Revisiting Hogwarts: Harry Potter's 20th Anniversary
2001. That's the year the first Harry Potter (HP) movie came out. If someone knew me some 15 odd years back, they would've met a child who was absolutely obsessed with Harry Potter. However, if they fell through some hole in time and encountered me in the present, they would be baffled over how much I loathe the series now. Putting aside the antics of one Joanne Kathleen Rowling, it's hard to retain that childhood excitement and enthusiasm that I once had for Harry Potter.
When I heard that the cast of Harry Potter was having a reunion on HBO Max, though, I was intrigued as to the direction the project would take. When the trailer was released, I had only hoped that there would be ZERO screen-time for Rowling, and the special somewhat lives up to that. Rowling is only given screen-time using excerpts from old interviews and that was a compromise I was willing to make.
But, aside from this one point of contention, the nearly two-hour-long special felt like being splashed in the face with a potion that induces nostalgia. I really didn't think I still had warm feelings left to give back to the series, and yet here I was, reminiscing about different parts of my childhood corresponding with all the times I was reading HP.
Chris Columbus, the director of the first two movies, stated that set designer Stuart Craig's vision for Hogwarts was crucial to the success of all the films and for creating the iconic image of Hogwarts that we can visualise off the top of our heads. The entirety of the special takes place on the various sets across the Harry Potter universe and it is particularly interesting to see how Craig, the man who designed the sets in all eight movies, brought Hogwarts alive.
The special is divided into chapters, on the basis of the different movies, with an occasional chapter for other things "Potter". Throughout each chapter, we experience the chronological journey that the cast, the director, producer, and the fans all experienced, using footage from before the first movie began filming. If you thought the queues waiting to buy Harry Potter books outside Etcetera (RIP) in Bangladesh were crazy, then you haven't seen the lines for the open casting call for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001).
Even with thousands of British children flooding the auditions venue, the final cast that was selected seemed perfect for the roles they received. Let me tell you, everyone needs to see Rupert Grint audition for the role of Ron Weasley, because it almost feels like the two are one and the same.
In some sense, it almost feels unreal that these roles weren't written with these particular actors in mind, as I could never imagine anyone else in these movies. For some, they were auditioning for the characters that they resonated the most with. James and Oliver Phelps, the Weasley twins, highlighted in the special that there were not many twins in children's books, and that is why Fred and George were so important to them.
David Heyman, the producer of all eight films, and Chris Columbus laid the initial foundation for the universe with the first two movies. This allowed the three other directors—Alfonso Cuarón on Prisoner of Azkaban, Mike Newell on Goblet of Fire, and David Yates from Order of the Phoenix onwards—to bring their vision for the movies to life.
All four directors played a crucial role in helping these child actors become professionals over the course of eight movies. Each director took a different approach, based on the age range of the actors, to ensure they were treated with respect, while also accommodating any childish behaviour. One story in particular that warms the heart is from when the props team designed a personalised casket for Emma Watson's hamster who had died during filming.
It is also interesting to see how the adult actors bonded with and impacted some of the child actors on set. Daniel Radcliffe and Gary Oldman share a very Harry and Sirius-type relationship in real life. Radcliffe admits that he was in awe of Oldman throughout the filming of Prisoner of Azkaban. Oldman, in turn, took Radcliffe under his wing and offered him pointers on becoming a better actor.
For me, the most beautiful part of the special was the tribute in memory of the late actors, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Helen McCrory, and many more. Ralph Fiennes tells a beautiful story of how he felt intimidated when performing opposite Rickman, and that he was happy to just survive these acting duels because he was in awe of the talent that Rickman brought to the table.
It's honestly a little difficult for me to digest that I enjoyed a piece of media that is associated with Harry Potter. But I did. My only complaint with the special is that it wasn't a Christmas Special, as at its heart, it exudes the warmth we often associate with Christmas day.
And while I may no longer be a Harry Potter fan and will probably never reread the books or even watch the movies again, there is no denying how important the books and movies were to my childhood. And not just me—millions across the world are linked by fond memories of HP that they have from their childhood.
Robbie Coltrane, our gentle giant, summed it up best when he said towards the end of the special that many people will pass on these movies to their children, who will in turn pass it onto their kids. And in some 50 years—while he will be long gone—Hagrid will still be there.
Aaqib Hasib will someday finish writing all of his pending stories. But not today. Write to him at [email protected]