Thursday, November 18, 2010

Film Yap: The Success of Harry Potter

This Friday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I will open to thousands of theatres across the country. This new film has been labeled as one of the cinematic events of the year and it’s not even the final chapter. If you’re not a fan of the series, the title seems foreign to you. What are Deathly Hallows? What is this Part I nonsense? Why are so many midnight tickets sold out?

Franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have had decades to build up a strong fanbase. Comic book heroes like Batman and Superman have been around for just as long and have had plenty of iterations to excite fans. So how did Harry Potter become one of the movie events of the year, when his first book came out just over ten years ago?

The success of the book series has been talked about by a million other sources. It was a phenomenon that captivated audiences, especially young readers in an unprecedented way. Warner Brothers was smart and started working on the first film while the books were picking up steam. How they approached the first book set the standard for what made everything possible.

They took the property seriously. Handling this book was like filming The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Great Gatsby. This wasn’t a time where they could just call it “Harry Potter” in name only and have it be about young wizards in love. It was an expensive project and it paid off. As the train pulled into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, fans were gasping that their beloved image was realized in a wonderful way.

The people behind the movie were top notch as well. Having actors like Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and John Hurt brought a level of prestige to the picture especially with them bringing their A-game. Director Chris Columbus was a success from his Home Alone films and screenwriter Steve Kloves was just off his Oscar nomination for Wonder Boys.

This dedication continued as the cast expanded to include Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Toby Jones, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Jason Issacs, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, David Tenannt, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, and now Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans. These are some of the finest actors working today and their performances reflect this isn’t just a simple thing to amuse the kids.

This was a level of respect and trust that still isn’t seen today as other studios try to replicate the success of these films. Films like The Golden Compass, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, and The Spiderwick Chronicles are made in hopes they will catch fire like Harry Potter. All of those are bestselling series, but not in the same caliber as Harry Potter. (But what is?) Those movies just dipped their toes in the water instead of really focusing on making a special film. Starting a franchise is a risk but if all the pieces are there then that has a better chance. People did not flock to Pirates of the Caribbean because they loved the ride so much. People saw the movie because it had a great story with great performances and everything looked amazing.

Asking Hollywood to make good films is a frivolous request but the stats speak for themselves. The All Time Domestic Box Office is filled with movies that are still beloved to people’s hearts. These are the films like Avatar, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, E.T. and The Lord of the Rings. There are plenty of films on this list that I think are dreadful, but they made an impact with someone because of the consideration that was put in to them.

The Harry Potter films are not perfect films, but they can show how you can make a modern franchise into a success.

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