Harry Potter's cinematic story reaches its climax this week, with the final instalment of the blockbuster film series hitting theatres around the globe.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 had its Canadian premiere at a downtown Toronto theatre Tuesday evening, with the intersection outside the cinema renamed Harry Potter Blvd. and Hogwarts Way for the event.
Regular screenings of the film begin in Canadian theatres on Friday.
Matthew Lewis, who plays a transformed Neville Longbottom in the final film, was at a gala opening event at Toronto's Casa Loma on Tuesday. Daniel Radcliffe did not attend the Toronto premiere.
Lewis, now 22, has been with the Potter franchise since he was an awkward boy of 12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is where the Longbottom character becomes a true hero, he said.
"This is the one that I really wanted to get right," Lewis said. "The moments that Neville has in this film were kind of crucial. I knew as a fan how important they were, and I wanted to make sure we really nailed them, so to hear the critical responses — it's lovely and it's very overwhelming."
Lewis's performance is being hailed by fans who've seen early previews of the film.
Devoted and costumed fans camped out in Trafalgar Square up to four days before the film's world premiere in London last Thursday, just to reserve a spot on the Harry Potter red carpet. They braved blazing sun and rainstorms for a chance to glimpse original series author J.K. Rowling and the film's cavalcade of British stars.
Similarly, for the New York and Toronto premieres this week, eager fans began queuing hours before the start time for the special screenings.
"The books have a built-in audience of readers who are very loyal and large in number. The films have successfully translated what was captivating about the books onto the movie screen," Charlie Keil, director of the University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, told CBC News.
Much of the Potter fan base has matured alongside Rowling's books, the first of which debuted in 1997, and the film adaptations that followed, beginning in 2001.
A generation of fans has come of age following the exploits of young Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and watched the trio of previously unknown child actors — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, respectively — become internationally recognized stars.
"Harry Potter's quite timeless. Anybody young or old can enjoy it," according to Victoria Glista, the creator of Canadian fansite Thehpfan.com.
Though Glista watched the first Potter movie as a 13-year-old child, she truly discovered the books and films two years ago. She was just 11 when she created her website, which pays tribute to the franchise.
"It's kind of hard to come to terms with (the end)," she said, admitting to "sobbing" while watching the recent news conference held ahead of the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 premiere in London.
However, she has faith in Harry Potter's enduring appeal.
"You have the books and the movies and they've been so great and they've been such a success, it's not going to be something that fades very easily. The museum's coming up next year and there's the theme park and everything. There's always a way to come back to it."
Recipe for success
Having already grossed more than $6 billion worldwide over the past decade, the Potter film franchise has become the highest grossing series in history.
From the beginning, the series has had several factors in its favour, including the blessing of Rowling, who penned the boy-wizard tale and has since become one of the world's most famous authors.
"Fans knew that she had given [the films] her stamp of approval," Keil said. "Here that really seemed to galvanize for people that the subject matter wouldn't be mistreated, that the elements that were important to the success of the books would be replicatedin the film."
Also, the decision to populate the Harry Potter universe with a pantheon of the U.K.'s most celebrated and acclaimed actors didn't hurt, either. Adults mentoring and menacing the young wizards and witches have included Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Richard Griffiths and Julie Walters.
"One of the pleasures that come out of Harry Potter is that it has been a boon to the British acting world. What great thespian is going to play one of those idiosyncratic figures from the world of Hogwarts? That has really allowed for a pleasure that comes for older viewers, too," said Keil.
"It's not just the people who have had major supporting roles, like Maggie Smith or Alan Rickman, but smaller roles that have been filled by people like Julie Christie. Just to know that there are these great actors — this was one of the side benefits of casting it primarily with British actors — again there was a stamp of approval being given, a guarantee of quality."
Focus on story
Director David Yates helmed the latter, increasingly darker final four Potter films, but rather than compare Harry Potter to other influential movie cycles — like Star Wars or James Bond — Keil likens them to serialized television.
The story was paramount in the final product — rather than the particular vision of the individual directors of each instalment — which meant that there was a comfortable continuity from film to film, he said.
Each film also contributed to the specific arc that must be completed by the series end: an epic, all-encompassing battle between good and evil that incidentally takes place at Hogwarts, the magical boarding school where the tale has largely been set all along.
"Harry Potter will definitely serve as a kind of model of how an adaptation of a literary series can be successful," Keil said.
"I don't think it's great cinema. It's been pretty good cinema, some of the time at least. The thing that does make it stand apart is that it is kind of a coherent set of films. It's much more of a piece then, say, the Bond work is."
With their box office success, the movies have greatly contributed to the overall Harry Potter pop culture phenomenon. Rowling's original seven-book series has sold approximately 450 million volumes and been translated into nearly 70 languages, spawning the creation of separate bestseller lists for children's titles and setting numerous sales records for retailers.
Elements of Rowling's imagination have permeated our world. In 2003, the Oxford English Dictionary added the word "muggle" (meaning non-magical human) to its pages. Real-life teams have sprung up on college campuses to play her made-up sport, quidditch. A Harry Potter theme park in Florida recreates her wizard world for fans, while a forthcoming attraction will lead diehards through London's Leavesden Film Studios, where all eight films were shot.
'There won't be another Harry Potter — either a book series or film series like this — ever again'—Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter
"There won't be another Harry Potter — either a book series or film series like this — ever again," said Borys Kit, a Canadian-born writer for industry newspaper The Hollywood Reporter.
Other books targeted to young readers, like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight or Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, have found varying levels of success with cinematic adaptations. Still, none has had the broad, crossover appeal of Potter, for which the movies complement the books, but also stand alone, he said.
"A lot of times, you'll have an amazing book or book series and the movies will fizzle. We've seen that happen with the C.S. Lewis Narnia books...They do not compare [or have] anywhere near the sucess — whether the pop culture success, the financial success or the critical success — of the Harry Potter movies."
Looking at the Potter titles in franchise terms, "I think we will see them as having set an example of how studios have tried to exploit literary properties, how studios have tried to sustain a series of films over the long haul, and how studios tried to court multiple audiences: reading audiences, teenage audiences, audiences that age and grow as the franchise develops," Keil said.
"One of the reasons Rowling's books were a success is because she borrows from the best. All the mythologies are there, all of the conventions of all of the literary genres are there. She tapped into them quite astutely and knows how to work them," he added.
"I don't say this in any way critically or derisively. It's a gift to be able to do that well and she did. The movies have followed what she did quite religiously. The proof is in the cinematic pudding."