||Minimum Stones Content but Harry is great
Wild about Harry
When 10,000 wild British fans materialize for the London premier of the first Harry Potter movie--that's a magical moment
By Mark Caro
Tribune movie reporter
Published November 5, 2001
LONDON -- What began as a single mother's scribblings in an Edinburgh pub had come to this: 10,000 people crammed into Leicester Square on a Sunday afternoon surrounding a movie theater decorated with 10-story-high paintings of a castle, 3-story-tall flags depicting fictional wizard-school emblems, and a moonlike balloon floating above it all.
These thousands of onlookers, kept away by barricades normally used at the front of major rock concerts, weren't invited into the 2,100-seat Odeon theater for the world premiere of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" -- or "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," as the movie will be named when it opens in the U.S. on Nov. 16. But for a crisp several hours, they were just happy to be a part of their favorite wizard's magical world.
A who's who of celebrities -- including Madonna, Ewan McGregor and Mick Jagger -- was expected to walk down the premiere's red carpet. To many in the crowd, however, the true rock star was the author who conceived of Harry, a poorly treated orphan who, upon receiving an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, discovers that he's a famous, powerful wizard.
"I'm here to see J.K. Rowling. She's fantastic," Jenny McMullan, 18, of Essex, said as she stood by a barricade three hours before the movie was set to begin. She added that if she could speak to Rowling, she would say, "Thank you for giving us Harry Potter. Well done."
"Why should we shout for Madonna?" asked Alyn Green, a fortysomething Londoner. "We're here for Harry Potter. Madonna's incidental. "Good thing, too, because Madonna didn't show up. Nor did McGregor, Jagger or other previously announced guests Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham-Carter, Hugh Jackman, Joan Collins, Joely Richardson, Billy Crudup, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine, Minnie Driver, Pete Townshend, Ralph Fiennes, Rod Stewart, Rupert Everett and Jude Law.
No one was saying afterward whether security was an issue for these no-shows, but the event seemed to proceed as smoothly as a Harry Potter jaunt on a Nimbus 2000 broomstick. Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Jon Morgan said the number of officers on hand -- 86 -- was far greater than the usual for a big movie premiere, and the larger, sturdier barricades aren't usually necessary.
Business as usual
But otherwise, he added, Leicester Square wasn't any more blocked off than it is for other world premieres at the Odeon.
"We've lived with terrorists for the past 40 years with the IRA situation," Morgan said. "We don't get complacent, but we are used to it, and we do live in a heightened state of security in terms of domestic and foreign terrorism."
The celebrities who did attend generated their share of squeals, anyway. Those not involved with the movie included Cher ("I've never picked up a Harry Potter book in my life, but every morning I've been seeing film clips, and it looks so great"), Sting (fave character: Voldemort; "I like the bad guys."), Kenneth Branagh (who will appear in the next Harry Potter movie, which begins filming this month), Cate Blanchett, Ben Stiller, David Copperfield, Michael Flatley, Cliff Richard and Sarah Ferguson and her two kids.
But particularly loud cheers were reserved for the movie's stars: 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), 11-year-old Emma Watson (Hermione) and 13-year-old Rupert Grint (Ron).
"I woke up four times: 1 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and 6," Radcliffe said of his pre-premiere jitters.
The shy creator
Meanwhile, the notoriously press-shy Rowling slipped past many of the crowd members and assembled reporters without notice, though she did pause to answer a question about whether she's amazed by what her imagination has wrought.
"I never expected this in a million years -- even imagine this," Rowling said. "I am happy with the film. It's very, very faithful to the book, and that's obviously the most important thing to me."
Other cast members attending included Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Robbie Coltrane (the lovable, 8-foot-tall Hagrid), Richard Harris (Professor Dumbledore) and John Hurt (Mr. Ollivander, the wand seller), who said he was proud to be associated with Harry.
"He stands for possibility and optimism and for being able to take on profound and impossible difficulties and succeed," Hurt said.
Speaking of profound difficulties, director Chris Columbus had to contend with the imaginations of the readers of the more than 100 million copies sold of the four Harry Potter books, including 45 million copies of the first one. He also knew that he was dealing with the pride of a nation that embraced Harry as its own.
Harry Potter mania has been building in Britain since the 1997 publication of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." The local papers reported Saturday that with more than 2 million pounds' worth of tickets already sold, "Harry Potter" has smashed the advance sales record for a movie opening in Britain -- with the release date still almost two weeks away. As of Nov. 16, the Odeon theater chain will be dedicating 225 of its 599 U.K. screens to "Harry Potter."
In London, Harry's image is everywhere: on buildings and buses; in book, toy and candy stores, and on the front page of London's numerous tabloids every single day. The papers have been competing with Harry Potter special sections, sticker inserts, free-ticket contests and scoops.
"HARRY POTTER AND THE STOLEN WAND" was a Daily Star "exclusive" about film props being sold on eBay. "HARRY POTTER and the Broken Voice, By JK Growling" was the Sun's Thursday story contending that Radcliffe had to be dubbed in a few scenes because the 12-year-old actor's voice had broken during filming.
"Every word uttered by Harry Potter is Dan's voice," Columbus angrily retorted at a press conference Friday.
Sun showbiz editor Victoria Newton said that as of Thursday, her paper had run 123 Harry Potter stories this year. "We think the film will be massive, certainly the biggest film of the year in Britain," Newton said.
The movie's introduction included brief speeches by Columbus and producer David Heyman but not Rowling, who joined the two silently on stage and received the evening's biggest ovation.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the end credits appeared to enthusiastic applause and some cheers, thought not a standing ovation. The general sense outside the theater -- as well as at the weekend's press junket -- is that the movie is a solid, often-fabulous-looking family film that does a wonderful job of translating Rowling's visuals and characters to the screen.
Still, the harshest, most important critics at the premiere seemed to be pleased.
"It was amazing. It brought everything to life," said Lily Guyvogel, 8, of West London, though she noted, "Harry Potter looked a bit different. I thought he would be a bit smaller."
More, more, more
To Nick Radice, 12, of London, the movie's length was an issue only in that "it could have been longer."
As for his 8-year-old sister, Isabelle, she caught some differences between the action on the screen and the page. "In the first book, Harry had to play the flute to make Fluffy [the monstrous three-headed dog] go to sleep instead of the harp being charmed."
But, she added: "I didn't really mind."
Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune