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THE MORNING BUZZ: Getting on the Harry Train

13 May, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf


We all knew Harry Potter was a powerful wizard, but the anticipation of his first DVD release was powerful enough to close down one track of a busy metropolitan train station at the end of rush hour on a weekday. As I stood with the hundreds of other media and guests at London's Kings Cross train station last week, waiting for Warner's Harry Potter gala event to begin, I couldn't help looking around at the “normal” people just trying to get from point A to point B in their “normal” days and thinking: “This must really be annoying for them.”

But, there was an air of excitement and enthusiasm among the gathered media and fans, especially when stars of the film began to disembark from the Hogwarts Express. People in the train station strained to get a look at what was going on as soon as the media crowd started gathering and passengers on real trains peeped out their windows with questioning, interested stares.

Daniel Radcliffe, the boy wizard himself, was really the only one missing from the cast of wizarding students on hand that night. Radcliffe was studying for exams, was the official line on his absence. But I think, judging from the frenzy of the attending media and fans, his absence was more strategic. I think the poor kid would have been mobbed if he had been there, mauled by the nearly hyperactive media and the excited fans — and given that the whole party was happening mere feet from actual train tracks, that was a chance no one could really take.

As it was, fans and stars alike indulged in Harry Potter mania in a mingle-among-each-other sort of way. The kids from the film seemed just as gleeful to tote off their goodie bags full of Harry Potter DVDs and paraphernalia as their young fans in attendance were.

Harry is a most powerful wizard indeed and he has most definitely pervaded popular culture worldwide.

Rifling through Bloomsbury and Covent Garden bookshops last week, I was a little bit surprised to find that first-edition Harry Potter books are going for as much as first-editions from C.S. Lewis' Narnian chronicles (which are antiques in themselves, aside from their literary value) — in the £1,000 range.

Media members from other countries in London for Harry Potter last week all seemed to trade the same information (“How big is it in your country?”).

On my way to London, I met a Brit who works for a European DVD sound mastering company in Europe and was heading home on the same flight. We started talking about the format in general and Harry Potter in particular. He said he was very surprised to see how big Harry was in the United States. He knew the books and movie were huge in the United Kingdom, but he was amazed Americans seemed taken with it. (He admitted he'd gotten a digital copy of both Harry Potter and of Star Wars: Episode II. months ago.)

During intermission at a play the night after the party, I struck up a conversation with the two guys sitting next to me. One was from Florida and the other was from Nottingham, England. We also started talking about Harry Potter and the mania that surrounds anything to do with the boy wizard, all of us shaking our heads in amazement as I described the extravagant event. My new Nottingham friend said he also already has a DVD copy of Harry Potter, downloaded off the Internet. But, I asked him, “Doesn't it kind of suck that there are no special features or even chapter stops? “Oh yeah,” he replied, nodding and smiling. “But I'm going to buy it, too, so I'll get all that stuff.”

I think the appeal, especially with something so hugely popular as Harry Potter, is to have it first, to have something that a majority of the population has to wait for. But once they've got it first there's also the chance that those who got it next got something a lot better.

So people who download copies of a popular movie are perhaps not totally disinclined to go out and buy the official DVD as well. After all, they probably got the illegal one for cheap or even free, so it's not like they're spending twice as much money. And, at least until recordable DVD players are more readily available and in use, Hollywood studios have a lot more to offer on their discs than the illegal sellers do.

Judging from record-breaking sales reports coming out of the United Kingdom in the few days since the title's May 11 street there, whatever snapshot of the population that owns illicit copies of Harry Potter hasn't hurt Warner Bros.' official release too much. Or, on the other hand, if it has had a significant effect and sales are still through the roof, can you imagine what the sales would have been were there no piracy whatsoever?

I guess Warner, like New Line with Lord of the Rings later this summer; 20th Century Fox with Attack of the Clones and Columbia TriStar with Spider-Man later this year, will have to settle for making gazillions of dollars on their most prime properties rather than bazillions. Or is a bazillion more than a gazillion? I'm not sure.



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