Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
I’ve seen hundreds, possibly thousands of movies in cinema, but it’s a rare thing to remember exactly what you felt in that moment. Only a handful of movie-going moments have the distinction of sticking with me this way and one of those films was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Sitting in the balcony with my Mom who took me to see it as a special treat (it was a school day but she came and got me out early because she knew what this meant to me). From those opening chords that have now become as iconic as the franchise itself, the cinema was mostly empty for the time of day but I stopped noticing everything around me but what was playing out on that screen.
Twenty years later and here we are celebrating the anniversary with Harry Potter’s 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts and a magical look back with the cast and crew that took the world created by JK Rowling and made into something so fantastic, so immense and so beloved, I doubt she could’ve envisioned it at the time. Let’s review the four chapters.
Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived—The Sorcerer’s Stone & The Chamber of Secrets
Returning to Hogwarts are the main cast and with an opening that immediately takes you back to the magic of your childhood, you know they wanted to do more than just another documentary here. Watching the triad of Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe talk about their first meeting and how fascinated they were by the process of becoming Hermione, Ron and The Boy Who Lived Harry Potter respectively just made something inside me feel both ecstatic and a bit sad all at once. Bittersweet is the word I think but it was also funny watching Chris Columbus and producer David Heyman wrangling all those kids (not just the main three) and controlling the chaos so they could create something worth watching.
As someone who has been lucky enough to experience Hogwarts and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, I found myself smiling like an idiot as this documentary beautifully illustrates and touched upon the things and moments that made these films come alive like few others have.
Chapter 2: Coming of Age—The Prisoner of Azkaban & The Goblet of Fire
I adored Harry Potter but the movie that truly made me fall in love with this franchise was the one that took Harry out of the light and into the darkness. That film was The Prisoner of Azkaban directed by my favourite visionary of the bunch, Alfonso Cuaron. Dan’s adoration of Gary Oldman (who portrayed Sirius Black) is just as present today as it was all those years ago.
While Azkaban embraced the darker side of growing up The Goblet of Fire tapped back into the childlike wonder of this world and director Mike Newell, who the cast described as being like a Hogwart’s character himself, was a perfect fit to bring the famous Triwizard Tournament to life. Of course The Goblet of Fire introduced the world to the living embodiment of evil, He who must not be Named, the man with no nose, Voldemort! Ralph Fiennes is nightmare incarnate in the role and everything that comes after is simply icing on the cake.
Both films showed not just the growth of these characters who were now teenagers with all the angst (and hormones) that come with that, but also beautifully expanded the vision of the novels and brought them to life in ways even the readers couldn’t have pictured. All beautifully documented here but I must admit watching the twins James and Oliver Phelps gleefully retell the story of how they convinced Rupert Grint that his dancing scene with the great Maggie Smith required him to learn choreography was hilarious and just goes to show casting them as his brothers, Fred and George was in a word, perfection.
Chapter 3: The Light & Dark Within—The Order of the Phoenix & The Half-Blood Prince
I believe Helena Bonham Carter, who is known for playing villainous roles, must be a gem of lady in real life. So it was such a treat watching her interactions with Daniel Radcliffe as they joyously hug, laugh and take a walk down memory lane. If Voldemort was Emperor Palpatine then Bellatrix Lestrange is the equivalent of Darth Vader, only crazier. David Yates took over directing from this point forward and while I remember not being happy with this (I wanted Alfonso Cuaron back). Yates had a lot of difficulties to deal with such as Emma Watson wanting to leave the franchise, at this point the story mirroring real life as these characters are now all young adults who are dealing with their worlds changing. The documentary touches on how the fame and pressure of being these iconic characters took a toll on everyone.
The Order of the Phoenix introduces Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and with the addition of this wonderfully weird girl expands on how inclusionary the world of Harry Potter has been, a place where the misfits of the world can all feel a sense of belonging. Rewatching scenes from The Half Blood Prince gave me a whole new level of respect for what Tom Felton did with the character of Draco Malfoy, a character who evolves in a way Harry never had to do. Felton delivered so much with this character, it’s no wonder fans adore him the way they do. They also touch on those iconic actors who helped make the films what they are but who are now gone such as Richard Harris, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Hellen McCrory, Alan Rickman and sadly many others. When a documentary touches your heart like that you know it’s something truly special.
Chapter 4: Something Worth Fighting For—The Deathly Hallows Parts 1&2
Looking back on the last two films and hearing the actors embrace the flaws (like the way they looked in the epilogue) and yet still show love and affection for everything they had been through at the end of it all was beautiful. It always comes back to the three most magical elements of the story. I’m not talking about the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility but of Ron, Hermione and Harry. The actors reminisce on these moments that made them the friends they are today and as a fan you can’t help but feel they’re your friends as well.
While you may not remember it all these are probably the two films with the moments that stick with you the most. The final battle, Harry’s sacrifice, Neville Longbottom’s heroic moment and of course Voldemort versus Harry. As much as I had my issues with these last two films I cannot deny the impact they made on me, and watching it all play out again through the eyes of those who were there made it all come alive again in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Return to Hogwarts was just that, a look back at a moment in time when the world of Harry Potter made you believe in magic again. It is beautifully constructed and wonderfully narrated by the actors themselves. I haven’t watched any of these movies in quite some time as I have this thing where I’m always worried if I revisit films I adored as a kid those elements that made them come alive for me will somehow be gone now, so I rather just keep the memories safely tucked away in my mind. But after watching this I have to say I think I’ll be getting on that train at King’s Cross Station Platform 9-3/4 again very, very soon.
Sommer’s Score: 10 out of 10
So what did you think of the Return to Hogwarts? And you can check out more fantasy content below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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