Why You Need to Watch ‘Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts’

If you were nine years old when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in 2001, in the coming year of 2022, please understand, you’ll be turning…30. Got that?

As we were already grown up then, however, we vividly remember the furious mediarati hype and anxious anticipation leading up to that monumental November 14 – which happened to be just 64 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for context’s sake. A Warner Bros PR friend at the time related harrowing tales of movie industry B- and C-listers demanding 10, 15, even 30 tickets to the premiere (“You must understand that sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews, plus sons and daughters and nieces and nephews of important clients are all counting on me!”). Outwardly, the cool kids pretended like they weren’t interested, as they were surely busying themselves trying to secure invites to every Zoolander after party, or snagging guest list spots for next secret Yeah Yeah Yeahs show at some or other cramped but agonizingly cool LES basement club.

Ultimately, though, even those cool kids went on to get hooked on Pottermania – if not on the big screen, then comfortably in the privacy of their agonizingly cool Ludlow Street apartments, courtesy of pre-streaming “On Demand” services.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the eighth and final film, would see release in July of 2011; and by then all those adorable little nippers and lasses – who were really the main reason we all got so emotionally involved in the HP cinematic universe – were starting to have all manner of squishy feelings. So, obviously, it just wasn’t the same anymore. (Though DH2 still did the requisite $bajillion at the box office.)

And so now, in anticipation of some surely massive 25 year anniversary blowout being planned for 2026, we get the more graceful, visceral, but all around backslapping trip down memory lane that is Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, streaming on HBO Max as of January 1. In the opening moments of the trailer, Emma Watson sums it up so perfectly: “It feels like no time has passed, and loads of time has passed.” (Honestly, isn’t that always the way in showbiz?) But Daniel Radcliffe then suggests that there might have even been a bit of existential dread involved with moving on from his decade long stint at Hogwarts: “The thing that scared me the most, was the implication that the most meaningful thing in our life was done.” Curiously enough, now at just 32 years of age, he’s actually looking a bit avuncular and professorial – so it might do us all well to revisit that adorable little scamp who first introduced the phrase “Expecto Patronum!” into our 21st Century lexicon. (Seriously, Danny – we’re just not feeling the beard.)

Of course, one of the priceless prizes the more established actors got to take away from their own personal Potterama, is that at every family function from then to eternity, they get to be the one at the table who can nonchalantly rattle off riveting tales of actually filming Harry Potter movies. To wit, Ralph Fiennes is seen in the trailer even admitting that it was his sister Martha who insisted he take the part of Voldemort, just to impress her young kids, who surely at the time didn’t give a toss about his Oscar worthy performance in The End of the Affair. (“Oh my god! Uncle Ralph is going to be in a Harry Potter movie!”)

Of course, he went on to kill it as Harry’s malevolent but always well-turned-out and weirdly breathing nemesis. So, yeah…kudos, Mr. Fiennes, for making that career altering decision and seeing it through.

But in the overall, the timing of this special HP celebration could absolutely not be better. Why? Because the Harry Potter films were a distinctly post-Millennium phenomenon, riding that last wave of Western exuberance following the revelation that Y2k was not actually going to bring on the Apocalypse. Now, with the West in what just might be a permanent and ultimately fatal tailspin, plagued by the ominous rise of right-wing authoritarianism, the shockingly widening income gap, and the presence of existence-threatening viral pandemics, we may very well not know exactly how long we’ve got left.

And with TikTok surely signaling our ultimate cultural doom, one can easily get dewy-eyed about the intractable, classically heroic spirit of Harry, Hermione and Ron, which allowed us to keep up the illusion just a little while longer, before we were forced to admit that the Hogwartian way of life was simply no longer workable. As Ms. Watson again so incisively puts it in the trailer, “There’s something about Harry Potter that makes life richer.” Yeah…that.

Sure, Hogwarts had a diversity problem. And the whole thing was clearly a showcase of white, Anglo-Saxon privilege. (Never mind JK Rowling’s recent head-spinning trans problems.) But come now, who wants to focus on the negative when there’s the promise of Gary Oldman and Helena Bonham-Carter getting in front of the camera to talk about the magic of magical movie making? And reminding us that we are all, indeed, Harry Potter (as Harry Potter is us), Emma Watson so dramatically wipes a tear from one of her well-made-up eyes whilst Rupert Grint delivers the absolute pièce de résistance: “We’re family – we’ll always be part of each other’s lives.”


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