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 Friday's opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, I watched all six previous Harry Potter movies. A stunt, to be sure. 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 Potter-thon at my house began about 7:45 a.m. 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 would have added at least an additional hour to the viewing total (they last 10 to 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 Potter-thon? Various random musings, as follows.
Never miss a local story.
Actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all grown up on the big screen quite nicely; it's 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 she 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 has a lot of blink-and-you'll-miss-them poignant moments as Neville Longbottom. The lone disappointment: Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, who is 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 whether any of them lead to a final bonus scene. Only one does: Chamber of Secrets. It's brief, it features Kenneth Branagh's foppish instructor Gilderoy Lockhart, and it's definitely worth a look.
■ Alan Rickman as the sinister Severus 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, Goblet of Fire.
■ Helena Bonham Carter's hissing, wildcat villainess-in-a-corset, Bellatrix Lestrange, 1:19:20, Order of the Phoenix.
■ "Merlin's beard!" Jim Broadbent's Potions master Horace Slughorn, transforming from an armchair, 7:07, Half-Blood Prince.
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.
Obligatory 'oh my God, it's him!' moment
No, not Voldemort, silly. In movie number 4, Goblet of Fire, at precisely 4:44 (ooh! what can this mean?), Edward the Twilight vampire 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.
By the numbers
■ 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
■ Number of times somebody gives the immortal order "Wands at the ready!": 5
■ Number of actors in the Harry Potter franchise who also were 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
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 they're certainly cute (and he deserves immense credit for casting the franchise), but they play more like kiddie movies. (Which, to be fair, they are.) Chamber of Secrets, particularly, gets dull with all the flying cars and spider nonsense, and it 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 chorinelike beauties of Beauxbatons Academy, and the demented (in a non-Dementor way) Rita Skeeter.
David Yates, who directed the next two films — and both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — is marvelously good with the young actors, and he 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 Potter-thon, 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.