Friday, November 16, 2001

Muggles line up to fly with Harry Potter

Huge film opening expected

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Harry Potter, the kid wizard who has cast a spell over children's book sales, tries his wand at making money disappear at movie theaters today.

        Industry observers expect Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to rake in as much as $75 million during its opening weekend. (Jurassic Park is the all-time champ with $90 million over Memorial Day weekend in 1997.)

[photo] Jennifer Becker of Delhi Township painted a Hogwart's mural on her son's bedroom wall. Taylor, 11, is a huge Harry Potter fan.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        In the Tristate, the 2 1/2-hour movie will be shown more than 200 times today — and some of those screenings sold out days ago in rare advance sales. Showcase Cinemas' 10 area multiplexes scheduled a total of 172 showings; as of Thursday morning, 29 showings were sold out.

        Warner Bros. opens Potter at 3,672 locations in North America, the biggest movie debut in history. Because most theaters now are multiplexes, the studio estimates the movie will be shown on about 8,200 screens.

        The studio, which is opening the movie a week before Thanksgiving to get a head-start on the holiday theater rush, has already scheduled the next installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for release on Nov. 15, 2002.

        What that means is throngs of families will be hugging those velvet ropes beyond the popcorn bins. And, for some lucky parents, the notion of reading will become more appealing to their children.

Margaret McGurk's review, more Potter activites in Weekend
        Market researchers say that more than two-thirds of American kids 6-17 years old have read the book and more than 79 percent of those who have read it plan to see the movie. Overall, 56 percent of kids (including those who did not read the book) plan to see the movie.

        Some already have.

        “It was really exciting,” says Cody Rutowski, 9, of Mason, who took book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to a private screening. His brother, Andrew, 12, says Hagrid was his favorite character in the movie.

        Janet Lewis, 14, of Bond Hill had never read the Potter books, but was won over by the movie. “It was really cool,” she says. “I might read the book now.”

        Most critics judged the movie faithful but uninspired. Cincinnati Enquirer critic Margaret A. McGurk said the movie “lacks that spine-tingling sense of discovery that makes a movie great.” Gannett News Service critic Jack Garner disagreed: “The most eagerly anticipated movie adaptation of a book since Gone With the Wind is a rousing success.”

        In all, more than 100 million copies of Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide. The most recent book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, has been designated as the fastest-selling book ever.

        Harry, a 12-year-old student at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has become an icon. Look closely and you'll find him on school notebooks and paper plates and bedroom walls. In one case, a Delhi Township mother took enthusiasm beyond mass-produced merchandise by custom-painting her son's room to look like Hogwart's.

        Toymakers recognized Harry's potential on board games; card games and puzzles; and goofy action products like a “flying” broom, just like the one Harry pilots in quidditch.

        And, of course, taking pulse on the measure of all measures, the key words “Harry Potter” fed to a World Wide Web search engine will yield as many as 767 fan clubs filled with information on pressing questions like, “Will Harry develop an interest in — yuck — girls?”

        Some sites discourage parents from buying Potter books and movie tickets because of what they consider to be sinister, violent and un-Christian themes. The term “black magic” pops up often.

        Richard Abanes, author of Harry Potter and the Bible: The menace behind the Magick, told the Associated Press he sees real-world occult parallels in the fictional story. “The books present astrology, numerology mediumship, crystal gazing,” he says. “... And kids like to copy.”

        Rebecca Borah, an assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, asked a class of sophomores to research Potter Web sites for a course on censorship in literature and the arts.

        After reading some of the books and considering what their critics had to say, most of them, she says, became Harry fans.

        So did she.

        “I don't find anything whatsoever wrong,” she says. “Anything that encourages kids to read is wonderful. Especially boys. It's difficult to get young men to read.”

        Still, she says, “Fundamental Christians would probably have problems with Harry not going to church every Sunday.” And, “Some of it is too scary for some readers.” Younger children probably shouldn't read ahead to the third and fourth books without parental guidance, she said, because of death and violence themes.

        As for the movie, Ms. Borah has her ticket for 6:30 p.m. today.

        Whatever the reactions, the movie hype is cast, and the more newspapers and magazines appear to nay-say commercialization, the better it works.

        “Nothing compares to Harry Potter” books and the hoopla surrounding them, says Nora Rawlinson, editor in chief at Publishers Weekly, New York. “It's the biggest international best-seller ever.

        “You could teach a whole course on publishing using Harry Potter as an illustration. It raised questions about the speed of translation, territorial rights and the Internet, not to mention Americans' view of what kids will read.”

        Earlier assumptions in the publishing industry held that children's books from the United Kingdom can't succeed in the United States.

        A new survey shows that nearly 70 percent of children who read a Harry Potter book said it had encouraged them to read other books.

        That seems to be the case with 11-year-old Taylor Becker, whose mom, Jennifer, created a 10-foot, floor-to-ceiling Hogwart's wall in his upstairs bedroom.

        “He was not a particularly good reader before Harry Potter,” she says.

        And, “At first, I didn't like them,” he says, referring to the early Potter installments.

        But now his bookcase headboard is stuffed with books, and the wall behind it imitates the Gothic bouldered wall and arched doors he had imagined while reading the books and listening to them on tape. In a corner, Harry and pal Ron Weasley stand in acrylic glory under an “invisibility cloak.”

        Mrs. Becker, an account representative for United Health Care and lifetime art student, added dimension to the project with a 4-inch wooden doorknob, actual glasses affixed to Harry's face, and an electric lantern mounted to the wall.

       Margaret McGurk and Ann Hicks of the
Enquirer contributed to this report.


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