Monday, July 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Midnight Premiere

Movies are not meant to be seen on a television, no matter how big it is, or on a little laptop screen. Movies are meant to be seen on a 22 ft. by 52 ft. screen and in a theater filled with people. The way you experience a film has everything to do with the environment in which you see it. I find that I laugh more when I am surrounded by people who are also laughing. Dramatic moments are made more dramatic when the theater is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

The greatest experiences I've ever had in a movie theater are the Harry Potter midnight premieres. There is nothing quite like seeing a new Harry Potter film at midnight.

At the movie theater I go to people start arriving at 6:00pm and there is a long, wide roped off line that everyone sits in. We all hang out, talk, make friends, play Harry Potter trivia, and read excerpts from the books as we wait anxiously for 11:30pm when we are let into the theaters.

The midnight premieres are all about the costumes. People who dress like Muggles are in the minority. I always try to choose a costume that is relevant to the movie we'll be watching, so for Half-Blood Prince I was Narcissa Malfoy because she's introduced in that film and for Deathly Hallows Part I I made myself a Golden Snitch dress and wore a headband that said "I open at the close" like the one Dumbledore leaves Harry in his will.

When the film starts the excitement in the theater is palpable. Each Potter film begins with the Warner Brothers logo, which has gotten darker and creepier as the films progress. For Deathly Hallows Part I the logo disintegrated like rusty metal, a sign of what was to come I suppose. Personally, I get a rush of adrenaline when that logo appears. In some ways it makes the reality of the moment hit home. Yes, I am about to watch a new Harry Potter film. And yes, I am among the first in the country to experience it. Bring it on. 
Midnight audiences are the best because it's all die-hard Potter fans. Everyone knows the books inside out, so we all laugh at our favorite lines from the books and cry our eyes out at the deaths. There is also this weird mixture of thrill and anticipation because, though we are all waiting for the best parts of the book to appear onscreen, there is nothing that prepares you for the moment when it is actually realized. I find this happens most with the action sequences. Reading about an action sequence is very different from watching an action sequence.

The other thing I really like about the midnight showings is that the audience knows when to laugh and when not to laugh. What I mean by that is that in the Potter films the are a few moments that might appear to be funny to someone who hasn't read the books. The best example of this is in Deathly Hallows Part I. When Harry, Ron and Hermione are captured by the Snatchers, Hermione hits Harry with a stinging jinx to distort his face so the Snatchers won't know who he is. His face becomes all swollen and lumpy. I was in non-midnight screenings where people who had clearly not read the books laughed at how ridiculous he looked. Fans of the books never laugh at that moment because they know the terrible danger that is about to come their way. They know that the trio will be taken to Malfoy Manor and they know Hermione is about to be tortured.

Another interesting thing about seeing the Potter films in theaters is watching the evolution of the audiences. On average I see each Harry Potter movie about 6 to 7 times in theaters. As the weeks progress, the audience changes. It goes from the die-hards to people who are not the biggest fans but are still interested to people who haven't read the books but feel like they should see the movie because it's a big cultural moment. In each screening there are also people like me who just keep coming back for more. My family has a tradition where we go to the movie at midnight and then see it again at 7pm. That way we get to see it with a first-time audience twice.

When you go to the movies you and everyone around you are meant to be swept away and carried through the story. And therein lies my favorite thing about going to the movies. When you see a movie in the cinema you are transported into the world of the film, but you are also very much aware of the people around you. You are taken in by emotion of the movie, but you are also surrounded by family, friends and strangers who are along for the ride too.

This feeling of community is exemplified a hundred-fold at Harry Potter midnight showings. I always feel as though I'm in a theater of 300 of my best friends. These midnight premieres just reaffirm what every Potter fan knows: Harry Potter brings people together.

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