Kathy wasn’t the only friend to tell me she thought I was slightly unhinged for going to see the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night. Several people, in subtle and unsubtle ways, reminded me that, at age 35, my staying-up-till-3am days should probably be behind me.
And yet, there I was.
There’s nothing quite like opening night of a big blockbuster film.
This is the second time this year we’ve stood in line to be among the first to see a highly anticipated movie. The release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in May saw us huddled against the cold with a few hundred Marvel comic book fans, some attired as their favorite X-Man, waiting for the theater doors to open. Howls and laughter pierced the night as the caffeine-fueled masses thrummed with excitement.
But that crowd was nothing compared to the crush of humanity that turned up last night to see the sixth cinematic installment of the much-lauded Harry Potter series. The movie was showing on 13 screens at midnight, and all the tickets were sold out well before lunchtime. The line of fans waiting to get in snaked from the theater doors all the way around the massive building and out towards the road. We arrived an hour and a half before showtime and already there were nearly a thousand people smashed together into one congenial organism, good-naturedly jostling each other and passing Harry Potter buzzwords back and forth. Fortunately, our friend Don had arrived before we did and was saving us a spot. Milling around in the crowd were Death Eaters showing off their Sharpie-styled dark marks, a giggling gaggle of Weasleys, and Harry Potters of various ages. A cluster of people sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, playing cribbage with a revolving cast of characters. It was clear that those at the front of the line had been camped out for quite a while; they were surrounded by the detritus of a veritable smorgasbord. Stacks of Starbucks cups and piles of takeout food containers overflowed the trash cans.
Standing in that swirling, fidgeting mash of people felt like being part of a flock of birds or a school of fish. Several times, cheers swept through the crowd like a wave, their origins unclear, and at one point, with no verbal cue whatsoever, everyone all down the line shifted to stand closer to the building. At any one moment, I could look around and see two dozen people texting or Twittering. A sociologist would have had a heyday with us.
Finally, it was time to go in. It took a while. Ushers stationed at the door were letting people through a couple hundred at a time to prevent a stampede, but all the same there was a frenetic energy spurring us on as everyone scrambled to find seats. When we finally located four seats together, Paul and Don were dispatched to the snack bar while Patrick and I defended our territory from wand-wielding marauders. For a minute it looked like we might be on the cusp of reenacting the Battle of Hogwarts right there in the aisles, but eventually everyone found a spot where they could perch and settled in for the ride.
And what a ride it was! The cinematography was fresh and inspired, and the now familiar cast revealed all new layers of angst and humor in their excellent performances. As always, there were discrepancies between the book and the movie, but the spirit and the primary storyline remained intact. I think this might be the best movie yet in the Harry Potter franchise. The two and a half hours passed in a wink, and thanks to the bucket of Diet Coke I drank, I didn’t feel it at all until after we picked up the sleeping kids (thanks, Allison!), drove home, and got into jammies. Pulling my t-shirt over my head, I glanced at the clock, and when my brain realized it was 3:30 am, my body staged a coup, collapsed on the bed, and refused to move again until the kids woke me up at 9 o’clock this morning.
It was so worth it.
I’m already ready to see it again.