Harry Potter-mania hits New York as final film premieres

That photo pretty much sums it up. In a park across the street from Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, tons of Harry Potter fans staked out spots (some have been sitting there for nearly a week) to catch a glimpse of the stars of the film series.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 is the final film in the series, and shows the dramatic conclusion of JK Rowling’s final installment. The crowd was overwhelmingly aged 18 to 25, and the most common quote I got was “I grew up with this.”

“This” was a combination of things, really, that altogether qualifies as a cultural phenomenon. It was a massive wave of enthusiasm that swept the world as the first books circulated. By the time the third book was released, planet Earth was collectively following the tale of Harry Potter. But those that mirrored Harry in age followed most closely. These books were read quickly — often multiple times — and closely. They were read by nearly everyone. In fact, the series is one of the most memorable events of my generation.

Then came the movies. They corresponded with the books, and led fans through the growth of stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (among others) who appeared Monday in New York to walk the red carpet. They also premiered the film in London last week.

Radcliffe and Watson addressed the crowd from a microphone. Tom Felton, who plays nemesis Draco Malfoy, actually crossed busy Columbus Avenue twice to sign autographs and shake hands with the masses.

And while this very large gathering puts on a show, the enthusiasm for Harry Potter is consistent and pervasive. At regular movie theaters across the country, there will be midnight showings — much like this one that I covered for the sixth movie — and people will meet and share their stories, because everyone has one.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book of the series, was released on July 21, 2007. Millions of people worldwide lined up in bookstores and big box stores to buy or pick up the book the moment it became available. If you weren’t camping out, you weren’t getting a copy that day — unless you were in an airport bookstore. That is precisely where I was at 4 a.m., just hours after it became available. I didn’t wait in a line. In fact, I was the only person in that bookstore. So I picked it up and read it on my flights to and from San Francisco over the next week.

I don’t think anything about my experience reading the books was extraordinary. I don’t think it changed my life — as many people told me today it did for them — but I think it is common ground for a generation. More importantly, I realized that with its invented sports, sprawling magical battles and flying objects, the story of Harry Potter and his friends was just that. It was a story about people. Every story is about people. Despite all the vividly imagined things in the books that took on lives of their own, the Harry Potter stories succeeded (in a way no other stories have ever succeeded) because it was a grand reminder that it is always about the people.

The film opens everywhere Friday (at midnight of course).

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