As Harry Potter series ends, journalists say they've covered just about every angle of it
And it marks a notable stopping point in journalists’ 13-year-long coverage of the Harry Potter books, movies and overall phenomenon.
Throughout the years, journalists have stood in line at movie screenings and interviewed kids dressed as wizards. They’ve helped turn “Voldemort” into a moniker for people (like Rupert Murdoch) who have done wrong. They’ve suggested that Harry Potter has forever changed not just children’s literature, but the world. And they’ve criticized the series for creating “a nation of dweebs.” “What to do with a nation of little nerds running around with capes and wands?” critic Hank Stuever once asked. “Is there a coolness shortage coming?”
Now that the final movie is coming out, some journalists are ready for it all to end.
“I’m relieved,” said Washington Post Style writer Monica Hesse. “I know a lot about the books, so I gravitate toward them, but after a while there's only so much I can say. I’m glad they’re ending before I start repeating myself.”
Avoiding repetition has perhaps been one of the most difficult aspects of covering the Harry Potter series. And the last movie in particular has posed a challenge for film critics who want to write compelling reviews even for the millions of fans who already know how the movie will end.
“These films and books have been so written about by so many people in so many places, it's hard to think there's anything that anyone could come up with that no one has thought of up until now,” said Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR’s “Morning Edition.” “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Turan, who has covered the films since the first one came out in 2001, said the series' end is a new angle in and of itself. A self-described Harry Potter fan, Turan said he doesn’t try to write for fans who already know the outcome of the movie.
“The fact that people know the outcome doesn’t have anything to do with me, but it’s a big challenge for the people who make the film,” Turan said by phone. “It's harder to have people on the edge of their seats if people already know what’s going to happen.”
When he reviewed the final Harry Potter film, Turan didn’t think of the movie’s audience. Instead, when writing reviews he always tries to focus on the film, his response to it, and how he can best put his response into words.
“I don't try to tailor it to an audience ever. Neither do I try to exclude an audience,” Turan said. “Criticism is personal, and if you're tailoring your personal reaction to an audience, it's not your personal reaction anymore.”
The Post’s Hesse, who has written several stories about Harry Potter, said she’s drawn to reviews that focus not just on the film itself, but on how it relates to the series as a whole. When a journalist has read the Harry Potter books and seen the movies, she said, it's evident in their coverage.
Having read all the books and seen the movies, it was easier for Hesse to cover the series. She said if she hadn’t read “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” she wouldn’t have had the background knowledge she needed to write about the kiss between Harry and Ginny — which was "short and sweet, fully clothed, friendly, basically an elevated peck.”
For her final Harry Potter story, Hesse wrote about the cultural impact of the series -- how it’s been tied to witchcraft, the trend of long striped scarves, and the increase in reading among children.
Other journalists are more focused on how the final film will do at the box office. The Wrap’s Daniel Frankel, who plans to write about the box office numbers for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2,” doesn't anticipate there will be many elements of surprise.
“For a box office reporter, it’s difficult because you know what it’s going to do,” Frankel said by phone. “The midnight numbers are always good, and the first numbers are always good, so you kind of know those things going in. There’s less drama.”
Frankel, who said Harry Potter reviews tend to increase engagement and traffic on The Wrap, wonders what the end of the series will mean for Warner Brothers moving forward.
“You have a studio with perhaps the most successful franchise in cinematic history and it’s ostensibly ending,” said Frankel, The Wrap's News Editor. “Warner Brothers is part of a publicly traded company, and the fact that you don’t have Harry Potter on your balance sheet in third quarter 2012 is going to be an issue. Creatively and business wise, it’s a huge challenge for that company to duplicate that success.”
Now he’s waiting to see what, if anything, will become the next Harry Potter.
“It’s been around for so long and lifted the boat for so long,” he said. “I think at least for folks like me, there’s mainly anticipation. In terms of the people we cover, there’s probably anxiety, too. How do you replace this?”
For journalists, the timing feels right.
“I think the kid who lives in all of us wishes the books would go on and on, but as a grown up and as a writer, I admire J.K. Rowling for knowing when to stop,” Hesse said. “I think we’ve done enough. I think Harry Potter has done enough. I think we can let him rest now.”