The Harry Potter books have proven to young people all over the globe that reading can be a rewarding experience.
But nowhere has the payoff been greater than at Julia Randall Elementary School, where two fifth-grade classes were treated to a pre-opening, Friday-morning screening of the season's premiere movie event, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" all because the students have been reading the Potter books in class.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is the much-hyped, $150-million, two-and-a-half-hour Hollywood retelling of the first book in British author J.K. Rowling's series of tales involving the titular hero an 11-year-old orphan who finds chills, thrills and cliff-hanging adventure as he confronts wizards, warlocks and all manner of whimsical creatures.
The books' sales figures alone qualify Harry Potter as a cultural phenomenon. But so does the response of young readers, who have been gobbling up the epic-length tomes as if they were Milk Duds.
And now they are gobbling up the big-screen version. Between Friday and Sunday evening, the movie shattered all existing box-office records by raking in a whopping $93.5 million beating the JuJuBes out of the former opening-weekend record holder, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," which grossed $72.1 million in 1997.
Alan Ammann, a JRE teacher whose class was in on the free flick, hatched the advance-preview idea when he saw how voraciously his students including some who had never shown a keen interest in reading were consuming the Potter books.
"It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the students to read the book, see the movie, and then compare the differences between them in terms of the storytelling," Ammann said.
Sawmill Theatres' general manager, Mary Klein, agreed.
And, needless to say, the students in Ammann's and Joanne Bessler's classes thought it was a terrific idea to spend two-and-a-half school hours in a movie theater, watching the most anticipated motion picture event of the year.
The critics rave
They were equally thrilled after the film's closing credits.
"I thought it was the best movie I've ever seen, and I've seen about 10,000 movies," raved Jesse Stauback upon his return to class. "The part I liked best was with Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback.
"I think the movie is better than the book, because sometimes it's hard to understand things inside a book," Stauback said. "In the movie, they visualize it all for you."
Nick Creighton liked the Mountain Troll character best.
"I was hoping they'd keep the scene where Harry Potter sticks his wand up the Mountain troll's nose and wiggles it," he said. "But that wasn't in there. That's why I still like the book better than the movie. It tells more."
Sheana Nelsen's favorite scene was the one in which Harry faces headmaster Dumbledore at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"I thought it was pretty good effects," Nelsen said. "It was cool. But the book had more details, so I like the book better."
"My favorite part was when Harry had to play chess and the queen killed the pawn," Jeffrey Howard said. "The book is better because it's better to read than to watch movies and TV and stuff."
Sabrina Brahm was one who enjoyed the screen version most.
"It's kind of hard to understand the book sometimes," she said, "but in the movie you can see what the book was telling you."
Brahm also provided evidence that the Harry Potter phenomenon has not altered the reading habits of all his fans.
"Did the book make me want to read more books?," Brahm asked before answering her own question. "No. Not really. I prefer movies."