The magic goes on: Harry Potter VII wows'em

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Story, Photos and Video by Chris Barker, News Net Nebraska

Attention aspiring wizards and witches, half and pure bloods, Muggles and Mud-bloods. Gather your invisibility cloaks, wands and galleons because part one of the Harry Potter finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has hit theatres.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the biggest box office movie of the year, period,” said L. Kent Wolgamott, movie critic from the Lincoln Journal Star.

The movie – the seventh installment in a series of eight – is already bringing in some magical numbers. Box-office receipts worldwide since the flick’s midnight Nov. 18 opening totaled an estimated $330.1 million, including $125.1 million in the U.S., according to Variety. That bested the previous domestic leader in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which reaped $102.7 million on its November 2005 launch.

The Potter spell seems powerful enough to ward off even some decidedly ill-spirited reviewers. The New Yorker faulted its plot for being “as tangled and as corkscrewed” as the hair of actress Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange). While generally positive, by contrast, The New York Times still struck a tepid note, calling the movie “reasonably satisfying.”

As for Wolgamott, he found it “transitional, a movie long on exposition and short on resolution,” noting “that has caused some to tag the movie as dull and unsatisfying.” But he added that he found it neither. Regarding the series as a whole, Wolgamott said, “There isn’t another one and there isn’t going to be another one,” and “it captures the kids, the adults and they are compelling books, a cultural phenomenon.”

The Potter series is already the highest grossing series of all time and that’s not including the final two movies, which will wrap up the story. Having established itself as a book first, the novels have been translated into 67 languages, placing author J.K. Rowling with some of the most translated authors in history.

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Buzz around Hallows has been building since the release of the final book. Its appeal goes beyond the hordes of high school and college-aged students feeding into the Harry Potter frenzy, a phenomenon ever since the first book was published a dozen years ago.

“At previous premieres I’ve seen 40- and 50-year-old moms wearing Death Eaters masks,” said Alex Burkeland, manager of Marcus Lincoln Grand Cinema.

The Grand sold out its midnight showings three days after tickets went on sale. Afterwards, Warner Brothers gave the theatre another copy of the film and its screen times were quickly sold out, too. Burkeland estimated the midnight premiere drew some 1,400 people into his theater.

“It’s not much different than any other blockbuster premiere except for it’s the seventh one and it’s still huge. No other franchise that I know of can do that,” said Burkeland. He admits, “It’s a show just to see everybody before the movie,” and “audience participation wise, nothing compares to it.”

Movie theatre operators aren’t the only ones excited about the new movie. At UNL, Neihardt residence hall celebrated an entire week of Harry Potter themed events, ranging from trivia to wand making. To cap off the week, Neihardt bought out a theatre at the Lincoln Grand so their residents could see the film as a group.

“I remember reading the first book in 4th grade because it was the only hardcover book in my school’s library,” said Marissa Boyle, a Neihardt resident and sophomore Speech Therapy major. “My parents were hesitant towards me being so young and reading a book about witch craft and wizardry,” said Boyle, “they thought I would take it too far.”

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Despite the handmade cloak she has worn to each premiere, and a wand complete with authentic witching sound effects, she assures her parents she hasn’t become a witch. But she is clearly is one of the Harry Potter faithful.

Boyle adds that a shirt reading “Muggle” on the front has drawn some welcome attention. “I have gotten numerous pick up lines, phone numbers, free food, free coffee, discounted items, all kinds of things,” she said. “Best $6 I’ve ever spent.”

As a key member of the Harry Potter sorority established roughly a year ago, Boyle wears her heart on sleeve. The group is comprised of her, a handful of Neihardt residents and a few living off-campus.

While it’s not a chartered sorority, it does give “members” a chance to share Potter fandom. Boyle admits, “It’s not real, but it makes us feel cool.”

What’s the appeal? Boyle points to the genuineness of the movies and the ability for people to relate to the characters. “Harry is such a real person, I mean, he has these flaws, he gets angry, he gets upset, he’s not good at things and it’s like, ‘Oh, cool,’ I’m not good at things, I get angry, I get upset, I see where this is going and it feels so real,” she said.

Critic Wolgamott admits there is something to be said about the wide variety of people that have been drawn to the series. “You’ll see grandma and grandpa bringing the little kid, but you’ll also see the 35-year-olds that don’t have kids that are just going to see the movie,” he said.

Tiffanie Gauchat, an Assistant Principal at Ralston High School, was one in attendance at the Deathly Hallows midnight premiere in Omaha, Neb.

“I got hooked with the very first book,” Gauchat admits, “but I didn’t pick it up until after it’d been out for a while.” Gauchat picked up the book purely because she had heard the noise around the series and was looking for something to motivate the boys in her classroom to read for pleasure. “It’s a great way to escape reality and just let your imagination go.”

For now, Hallows part one will have to suffice the imaginations of fans of all ages. Part two – the end of the blockbuster series – is expected to come out July 15, 2011. That should give loyalists plenty of time to brush up on spells, enchantments, curses, charms and jinxes, and to get their wands into prime wizarding shape.

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