: ‘‘ We are go­ing to make Warner Bros suf­fer.’’

The with­er­ing at­tacks over such a fam­ily friendly fran­chise as Harry Pot­ter show how the na­ture of fan up­ris­ings has grown in­creas­ingly hos­tile. Thanks to the web, an­gry fans can arm them­selves with the lat­est in­for­ma­tion and speed­ily de­liver pro­fane brain dumps straight into ex­ec­u­tive email boxes.

It’s an un­pleas­ant new chal­lenge for the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, which is more used to quaint let­ter- writ­ing cam­paigns such as the one that briefly saved the tele­vi­sion show Star Trek from be­ing can­celled in the late 1960s.

But Warner Bros is in some ways a vic­tim of the same forces that drove its suc­cess. The five pre­vi­ous Harry Pot­ter films have grossed al­most $ 4.5 bil­lion in world­wide box- of­fice rev­enue, mak­ing the se­ries the big­gest fran­chise in his­tory. In the past, Warner Bros has in­vited staff of Pot­ter fan web­sites to movie pre­mieres to help whip up hys­te­ria. With its trans­gres­sion, Warner Bros has in­ad­ver­tently un­leashed this pow­er­ful force against it­self.

On Au­gust 19, Horn is­sued a for­mal apol­ogy, as­sur­ing fans that the stu­dio ‘‘ would cer­tainly never do any­thing to hurt any of the films’’. He also noted a ‘‘ sil­ver lin­ing’’, which is that HalfBlood Prince would now open closer to the stu­dio’s sev­enth planned Harry Pot­ter film, due out in Novem­ber 2010.

But die- hard fans, some­times called Pot­ter­heads, weren’t ap­peased.

In re­sponse to Horn’s apol­ogy, one Pot­ter­head sent 30 an­gry let­ters to Warner Bros in bright red en­velopes: an al­lu­sion to howlers, a mag­i­cal kind of hate mail in the Pot­ter world that screams loudly at the re­cip­i­ent and ex­plodes vi­o­lently if left un­opened.

Peo­ple at the stu­dio say that while they knew that tam­per­ing with the film’s release date could stir up dark forces, the stu­dio never ex­pected the ac­tual on­slaught.

Pot­ter fans felt par­tic­u­larly be­trayed by the stu­dio for giv­ing them such late no­tice about the de­lay. In late July, just two weeks be­fore the an­nounce­ment, the stu­dio re­leased a trailer for the film, which ex­plores the teen wizard’s early strug­gles with ro­mance and prom­ises the shat­ter­ing death of a main char­ac­ter. And Time Warner’s En­ter­tain­ment Weekly had just put star Daniel Rad­cliffe on its cover.

An eight- month de­lay for a big- bud­get movie is highly un­usual. But be­cause Warner Bros elected not to as­so­ciate the Harry Pot­ter movies with many cor­po­rate spon­sors, Half- Blood Prince is less en­cum­bered with the kind of dead­lines typ­i­cally faced by big Hol­ly­wood movie re­leases. ( The film is de­lay­ing some an­cil­lary prod­ucts, such as a Half- Blood Prince video game.) Many fans felt the stu­dio’s stated rea­son for the de­lay — that the film would make a big­ger splash in the mid­dle of sum­mer — was a crass ad­mis­sion that the stu­dio cares only about big­ger box- of­fice re­turns.

‘‘ YOU just slapped the face of EV­ERY Harry Pot­ter fan and told us you don’t care what we want, you only want our money!’’ stormed one fan, Natalie DeGen­naro.

‘‘ You are blasted, greedy, money- driven ex­ec­u­tive b—,’’ wrote an­other, Lau­ryn Adams.

An­thro­pol­ogy ex­perts on Pot­ter­heads aren’t sur­prised by the venom.

‘‘ A lot of our fans live in a fan­tasy world that they share with hun­dreds of thou­sands of other peo­ple, so when some peo­ple get an­gry, they feed off each other,’’ says Melissa Anelli, who runs fan site The Leaky Caul­dron and has writ­ten a book about the Harry Pot­ter phe­nom­e­non that comes out this Novem­ber.

To ap­pease fans, the stu­dio could release an ad­di­tional teaser or other con­tent, sug­gests An­drew Sims, who helps run Mug­gleNet, a fan site named af­ter the Pot­ter term for some­one lack­ing mag­i­cal pow­ers. ‘‘ If some­thing new came out, ev­ery­body would for­get about it. But I’ve got to be hon­est, a lit­tle part of me died in­side when I heard about the de­lay,’’ says the 19- year- old col­lege stu­dent.

Some think the fans’ re­ac­tion could be a boon for the stu­dio. Steve San­sweet, who runs fan re­la­tions for Ge­orge Lu­cas’s Lu­cas­film Ltd, says: ‘‘ Warner Bros should be de­lighted. Sure, they have a prob­lem on their hands, but they are also see­ing the pas­sion of their fans. The real prob­lem comes when you have fans that don’t give a damn.’’

The fans, how­ever, are still an­gry. Many are still sign­ing pe­ti­tions, plan­ning protests and up­load­ing an­gry videos to YouTube. Fink, the artist and ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant, re­cently stood out­side Warner Bros’ Bur­bank lot with a large sign. ‘‘ Dear Mr Horn,’’ she scrawled in red marker. ‘‘ You will for­ever be known as ‘ The man who changed Harry Pot­ter’s release date.’ Are you happy now?’’

‘‘ Harry Pot­ter is for the fans, he’s for the un­der­dogs, and so am I,’’ she says. ‘‘ I won’t stop fight­ing this.’’

The Wall Street Jour­nal

Hold- up spells trou­ble: David Thewlis, left, and Daniel Rad­cliffe in a scene from last year’s film Harry Pot­ter and the Or­der of the Phoenix

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