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Committed: Understanding Harry Potter Fans

This week I gained a unique insight into what life is like for those who exist outside the sphere of fan love, when I attended the opening night of the new Harry Potter film.

Last Thursday at 6pm a friend of a friend offered me a ticket to the coveted first showing of the very last Harry Potter film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.” Despite knowing that it would involve braving the zoo-like atmosphere of the IMAX theater for the suspect 3D midnight screening, I still had to say yes. After all, this was the first showing of the last film, I figured the atmosphere alone would make it worth the experience.

There are many so-called geeky things that I am extremely interested in. In the past I’ve made the mistake of assuming that everyone is similarly enamored with ephemera , but over the years I’ve realized this is not so. Not long ago a colleague asked what I had done over the weekend. “I had a great time!” I exclaimed, “I got the DVD of a new movie and watched it. Then I watched all of the extra bits and then watched it with the commentary.” He looked at me strangely for a moment before saying “Huh… I always wondered who watched all that extra junk on DVD’s. I never have.” He wasn’t trying to put me down, he was genuinely bewildered that I would want to “waste” my time watching all this stuff. From my point of view, this guy is missing out on at least half the enjoyment in finding out more about a good film, but he doesn’t care to find out how his entertainment is crafted and so for him, he’s not missing out on anything. Regular readers of this column already know that I’m crazy about comic books, but I can get deeply into all sorts of things; science fiction (novels and movies), movies, fashion, design, furniture design, and now that I’m listing things, I guess that with a small nudge I can get interested in nearly anything at all… I just get a huge kick out of finding out how smart people make amazing things, it fascinates me.

With all of that in mind, I was really interested in the general experience of seeing this Harry Potter film on opening night. I figured it would be another great opportunity to share the love, even if this wasn’t my particular kink. As it turns out, only having seen the preceeding films and “quite liking some of them” doesn’t actually prepare you for the intensity of passion that an audience will have for the first showing of the eighth concluding film in a series which has become a fan favorite of epic proportions.

Knowing that seating would be tricky, I arrived an hour early, thinking this would be reasonable. My friends (the true Harry Potter fans) had arrived 2 hours early. They would have missed getting halfway decent seats if their friends (totally obsessed Harry Potter fans) hadn’t got there 3 hours earlier and saved seats for us… This was my first clue that I had massively underestimated the level of love needed for this experience.

The other obvious sign of an obsession that I didn’t share was the clothing. I would estimate that 90% of the audience wore some kind of version of school uniform, similar to that worn by the children in the film. A 20 – 40 year old audience comprised of (primarily) Americans wearing white shirts and striped ties was strange, to say the least. As someone who went to school in London and did have to wear a really boring school uniform every day for 5 years of my life, this was very strange. Stranger still were the friends who’d invited me, wearing not only school uniform, but carrying “magic wands” and wearing extremely authentic scholarly robes. This was a surprise to say the least.

Then the film began and all 500 people began to audibly gasp and sob their way through what I now saw was a deeply traumatic experience for them. I sat in stunned silence, only half aware of the film itself, it seemed fine to me, nothing shocking really, just exactly what I’d expected. I walked out completely stunned at the audience reaction around me. They seemed elated and jubilant in ways that I could not relate to at all.

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Suddenly I had so much compassion for my friends (who “sort of like” comic books but still come with me to see superhero movies), or for my parents (who studied art and think comic books can be “a bit interesting” but still read my articles), and for everyone in my life who I basically blather about comic books to all the time. There I was assuming that deep down, everyone could share my love of comic books if I just explained it properly. I thought that even if they didn’t know it, they lived in our reality. Now I know how it feels to be entirely immersed in something and still feel bewilderingly little. And still, because of my affection for my friends I was allowed a glimpse into their joy and for that I do feel quite blessed.

I am so grateful for the benign interest and affection that my friends and family have for me. Even more so today, as I embark on a week that is sure to test my friends with my frequent tweets and talk about the major event that is Comic-Con International. Every year that I have been has blown my mind in some shape or fashion, and I have no doubt that this year will be no different. I can only hope that when I return to “normal” life, I still have a few friends to talk to about something other than comic books. And maybe, if I’m lucky, something I say will excite someone enough to get way _too_ excited about comic books.

And now an update for those interested in my plans for Comic-Con:
If you are attending Comic-Con, perhaps I will see you there. There is no specific place you can find me, but I will be around a lot and if you want to follow my twitter (http://twitter.com/secretbean), I’ll try to post anything remarkable. There are two major projects I have while I’m there. First, I’ll be taking photographs and writing about the visually remarkable for a post-convention Comic Book Resources article about the design/style/fashion of Comic-Con. Second, I will be covering a few panels about things I love. In case you’re interested, these are the panels that jumped out at me: http://mysched.comic-con.org/secretbean Naturally I can’t be at them all, (especially as some of them conflict with each other), but there are a few I will be reporting on. (Incidentally, if you do see me furiously typing notes, please hold off on saying “hello” until the panelists are done speaking. Thank you in advance.) If you’re going; have a wonderful time and I hope I see you there. If you aren’t going, Comic Book Resources have an unprecedented number of reporters, so you can get a full rundown.


Very cool article!

I had a similar sort of thing go on when I went to a concert featuring music from Final Fantasy. I’d played a couple of the games, so I figured that I’d get something out of it. I realized I was out of my depth not too far in to the concert. The conductor introduced a piece that apparently hadn’t been played in North America before and the guy in front me did a fist pump and yelled, “Yes!”

I didn’t even know the song, so I had no idea why he was so excited. The music was pretty good, but I was largely just taking part in someone else’s phenomenon.

Strangely, I could easily see a fan of the books watching all of the extra bits of Deathly Hollows II. The main criticism I’ve seen of the movie is that most of the minor characters we shoved into the background (the movie mostly focused on Harry/Hermione/Ron/Voldemort/Nagini, and there’s plenty of room in a director’s cut to focus on various character’s deaths or show more of the Battle of Hogwart’s from the perspective of the teachers and students. Plus the epilogue might be more in depth.)


I used to be really into watching the extras on films but then I started to get overwhelmed by them because for every two hour movie there will be at least 4 hours of extra stuff. That starts to add up when you have major dvd addiction (especially criterion collection-there are so many extra things in their dvds.) I am glad I was able to watch the ones I did though. It definitely helped me to enjoy certain movies a little more.

I often watch the extras though I rarely get those megapack DVDs which four hours of extras anyway, usually it’s more like 10-40 minute document about the making of the film and and couple of cut scenes. Or nothing at all.
But yeah, there have been some very good ones, giving info about what was happening behind the scenes, the whats and whys and hows…especially the “we thought of doing it like this, but it didn’t work out so we got Humphrey Bogart to play Rick in Casablanca instead of Ronald Reagan” alternate histories, many of which are quite mind-boggling.
But sometimes those are just buff pieces how everything is great and the film is the best ever and all the personnel love each other and how this cool CGI was done…(understandably the former tends to be more common in older films and the latter in newer films…)

But yeah. To be honest a large part of comics fandom feels utterly alien to me too but I never have quite got into the whole masquerade thing anyway…

What was the DVD you bought and watched the commentary on?

‘Catwoman’ is a good example of a DVD where the extras are vastly superior to the actual film (seriously, it’s worth buying just for the Eartha Kitt-presented documentary). Conversely, some of my favourite DVDs (‘Ghost World’, ‘The Squid and the Whale’) have pretty crap extras. Commentaries vary wildly in quality, but generally I find the multi-handed commentaries vastly superior to individual ones – a personal favourite is ‘American Splendour’, where people wander in and out all the way through, and Harvey Pekar’s cellphone goes off right in the middle.

I’m a jackdaw with my enthusiasms – there are lots of things I’m passionately interested in, but I’ve always found obsessive fandom slightly worrying. Anything that causes you to lose perspective and rationality strikes me as unhealthy.

I used to obsess over my DVD extras, but as I got older, I found that I could safely ignore most commentaries [I got annoyed that, in all the commentaries I watched, there were probably more where the attitude of the commenters was “Who even watches this?” than saying insightful, interesting stuff] and just watch the ones where either I really cared about the movie/show or knew that somebody on the commentary was funny.

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