Monday, January 18, 2010

Harry Potter's Continuing Spell

Well before the 1 o'clock matinee of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on a Wednesday, the 30-something woman driving the pink Vespa scooter with the license plate "Tonks" had pulled into the parking lot in Missoula, Mont., and headed inside to get a good seat. If you understood the reference, then you won't be surprised that even in a recession that has been very kind to Hollywood generally — ticket sales are up 12% this year — the reception of the sixth installment of the boy wizard's story has been spellbinding. The film raked in almost $400 million worldwide in its first five days, breaking an industry record set in 2007 by Spider-Man 3 and bringing the franchise total close to $5 billion.

Which is just one more reminder that there is no Harry Potter Generation — there are many: the 40-somethings, including the President of the United States, who read the books to their children; the 20-somethings whose professors used the case of the Hogwarts House Elves to explicate contract law; the teenagers like those who flocked to a midnight showing in Illinois, who were just learning to read when the first novels appeared and who can now drive themselves to the theater wearing witches' hats and wizards' robes. And then there's the new generation of fans who, rather than having to wait years to find out what happens next, can lock themselves in their rooms for magical marathons and read all 4,100 pages at once or host their own Wizard Film Festival.

The boxed set of the first six books has spent 883 days among Amazon's top 100 kids' books. But the audience never seems to outgrow their appeal, and the movies give otherwise mature and sensible Muggles the chance to fall under J.K. Rowling's spell one more time. The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be made into two movies, with the last due in July 2011. After that, it will be up to fans to find their own excuses for making a summer night feel magical.

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