Twenty years ago, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” premiered on the big screen all over the world. It was 2 hours and 32 minutes long, got broadcast in over 3,000 theaters and hit $1,017 billion at the box office. To celebrate the twentieth birthday of this groundbreaking success, a special episode was shot by HBO Max on the original film set. So buckle up, because “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” is out, and we are about to dissect it.
Now just to put it out there: I am a huge Potterhead. And although I got into it a bit later than most (two years after the release of the last movie), I still hold a very deep connection to the saga. So it was no wonder that I felt sucked back into the compelling Harry Potter universe just a few seconds into the anniversary episode. I had no idea what to expect. I had tried to stay away from any spoilers as much as I could, but I knew I was about to love it.
The producers did an excellent job setting the exact right atmosphere as soon as the episode started. You get to be reminded of the earlier “Harry Potter” movies through the Hogwarts letters and their unmatched accuracy (”The Black Cab, stuck in traffic,” huh, Matthew Lewis/Neville Longbottom?), Emma Watson’s (Hermione Granger) extremely recognizable sighs and not to mention the Hogwarts Express whistle. It feels like smelling that delicious cake your granny used to bake: utterly familiar and yet blissfully enjoyable. While Emma’s outfit reminds us more of “The Fantastic Creatures” spinoff style, the ever-living Daily Prophet informs us of what is to come by stating “Hogwarts welcomes back alumni.” God, I’ve missed this!
Witnessing actresses Emma Watson, Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) greet each other really just feels like watching the characters at a Hogwarts 10 years later alumni reunion. We want to believe it is the characters, so how funny it is when Bellatrix Lestrange’s actress, Helena Bonham Carter, pops up out of nowhere, leaving us in awe. Wasn’t she killed in the final battle by Ginny’s mom? Oh! So that’s the actress, NOT the character… Yeah, like I said: funny!
The Hogwarts Express makes its way through the same breathtaking landscapes we got so accustomed to. The familiar details continue with the Beauxbatons famous dance move, as the unforgettable soundtrack of the show gives the special its tempo. I think it is wonderful how everything was put into place for us to have the most authentic experience we could possibly get. Twenty years have passed, and yet it feels like nothing has changed; it is surely a delightful feeling. “Mysterious thing, time.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up.
As I said before, I got into the whole Harry Potter frenzy pretty late in the game. This is why watching this special made me realize how much I wish I had loved the series in its early days. The old footage of the fans lining up makes me wish I could have been there. I wish I could have been in the theaters for each movie premiere, celebrating my love with my fellow Potterheads for what is still today the best-selling saga in history. I mean, this whole thing is one hell of a ride, no one can deny that. As Rupert Grint (Ronald Weasley) wittily put it: it is an “intricately perfectly designed universe.” There are tons of reasons why “Harry Potter” is still so popular to this day, but I think the number one explanation is how this built-from-scratch, imaginary world has some endless possibilities. They are just limitless. How J.K. Rowling ever came up with this unreal, yet so wickedly believable world, will never cease to amaze me.
What was also pointed out in the special is how Gen Z is all so immersed in the Potter universe. In the years when the series was being released, fans grew up with it, and some of them are now parents to what became new Potterheads. Just like that, the original fans smoothly transmitted their love for the saga to their own children. The legacy of the movie makes it so that it sticks through time, because it is a depiction of a world that just mesmerizes.
Throughout the special, we get to see various combinations of actors coming together, which gives us the most intimate conversations. The look on the actors’ faces when they first meet after all these years is so pure and genuine, that one cannot help but get astonished before the peerless bond the saga managed to build. Witnessing all of this coming back to life is just the best treat. Furthermore, getting to see the people who embodied these characters we cherish so much interacting and sharing endearing anecdotes is priceless. The “couple of Gryffindor” line by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), for instance, doesn’t fail to make us smile, reminding us that, no matter what house you are in, all that matters is that you are a Hogwarts at heart.
On a sadder note, the absence of some of the cast that has passed away is certainly the grimmest part of the episode. God, we wish they were present and bringing their thoughts to light on this twentieth “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” anniversary. A considerate tribute was made in loving memory of all those who are no longer here with us today, whose names include Richard Harris (“Harry Potter” first and second movies’ Dumbledore), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Richard Griffiths (Mr. Dursley) and many other beloved souls. The actors attending the special could not hide their emotions while bringing up how fundamental those figures were in their own growing-up years. As Sirius Black said it so beautifully in the third movie, “The ones that love us never really leave us. You can always find them… in here [author’s note: in your heart].”
And the emotional rollercoaster keeps on going. When the actors mention the non-verbal communication that brought them closer together, or the moving last day of shooting, it is impossible not to shed at least a tear. I guess that is, indeed, magic. Meanwhile, the floating whimsical music effortlessly escalates the overflowing pathos. And you know what, I think we all very much so needed such an episode right now. At a time where everything is more uncertain than it ever was before, I believe we can all agree that it feels good to have an ever-lasting safe space to turn to. Hogwarts will always be there for you to settle in, get cozy and watch this bewitching otherworldly written story that will undisputedly bring you home. You may not relate to this because you may not be a Potterhead, and think such events mainly target the fans. This being said, the fancy promotion enabled an opening to a wider audience. And, just between us, who doesn’t like a nostalgic, touching special?
“Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” is now available on HBO Max.