August 21, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

NOTE: There are no Harry Potter spoilers in this column.

For fans of the Harry Potter book series, today is THE DAY. For months, it has been red-lettered on calendars. Countdowns have been done. Anticipation has risen to a level that, at least for a book, is unprecedented. It's a little amazing that, in this era of gadgetry and gizmos, of interaction and multi-media, that something as simple as a novel can capture the attention of a generation. Ten years ago, when prognosticators were indicating that books would soon follow the dinosaur and do-do into extinction, who would have guessed that the exploits of three pre-teen wizards would re-invigorate a form of entertainment that dates back centuries (600 years if we're talking Gutenberg)? For this, if nothing else, we owe a serious debt of gratitude to J.K. Rowling. The death of reading has been put off at least another few decades.

For me, today is just another Saturday – the third of the month. I'm a casual Harry Potter reader, which means that I'll get around to the book when the opportunity arises. (Opportunity being defined as "as soon as my wife finishes it." At the rate she's going, that will be tomorrow at the latest.) I'm not dying to find out how everything ends. Nothing will have changed by the time I get around to it. I will studiously avoid spoilers (and I can't understand why a group of perverse people have gone out of their way to ruin the story for others by lobbing unlabeled "bombs" into the midst of discussion groups and forums), but if something slips by, it will not be the end of my world.

Yet, even though today is not THE DAY for me, I have experienced many DAYs in my life, some better than others. They all bear the same hallmarks: fixed points on the calendar awaited with breathless anticipation. Some have been "life events" (such as a wedding or the closing on a property). Many have been related to television and movies. None - at least as far as I can remember - have concerned books. Certainly, there have been novels whose publication I have looked forward to, but none that consumed me to the point where I had trouble sleeping the night before, as if it was Christmas Eve and Santa Claus was trying to squeeze his fat butt down the chimney.

Since this is (primarily) a movie column, let me reminisce about movie DAYs. At this point, one might expect me to write about Star Wars, but that wasn't a big deal for me. In fact, I didn't know I was going to see Star Wars until about three hours before I headed for the drive-in with my next-door neighbors. Maybe King Kong - the first film I saw projected in a theater – was a movie DAY, but I have trouble remembering. I know I was excited about it, but the question remains open about whether I was more excited about seeing King Kong or seeing a movie. A little of both, I suppose. But it's tough to write about something when the memories are so fuzzy.

For me, perhaps the most memorable movie DAY related to Star Trek IV. This was not my favorite Star Trek movie, but it was my most anticipated one. It came at the height of my Star Trek fandom, when I was a sophomore in college. THE DAY was November 26, 1986 - the day before Thanksgiving. It was the same day I had a major engineering test in the morning (what heartless professor would do something like that to a class?) before traveling home in the afternoon. The plan was to attend the movie with the "usual" group, all home for the holidays. (It would be the last time we all saw a movie together, Star Trek or otherwise.) I got to my parents' house around 3:00. And waited. And waited. There was a certain amount of agony associated with knowing that I could be sitting in a movie theater seeing the film, but that would spoil the camaraderie. Finally, at 6:30, the call came. 15 minutes later, we were at the theater - a newly-minted AMC eight-plex - standing in line for tickets. When the clock struck 7:30, we were all in our seats, counting down the seconds. The projectionist obliged – as soon as we reached "zero," the lights dimmed.

When it comes to THE DAY, the waiting often (although not always) exceeds the actual experience. In the memory that forms, the two are inextricably linked. As much as a director might wish it to be so, we never go into any movie with a "blank slate." We bring to it the sum-total of our life's experiences and the register of the day's events. In a very real sense, none of us sees exactly the same movie. When I view a Harry Potter film, I'm watching something a little different than the die-hard fan to my left who has read the books six times and the non-fan to my right who doesn't know the difference between Dumbledore and Dumblebum. The images are the same but the processing filters in our minds are different. Anticipation can heighten a movie experience. It doesn't necessarily make the film better but it makes it more intense. (For example, I was almost as hyped up for Star Trek V as for Star Trek IV. But it wasn't a good movie and that led to a keenly felt sense of disappointment bordering on betrayal.)

No Harry Potter fan will be reading this column today because, like my wife, they will be reading the book. It's like being a bachelor this weekend because, for all intents and purposes, I don't exist. The waiting is now over. THE DAY has arrived. Now all that's left is to read the 800 pages and then convert the experience into a memory.