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Originally published November 13, 2010 at 7:01 PM | Page modified November 17, 2010 at 5:58 PM

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She watched all six Harry Potter movies in one day

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I" opens late Thursday night. In preparation, Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald watched the first six movies in the series back to back in a single day.

Seattle Times movie critic

Coming up

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I" will open in theaters everywhere at midnight Thursday, including many IMAX screens. Though the film was originally planned to be released in 3D, Warner Bros. recently announced that the conversion had been scrapped due to time constraints, and that "Part I" would be released in 2D and IMAX only. "Part II," due in theaters July 15, 2011, is still scheduled to be released in 3D as well as 2D and IMAX.

In the film, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have left Hogwarts in search of the Horcruxes, in which the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has hidden pieces of his soul in order to gain immortality. The Wizarding world is divided, and Voldemort's forces have taken control. Will our fearless trio find the Horcruxes, before He-Who-Must-Not-Be- Named-But-Sure-Gets- Named-A-Lot finds them?

The sterling ensemble cast of the "Harry Potter" movies returns, with a few new faces: Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour; Rhys Ifans as Luna Lovegood's eccentric father, Xenophilius; and Domhnall Gleeson (the son of Brendan Gleeson, who plays Mad-Eye Moody) as Bill Weasley.

The films

Here are the titles of the "Harry Potter" movies in order:

1. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001)

2. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002)

3. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004)

4. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005)

5. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007)

6. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (2009)


By the end, I think I was starting to talk like Professor McGonagall. Or maybe Hagrid.

On a dark, stormy Thursday in late October, in anticipation of the opening of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I" I watched all six "Harry Potter" movies back to back. A stunt, to be sure, but in my line of work there aren't too many opportunities for such things, and I've always wanted to be able to say that I do my own stunt work. I told some people of this plan and noted that the responses fell neatly into two categories: "Oh, that sounds like so much fun!" and (I'm quoting directly here) "You are insane, lady."

The Potterthon at my house began at approximately 7:45 a.m. (when the sunrise would have been, if there had been one, which seemed perfectly Potteresque) and ended roughly 15 hours later, a little before 11 p.m. I watched every minute of every movie — not even fast-forwarding the dull parts in the last hour of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" — except for the end credits, which weren't legible on my TV screen and which would have added at least another hour to the viewing total (they last about 10-15 minutes per movie). Meals were eaten in front of the screen; breaks between movies were no more than 10 minutes. All this struck me as a feat quite worthy of Gryffindor; delightful as the experience was, only the brave — or the heroically foolish, or at least those possessed of comfortable chairs — should attempt six movies in a row.

And what did I learn from the Potterthon? Various random musings, as follows.

The big picture: the kids

Actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all grown up on the big screen quite nicely; it's actually shocking to see how little they look in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Watson, to my eye, had the most ease on screen as a child — at 10 she had the comic timing that many adult actresses would kill for — but Radcliffe (as Harry) and Grint (Ron) were everything they needed to be.

For that matter, nearly every child cast in this film — most in recurring roles — is remarkably good and grew up to be even better, particularly Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood (this girl is absolutely mesmerizing, and completely understands the character), Oliver and James Phelps as twins George and Fred Weasley (somebody get these guys a comedy tour), and Matthew Lewis, who's got a lot of blink-and-you'll-miss-them poignant moments as Neville Longbottom. The lone disappointment: Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, who's in every movie but remains fairly wooden as an actress. Watch "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" closely and you'll see a few scenes carefully staged so she doesn't face the camera.

After the credits...

As mentioned earlier, the end credits of all of the "Potter" movies are very long — but I checked to see if any lead to a final bonus scene. Only one movie does: "Chamber of Secrets." It's brief, it features Kenneth Branagh's foppish instructor Gilderoy Lockhart, and it's definitely worth a look.

Best entrances

• Alan Rickman as the sinister Snape, looming into view like a malevolent shadow, 43:50 into "Sorcerer's Stone."

• Branagh's Lockhart, swishing his blue robes, 18:22, "Chamber of Secrets"

• Miranda Richardson as nosy journalist Rita Skeeter, eyebrows arched like Quidditch hoops, 39:02, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

• Helena Bonham Carter's hissing, wildcat villainess-in-a-corset, Bellatrix Lestrange, 1:19:20, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

• "Merlin's beard!" Jim Broadbent's Potions master Horace Slughorn, transforming from an armchair, 7:07, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Best exit

Severus Snape always makes a good exit, but in "Sorcerer's Stone," at 1:53:08, he sets the bar high: leaving a room in high dudgeon, his robes swirling around him like ink in water. There are echoes of this throughout the series; the man knows how to work a robe.

By the numbers I

Number of spells successfully cast solely by Hermione, in all six movies: 17

Number of spells successfully cast solely by Ron, in all six movies: 2

The big picture: the directors

In a nutshell, there are the first two movies, and then there are the other four — the contrast is even stronger when you watch these movies back to back. Chris Columbus directed the first two, and while they're certainly cute (and he deserves immense credit for casting the franchise), they play more like kiddie movies. (Which, to be fair, they are.) "Chamber of Secrets," particularly, gets very dull with all the flying cars and spider nonsense, and relies far too heavily on close-ups of adorable tots smiling. (Which, to be fair, they are — adorable, that is.)

In "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," Alfonso Cuarón took things to a new level: The kids suddenly looked scruffier (their uniforms stopped looking perfect, and Hermione stopped wearing white tights and Mary Janes, for heaven's sake, when sneaking out at night) and more real, and the look of the film was darker and more artful. Mike Newell showed a flair for comedy in "Goblet of Fire," reveling in the Yule Ball, the chorine-like beauties of Beauxbatons Academy, and the demented (in a non-Dementor way) Rita Skeeter. David Yates, who directed the following two films — as well as both parts of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" — is marvelously good with the young actors, and gives a palpable sense, in "Half-Blood Prince," of setting the stage for an epic showdown.

And which one is my favorite? Hard to say; really the last four are all of a piece and quite good. Before embarking on the Potterthon, I think I would have said I liked "Prisoner of Azkaban" best; this time, it was "Order of the Phoenix" I found most mesmerizing. Maybe if I watched all six in a row again, another one would jump out. But that's for another lifetime.

Obligatory 'oh-my-god-it's-him' moment

No, not Voldemort, silly. In movie number 4, at precisely 4:44 (ooh! what can this mean?), Edward the "Twilight" Vamp himself, Robert Pattinson, suddenly materializes. As the ill-fated Cedric Diggory, he's rather more robust looking than he is as Edward, and certainly his hair looks calmer.

Things You Wish Would Happen More Than Once In Pottersville On Screen, But, Sadly, They Don't

• Someone getting a Howler

• Hermione referencing "Hogwarts: A History"

• Professor Dumbledore expressing his fondness for books of knitting patterns

• Hagrid playing the "Harry Potter" theme music on a handmade flute

• Choruses of frogs (as part of the Hogwarts choir)

• Transfiguration of animals into water-goblets, as presided over by McGonagall

• Ron vomiting up slugs after a spell goes wrong (well, OK, I guess once was enough)

Words of wisdom

• "It is not our abilities that show us who we are. It is our choices." Dumbledore, to Harry

• "My mum always said the things we love have a way of coming back to us in the end." Luna, to Harry

• Professor McGonagall, horrified: "Is that a student?" Mad Eye Moody, breezily: "Technically, it's a ferret." (Actually, it's Harry's nemesis Draco Malfoy.)

• "You're a little scary sometimes, you know that?" Ron, to Hermione

• "Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?" Hermione

• "Grasp your mandrake!" Professor Sprout (This line, for reasons of which I am not proud, cracks me up.)

The big picture: the screenplays

Having read the Potter books, each one just before the movie, I can't speak to whether the movies make much sense to those who haven't read the books. (Perhaps some kind Muggle will write and tell me if they do. My sense is that they might be a little confusing.) As the series goes on and the J.K. Rowling books get longer and longer — her editors, apparently, Apparated after the first couple of books — the screenwriter's job gets more and more heroic.

Steve Kloves has written for every movie except "Order of the Phoenix," which was adapted by Michael Goldenberg (who deserves a special prize for bringing in the series' longest book, at 870 pages, as the shortest movie — though not by much). The movies by necessity trim much from the books; you notice, watching end to end, that certain iconic characters such as Snape and McGonagall really aren't in the movies all that much; they're just so tightly scripted and memorably played that you think you see more of them than you do. Though everyone has a favorite subplot that didn't make it to the screen — many Rowling fans were upset, for example, that Ron's Quidditch triumphs didn't make it into "HP: OP" — I'm thankful to Kloves for axing the house-elf SPEW subplot. A little bit of Dobby goes a long, long way.

By the numbers II

Number of times somebody gives the immortal order "Wands at the ready!": 5

Number of actors in the "Harry Potter" franchise who were also in Ang Lee's 1995 "Sense & Sensibility": 6 (Rickman, Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Robert Hardy, Gemma Jones, Elizabeth Spriggs)

Tree-related injuries: 3

Owl-related mishaps: 3

Number of times Emma Watson's Hermione sighs in huffy exasperation, or Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall purses her lips in disapproval: Uncountable

The last word

In "Prisoner of Azkaban," Harry's godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), shortly after his first appearance, says "It's beautiful, isn't it?" indicating Hogwarts. By the end of the sixth movie, Sirius is gone but his sentiment seems to have returned afresh to Harry, who in the final moment of the film looks thoughtfully at Hogwarts Castle and says, almost to himself, "I never realized how beautiful this place was." Thanks to the artistry of the filmmakers in bringing Rowling's vision to the screen, a lot of us realized it long ago. Even after 15 hours, Hogwarts is a lovely place to visit.

Will "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" live up to the standard? Wands at the ready, we await its arrival.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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