If you are a true Potterhead you are either all excited after seeing the Harry Potter reunion or are extremely disappointed. There’s nothing in between. For most, Return to Hogwarts has been like a New Year’s gift. The documentary celebrates Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary by reminding you that you once liked the Harry Potter films and, perhaps, still do, or at the very least have enough lingering passion for them to be coaxed into falling in love with them all over again. But while we watched, the memories it evoked were of the supplementary features that came with the DVDs that most of us still have on their shelves, rather than the movies themselves. The encounter, like many before it, isn’t unpleasant, but it falls short of being amazing.
What to expect?
The HBO Max documentary, which runs about 100 minutes, tries hard to recreate some of the film’s playfulness and enchantment. Various Harry Potter actors scream with joy in the first few minutes when they discover invites to the reunion, which is modelled after the one that initially brought Harry into this reality. For a brief moment, a sight of Daniel Radcliffe striding along Diagon Alley on his way to see director Chris Columbus feels like a peek of Harry as an adult. While Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton, and Alfred Enoch reminisce over gilded champagne flutes at Gringotts, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint share a heart-to-heart by the Gryffindor fireplace. There’s something to be said about the sheer joy of seeing these people and locations together again.
The intricate details being discussed
All of the meticulous set design and logistical manoeuvring, however, appears to be in service of only sometimes intriguing content. Return to Hogwarts is a roughly chronological journey down memory lane, with behind-the-scenes material and film snippets with current interviews with producers and actors regarding each film. Many of the incidents recounted will be familiar to Harry Potter fans, such as the one about Grint shirking a homework project from Alfonso Cuarón in a very Ron-like manner. There’s a light examination of each film’s themes, as well as quick parts about performers who have died away or how “wonderful” the fans are.
There is also adoration. Large sections of Return to Hogwarts are devoted to characters emphasising how important the series was, fawning over one other’s abilities, or professing their love for other members of a team they believe was like family. (Though there is a nice narrative about Watson’s childhood infatuation with Felton, it is more platonic affection.) In the absence of further in-depth research or newer revelations, these heartfelt and well-deserved accolades take on the empty gloss of PR-approved junket soundbites.
There are a few moments of genuine delight, most of which involve Helena Bonham Carter, a cheerfully chaotic force who teases Felton about wands not being real and makes Radcliffe blush with a friendly, flirtatious note he wrote her years ago (“I just wish I’d been born 10 years earlier, I might have been in with a chance”). But, all too often, what comes out onscreen feels more like an elaborate presentation of pleasant times amongst close friends than the real thing.