The Harry Potter series changed my life. I have been a self proclaimed super fan since seventh grade so, when I saw the trailer for the Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Experience, my heart stopped. The book series was, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, but what makes it even more rare is how well done the movie adaptations are. Far too often, book-to-movie adaptations are botched so horribly that they are shunned by even the most dedicated of fans. For example, the Percy Jackson movies are one of the most universally hated movie adaptations of a beloved book series ever. The beauty of the Harry Potter movies is that instead of detracting from the original story, they add to it. By being able to physically see the characters, they come to life in a whole new way.
The work and care that was put into the eight Harry Potter movies is evident, as they not only capture the essence of the series as well as any change in medium could, but they are also quality films on their own. Whether or not the viewer has read the books, they can still enjoy what happens on-screen. Due to this successful transition, the love of the original characters transferred to the actors who played them. This is why the 20th Anniversary Harry Potter Reunion had a lot riding on it, and it is safe to say, it delivered.
The entire special was filmed on the original movie sets including Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Great Hall, and the Potion’s Classroom. There was nothing as fun and exhilarating as seeing fully grown Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe sitting in the Gryffindor Common Room “after all this time.” The hour and forty-two minute HBO special is organized into four chapters, each covering two movies at a time. The special is mostly made up of interviews with former cast members and directors. It begins by introducing the original cast from the first movie before periodically introducing additional cast members as it highlights each movie. The star of the show is, unsurprisingly, Daniel Radcliffe who played The-Boy-Who-Lived himself, Harry Potter.
The Harry Potter movie franchise had four directors in total, and each one’s unique style was a main component of the structure and content of the special. This was a bit surprising, since most of the advertising and fan appeal came from seeing the main cast reunite and discuss the impact of the Wizarding World on their lives. However, hearing from the directors was not at all unwelcome, as it provided a completely new insight into why the movies were filmed the way they were. There is a lot more nuance and meaning behind the color palates and videography than at first glance. It makes each movie, just like each director’s style, distinct while still creating one, cohesive piece. The technical side of what went on behind-the-scenes was not the only insider information revealed. The relationships and life-long connections that were fostered behind-the-scenes were revealed by the cast members, many of which were reflected on screen. Most notably, Harry Potter and Sirius Black’s on-screen relationship helped to foster the significantly less tragic, but no less meaningful, mentor-mentee relationship between Daniel Radcliffe and Gary Oldman. Even after all these years, their friendship and admiration for each other’s talent was sweet and endearing. Somehow, it also gave further meaning to Harry and Sirius’ already powerful relationship, knowing that it wasn’t all just acting.
Not all of the original cast was able to come to the reunion, as several passed away during or after filming. Each deceased actor’s picture and name were shown while friends and colleagues shared moving memories. Finally, the actors were paid tribute to in true Wizarding fashion, by raising their wands. The audience also got to hear more on the hotly debated and highly speculated cast relationships. Emma Watson spoke about her longtime crush on Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy, in the early days of the films, but made it very clear they had always been just friends. Similarly, she and Rupert Grint discussed the terrible awkwardness of their on-screen kiss. These moments added light-hearted bits of humor throughout the special which perfectly balanced its more serious moments.
It should be noted that the author of the book series, J.K Rowling, was included in the special. Though it is never formally addressed, the reunion does appear to subtly distance itself from her, as she never interacts with cast members and the small bit of footage of her used is clearly marked to be from 2019. Due to Rowling’s recent Twitter bigotry, it is curious that producers would use the footage at all, but at least they handled it gracefully.
Overall, the reunion was everything it needed to be: heart-warming, mildly gossipy, and emotional. The tears shed while watching the cast members hold hands and agree that Hogwarts will always be home were exactly what was needed and expected. The reunion drove home just how special the Harry Potter movies are; over the course of ten years the child actors literally grew up on-screen alongside legendary British actors while creating an entirely different world. There was nothing like it before, and who knows if there will be anything like it again. The magic of the Harry Potter movies extends well beyond wands and schools of witchcraft and wizardry.