Harry Potter 20th Anniversary – Return to Hogwarts Review: Let me be honest here and admit that I hate these reunion specials once they are done. No, it has nothing to do with their existence, but for the grumpy fact that they do make me feel old. Damn you, fast-moving years! Last year, HBO Max scored a bonanza with FRIENDS Reunion that was entertaining and poignant as hell, and earned enough TRPs for the streaming service to make them greedy. Now wanting to repeat that success, in what I believe is going to be an annual affair with different WB products, HBO Max comes up a Harry Potter Reunion that brings most of its major stars for the 20th Anniversary special of the first Harry Potter film. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary – Return to Hogwarts: BTS Video Featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Others Is Here to Unveil the Magical Journey!
So we have Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), share their memories of what it was to be cast in the trio of the most coveted roles. In between, we also have the other major Harry Potter actors like Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), James Phelps and Oliver Phelps (Weasley twins), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas), Toby Jones (Dobby), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) make appearances, meet each other in groups and pairs and talks about their experiences on the sets.
The special also brings in the directors – Chris Columbus (Philosopher’s Stone, and Chamber of Secrets), Alfonso Cuaron (The Prisoner of Azkaban), Mike Newell (The Goblet of Fire), and David Yates (the remaining movies). Each director gives insights into how they were tasked to bring the kids play out the various stages of their coming of age arc – from the wonderment of a child to raging hormones of being teens and finally into the dark uncertainty they face in the wake of adulthood.
Watch the Trailer:
If you expect the special to be a grand meet-together of the cast members under one roof, Return to Hogwarts isn’t that. For one, not all living cast members are part of the reunion, especially those in main roles. I really didn’t expect Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory) to be there, it would have cost HBO executives a bomb to make that happen. But what about Michael Gambon (the second Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Jim Broadbent (Professor Slughorn), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), Timothy Spall (Wormtongue) Brendan Gleeson (Moody), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley) among others? Their absence was certainly conspicuous. Also the reunion hated the Muggles, it seems. Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley) is no more with us, but Fiona Shaw (Petunia) and Harry Melling (Dudley) could have been part of this. Melling is also gaining popularity these days with his body of work.
Speaking of popularity, it seems the makers were only bring back Harry’s fellow Gryffindors who retained their fame after the franchise was over. So no Seamus Finnigan, Padma and Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown in here.
So what happens with the ones we get to see on the reunion? Instead of putting all under one roof, the special instead clumps them up in smaller pairs or groups in various Harry Potter sets from Gryffindor Common Room to Gringotts bank to Weasley’s Burrow, with the occasional cast member joining another pair or group, and discussing their experiences. If you expect Harry Potter to face off Draco Malfoy, you would be sorely disappointed there! But it was cute to hear Watson and Felton acknowledge the sparks between them during the shoots, which Watson insists didn’t turn romantic at all, loaded with a sigh and all!
So these small-group interactions drive the reunion special, with major focus first devoted to Radcliffe speaking to Columbus about setting up the Harry Potter cinematic universe, and then of course, the main trio talking about growing up with the franchise, handling fame (Emma wanted to quit after fifth film, as she was struggling to handle the attention) and working with some of the great actors of British Cinema. Emma Watson Recalls Wanting to Quit Harry Potter Franchise, Says ‘I Think I Was Scared’.
Some of anecdotes are quite fun, like the late Richard Harris (the first Dumbledore) believing Fawkes was real, or Emma and Ron discussing the awkwardness shooting their first onscreen kiss (the BTS video had a better take of that kiss than what we got in the movie), or Tom Felton recalling how easily Jason Isaacs shifted from being a caring adult offscreen to a stone-cold figure when the camera is on, and how he once injured him during a scene that got deleted later.
I loved every scene that Helena Bonham Carter was in, especially when she reminds Gary Oldman about ‘killing’ him in The Order of Phoenix. You begin to appreciate what thespians like Gary Oldman and Ralph Fiennes brought to their roles, especially seeing Oldman’s fantastic work in the Shrieking Shack scene from The Prisoner of Azkaban and Fiennes making an instant impact with Voldemort’s resurrection scene in Goblet of Fire.
I have seen a couple of reviews that call the reunion special as strictly for fans, but isn’t that the whole point of these shows? Why would anyone who is not a fan would want to check out a Harry Potter reunion? It is what these specials give to the fans is what matters to be judged. For a Harry Potter fan, the 20th Anniversary – Return to Hogwarts reunion offer oodles of nostalgia, through conversations and old footage from the cast auditions to their meet-n-greet with their fans once the kids became stars. The ‘In Memoriam; segment that pays tribute to the departed actors like Harrish, Griffiths, the great Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), John Hurt (Ollivander) et al is guaranteed to make you shed a tear or more, and also when Emma and Daniel tear up near the end reminiscing about the franchise.
Now that I listed what I liked about the reunion, I also have to share what makes this Harry Potter reunion not reach the same level of satisfaction as the FRIENDS one. For one, Return to Hogwarts feels like the cast recapping the franchise for you, and then indulging in praising each other. This sets a sense of monotony in the proceedings after a point because the movies weren’t exactly all that great TBH. FRIENDS the Reunion Review: Nostalgic, Heartbreaking, Touching and Somewhat Stretched, ‘The One Where It All Comes Back’!
I am a huge Potter fan, but it is the love I have for the books than for the movies. The movies I felt failed to capture the fraction of the magical world that Rowling managed to create through her words, helped by our immense imagination. After the initial fascination about the reunion wears off, I was frequently reminded of how, after Prisoner of Azkaban, the later movie adaptations compromised with substantial subplots in the novels to create empty visual spectacles. The footage played from those movies keep reminding me of my beef with the franchise and did lessen the charm of watching the reunion after a point, before the emotional finale reeled me in.
Also, save for a couple of dark spots, like the aforementioned Watson’s struggle in handling fame, the routine takes a very safe treatment, never getting into patchy areas. So if you expect the cast members to address why JK Rowling isn’t there, then again this special is not for you.
Rowling has been (rightly) facing flak for her transphobic statements, that had been called out by some of the Harry Potter franchise. Which could be the reason why she isn’t here. Instead the episode uses her 2019 footage to give us her insights. Why we understand HBO’s qualms in bringing Rowling to the show, it is hard to ignore her absence considering the entire franchise existed only because of her.
PS: I believe the title ‘Return to Hogwarts’ could have had a deeper significance, if Fantastic Beasts sequels never existed in our world.
– So Much Magical Nostalgia
– Monotonous After a Point
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary – Return to Hogwarts has the magic wand to ‘Accio’ plenty of nostalgia, but not enough to ‘Repulso’ monotony. Still, it is a sweet lookback at the movie franchise that has its share of admirers and detractors, and sigh at how the kids we have seen watching grow up remind you of being part of that journey of theirs. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary – Return to Hogwarts is streaming on HBO Max, and in India on Amazon Prime Video.
So what are we having next year, Warner Bros? Did the recent The Matrix Resurrections nix the idea of The Matrix reunion for you in 2023?
(The above story first appeared on The Hamden Journal on Dec 31, 2021 04:44 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website thehamdenjournal.com).