Harry Potter and the Chocolate Factory

July 16, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

When Warner Brothers determined the opening date of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they carefully examined the release schedule and decided this was the best weekend to put it into theaters. The only other "major" is the R-rated Wedding Crashers, and that's aimed at a less family-friendly audience. With Fantastic Four fading in the rear-view mirror and The Bad News Bears yet to come, this is supposed to be Charlie's weekend. Or is it? Because, for all of their planning, the studio heads at Warner Brother's forgot about Harry Potter.

This could be the first time ever that the release of a book will have a major impact on the box office. Between 12:01 Saturday morning and 11:59 Saturday night, millions of copies will have been sold. My local Barnes & Noble handled hundreds of pre-orders, with about 400 people showing at midnight to pick up their copies. In terms of anticipated events for pre-teens and teenagers, the arrival of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is right up there with the opening of Revenge of the Sith.

Admittedly, not everyone who buys the book today will stay home all weekend and read. But a sizeable percentage will. If one million kids decline Charlie and Johnny in favor of Harry, that would mean a $7 million fall-off in overall box office. That's big enough to be noticed. In the long run, maybe Tim Burton's dark candyland tale won't be impacted. Perhaps the kids will see it next weekend, or wait until it's out on DVD. But it's not hard to imagine that Charlie's numbers will be deflated. I wonder if the Weekend Warrior took that into consideration when he made his predictions. (The other half of Charlie's audience - those who are prodded by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory-driven nostalgia - will not be impacted.)

For me, the book to buy in 2005 is P.D. James' The Lighthouse, which is due out in November. James is a best-selling author, but I doubt I'll be able to loiter outside of a bookstore until 12:01 to nab an early copy. It's probably a good thing that I can't, though, since I wouldn't get any sleep that night. If my current age was 12, I would have been at that Barnes & Noble at midnight last night, and would probably still be reading this morning. (My perusal of Mr. Potter's adventures took me through book three. For the rest, I'll wait for the movies.)

The most refreshing thing about the success of the Harry Potter series is the way it has brought the joy of reading into the lives of this planet's younger citizens. Pop culture today values flash, bang, and pizzaz - loud music, Internet chat rooms, and video games. But, because of J.K. Rowling's magical cast, we can be assured that the art of reading - of curling up in a chair with a book and getting lost in another world for a few hours - is not lost. So here's to Harry Potter, and if Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have to take it on the chin, so be it.