A kind of magic

Har­ryPot­ter is a film fran­chise like no other.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TV - By GEOFF BOUCHER and CLAU­DIA ELLER

Harry Pot­ter is a film fran­chise like no other.

ON a sticky June night just out­side London, the magic fi­nally came to an end for the cast and crew of the Harry Pot­ter movies. Af­ter a decade to­gether, the small army that has been the busiest in Bri­tish film­mak­ing wrapped the fi­nal shoot of the last Pot­ter pro­duc­tion.

The green-screen scene fea­tur­ing the now world-fa­mous main char­ac­ters – a trio of young fugi­tive wizards named Harry, Ron and Hermione – re­quired ac­tors Daniel Rad­cliffe, Ru­pert Grint and Emma Wat­son to hurl them­selves onto some off-cam­era mats to es­cape dan­ger at the Min­istry of Magic. It was an oddly slap­stick fin­ish for such a mon­u­men­tal fran­chise – but that didn’t sap the emo­tion of the moment.

“I ad­mit it, I did cry like a lit­tle girl,” Rad­cliffe said, re­call­ing the day. “There was a feel­ing that I had, that we all had, that it was the end of some­thing very spe­cial.”

It’s doubt­ful that pop cul­ture will ever see a phe­nom­e­non quite like this sprawl­ing tale that for a decade cast a spell on the page, the screen and be­yond. The fan­tasy epic be­gins its Hollywood fade-out to­day with the re­lease of Harry Pot­ter And The Deathly Hal­lows: Part 1 and fin­ishes next sum­mer with the eighth film, Harry Pot­ter And The Deathly Hal­lows: Part 2.

Both movies are poised to be global block­busters – and may even earn the fran­chise its first nom­i­na­tions in mar­quee Academy Award cat­e­gories – but the num­bers posted by their pre­de­ces­sor films are ex­tra­or­di­nary al­ready.

The six Warner Bros movies re­leased to date have pulled in US$5.7bil (RM17.841bil) at the­atres world­wide; home video adds an ad­di­tional US$1.3bil (RM4.07bil). The seven nov­els from which they sprang, writ­ten by J.K. Rowl­ing, ac­count for 400 mil­lion books sold in 69 lan­guages.

Then there’s the US$7bil (RM21.91bil) in re­tail prod­ucts, a re­cently opened amuse­ment at­trac­tion in Or­lando, Florida, tour­ing ex­hibits of props and cos­tumes and plans for a per­ma­nent ex­hibit out­side London.

Still, the true im­pact of the books and films may not be fully recog­nised for a decade or two. With ever-ris­ing ticket prices, box-of­fice records don’t stand for long, but no fran­chise has de­liv­ered any­thing close to eight films in 10 years.

Pro­ducer David Hey­man and his team were able to keep their cast in­tact – in­clud­ing the young lead stars who started as ado­les­cents and grew into young adults with mil­lions in the bank, and no scan­dals. The movies ar­rived even as the au­di­ence for Rowl­ing’s books grew, cre­at­ing a unique syn­er­gis­tic ef­fect. The Pot­ter movies have earned Warner Bros more than US$1bil (RM3.13bil) in profit – and the ad­mi­ra­tion of in­dus­try ri­vals.

For­mer Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios chair­man Dick Cook, who launched his own mega-fran­chise with Pi­rates Of The Caribbean, agreed that Harry Pot­ter has been a breed apart.

“It has un­equiv­o­cally been the best-man­aged fran­chise that we’ve ever seen, top to bot­tom,” he said. “The movies have been ter­rific and

Bri­tish author J.K. Rowl­ing ar­riv­ing for the world pre­miere of at Le­ices­ter Square in London on Nov 11. Be­fore the suc­cess of her books, and the movies based on them, she was a sin­gle mother sur­viv­ing on wel­fare. Warner Bros man­aged to po­si­tion each one as a world­wide event. Each movie has been unique and built on the last one and the an­tic­i­pa­tion has never been bet­ter. They’ve hon­oured the source ma­te­rial and done ev­ery­thing right.”

And, un­like, say, The Lord Of The Rings tril­ogy, the Pot­ter movies adapted a liv­ing, breath­ing lit­er­ary sen­sa­tion whose end­ing was un­known. Rowl­ing would visit the set and some­times whis­per to ac­tors hints of their char­ac­ters’ destiny, but screen­writer Steve Kloves, who penned seven of the eight scripts, said no one re­ally knew how ev­ery­thing would con­clude.

The en­tire ex­er­cise, he said, was a “10-year tightrope walk ... and some­thing that will never be done again for the sim­ple rea­son that you won’t see an­other Jo Rowl­ing come along.”

‘That rub­bish ti­tle’

The rags-to-riches story of Rowl­ing seems as un­real as the world of dragons and gob­lins she cre­ated.

Joanne Kath­leen Rowl­ing (“J.K.” was man­u­fac­tured by a pub­lish­ing ex­ec­u­tive who thought a gen­derneu­tral author name might sell more books to boys) was a sin­gle mum in Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land, get­ting by with the help of wel­fare, when she fin­ished Harry Pot­ter And The Philoso­pher’s Stone, her first novel.

In late 1997, a copy of the book found its way to Hey­man’s London of­fice but ended up on a shelf for low-pri­or­ity leads. A cu­ri­ous sec­re­tary took it home for the week­end. Her en­thu­si­asm prompted Hey­man to get past what he has called “that rub­bish ti­tle”, and the story cap­tured his imag­i­na­tion.

“The funny thing is with all of the War­wick Davis and fam­ily on the red car­pet. Davis por­trayed Prof Fil­ius Fl­itwick in the movies. magic, all of the wizardry, what re­ally makes the Harry Pot­ter sto­ries work are the char­ac­ters,” he said. “The fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments and the ac­tion are won­der­ful, but the char­ac­ters are what peo­ple re­mem­ber.”

Hey­man sent the book to his friend and fel­low Brit Lionel Wi­gram, a pro­duc­tion ex­ec­u­tive at Warner Bros, to gauge the stu­dio’s in­ter­est. Wi­gram said some in Bur­bank ques­tioned the vi­a­bil­ity of the creaky fan­tasy-ad­ven­ture genre and viewed the tale of a mag­i­cal board­ing school called Hog­warts as too Bri­tish for the Amer­i­can heart­land.

“Don’t spend too much on it,” was the word from the home of­fice, Wi­gram re­called.

Warner Bros se­cured the rights for four Harry Pot­ter nov­els for about US$2mil (RM6.26mil). At that point, only the first book was on shelves in Eng­land and none had reached Amer­ica. Warner Bros tried to get a fi­nan­cial part­ner on the project, reach­ing out to stu­dios in­clud­ing Steven Spiel­berg’s DreamWorks, which passed.

Once the books be­came a sen­sa­tion, green­light­ing the first Pot­ter film be­came a ma­jor pri­or­ity at Warner Bros, where Alan Horn had re­cently taken over as pres­i­dent and Barry Meyer as chair­man (re­plac­ing long­time stu­dio chiefs Terry Semel and Bob Daly).

DreamWorks cir­cled back and pro­posed a part­ner­ship, but Horn wisely de­clined. There was one as­pect of the DreamWorks talks that did in­trigue him, how­ever.

“I did think it would be worth­while for Steven Spiel­berg to di­rect,” said Horn, who of­fered it to the filmmaker. Spiel­berg, though, opted to take on Warner’s 2001 scifi film AI: Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence. Chris Colum­bus, di­rec­tor of Home Alone and Mrs Doubt­fire, was then tapped for the job.

Horn, how­ever, was haunted by an in­ter­view he heard Rowl­ing give in which she said she trea­sured the way read­ers used their imag­i­na­tions to fill in the spe­cific sights and sounds of the Pot­ter uni­verse. She wor­ried that the stu­dio might limit the magic.

“She expressed some am­biva­lence, even re­gret, at hav­ing sold the mo­tion pic­ture rights,” Horn said. “I made a lit­tle se­cret pledge in my mind to Ms Rowl­ing – and I had never met her at the time – that just as the books rep­re­sented the very finest in lit­er­ary qual­ity and cre­ated this phe­nom­e­nal clas­sic, my job is to have you be proud of the cin­e­matic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of those works.

“I com­pletely iden­ti­fied with her fears: ‘Oh, no, what are these movie peo­ple go­ing to do?’ And we dis­cussed a lot of al­ter­na­tive ways to do this but the com­mon thread was that what­ever Hog­warts looked like, it would be of the high­estqual­ity pro­duc­tion ... with the very best peo­ple we could find on the planet and we would con­sult with her ev­ery step of the way.”

Al­most 3D

All this is not to say that the ride for Pot­ter in Hollywood has been en­tirely smooth. The sixth film was abruptly post­poned for eight months, for in­stance, when Warner Bros de­cided a sum­mer re­lease would be more profitable. Fans howled in protest.

And de­spite ad­ver­tis­ing that the sev­enth in­stal­ment would be in 3D, the stu­dio changed its mind at the last minute af­ter it be­came clear to Horn, Hey­man and di­rec­tor David Yates that they’d have to sac­ri­fice qual­ity to get the con­ver­sion done on time.

There was in­tense de­bate about cast­ing, too, in the early days. Wat­son was an in­stant lock for the brainy Hermione, but fill­ing the ti­tle role was more daunt­ing.

Hey­man had met Daniel Rad­cliffe’s par­ents at a play and en­cour­aged them to bring their boy for an au­di­tion. Hey­man cham­pi­oned the 10-year-old, but not ev­ery­one was con­vinced. Horn said there was a huge de­bate and an­other boy was “very, very close”. Ul­ti­mately, it came down to four ac­tors, in­clud­ing Tom Fel­ton, who would end up por­tray­ing Pot­ter’s neme­sis, Draco Mal­foy.

“Af­ter (Rowl­ing) saw the Daniel Rad­cliffe screen test,” Colum­bus said, “she said: ‘That’s how I al­ways imag­ined Harry Pot­ter.’”

Why has Pot­ter been so suc­cess­ful?

Ul­ti­mately, said Wi­gram, now a pro­ducer at Warner Bros, Harry Pot­ter is “the great­est wish fulfillment” story ever told. “The ge­nius of Jo Rowl­ing was she grounded the wish fulfillment of a real kid who has mag­i­cal pow­ers in the con­text of the real world so it was in­cred­i­bly be­liev­able and you en­ter the fan­tasy with her,” he said.

It may prove pre­ma­ture, though, to talk about Pot­ter in the past tense. Ap­pear­ing re­cently on Oprah Win­frey’s show, Rowl­ing, 45, sounded as if she were soft­en­ing her stance that she had closed the book on the wizard epic.

“I could def­i­nitely write an eighth, a ninth book,” she mused. “I think I am done. But you never know.” – Los An­ge­les Times/ McClatchy-Tribune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Rags to riches:

Ac­tor Ralph Fi­ennes aka Lord Volde­mort at the movie pre­miere.

Har­ryPot­ter

Also at the pre­miere was Bon­nie Wright who played Ginny Weasley, Harry Pot­ter’s love in­ter­est.

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