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By Chris Thilk | June 3, 2004

The Harry Potter juggernaut cannot be denied. There must be something in the books, movies and novelty stickers that appeal to something deep down in a large segment of the population. Still, the box office take for the second movie, Chamber of Secrets, was about $59 million less than 2001’s Sorcerer’s Stone so there has to be some speculation that this will continue following the law of dimishing returns.

Unlike with The Lord of the Rings, there was no continuation of the story in 2003. Have you ever been talking with someone, had a really good conversation going, and then one of you gets up to go to the bathroom? The conversation is never quite as good after that brief interruption. 2003 could prove to the bathroom break for the Harry Potter film franchise. Interesting, since J.K. Rowling seems to be able to take her sweet time with the books with no adverse reaction.

Incidentally, I’d give the screenwriters $10 if they work out some way in the script to make Gary Oldman scream “EVERYBODY!!!” just like he does in “The Professional.” This has to be one of my all time favorite movie moments.

The Teaser Trailer

Hitting all the high points, the teaser trailer does hint at a darker tone to the movie than the first two movies had. Maggie Smith still looks like she just got tired of waiting for the phone to ring with a better part and all the other supporting characters get a half-dozen frames of screen time each. There is a little bit of plot setup where characters talk about Oldman’s Sirius Black, but mostly this is just a public service message saying there’s a new Harry Potter movie coming and the kids are a little taller than last time.

The Trailer

While still playing at being a bit darker than the first two movies, this trailer lets in more rays of sunshine and whimsy. There are shots of at least a few of the major set pieces of the movie, including the “Knight Bus” careening through the streets until shrieking to a sudden stop (I can only assume this was due to the Penguin controlling it from his campaign van). There’s more of the main cast running around and getting themselves alternately into and out of trouble. It is good to see Emma Watson is growing up nicely though.

In a sure sign of corporate synergy at Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner), the AOL Keyword for the movie’s destination is shown before and for a longer time than the website address. Subtle, and if you don’t know the tangled web of corporate ownership you won’t notice it.

The Poster

All three major players, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson’s faces are smushed together. Without the Harry Potter logo on there, this exact same layout could be used for a psycho-sexual drama with Sharon Stone, James Woods and Danny Glover with a little bit of help from Photoshop. It does match the blue-gray color scheme hinted at in the trailers, which is a nice bit of consistency, and continues to show the darker tone the series may be taking with this movie.

The Website

If there’s one thing you don’t want to try and do on the website, it’s find information on the movie. The layout does everything but actively discourage visitors from finding anything that isn’t imparted with a sense of wonder and fantasy. This leads me to believe kids and young adults are the targeted audience. Not surprising considering the movie.

The usual assortment of trailers, posters, screensavers, wallpaper and buddy icons are split between the obviously labeled “Downloads” and the fancier sounding “Daily Prophet”. You would expect something labeled “Daily” would be updated regularly, but multiple visits yielded exactly the same page.

There are games galore on the site, all of which take a different sequence from one of the movies and make it interactive. They are not very interesting and I really think this section could have been used more effectively for cross-marketing the console-based video games. Why force someone to play a clunky online game when you could give him or her a playable demo of a game available now for only $59.95?

Seemingly a ton of online content is available only to those who “Enroll at Hogwarts” or, put more bluntly, register on the site. I didn’t, so I don’t know exactly what is behind the registration wall but like most sites it probably gives the illusion of exclusivity to those who can successfully type their email address and the state they live in.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the site is one I haven’t seen on very many other movies’ sites: a message board. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about this board, though. Half the messages are so overly gushing and/or use such poor grammar and show such poor typing ability that I’m almost convinced they’re written by marketing wonks for the studio. Just like Richard Grieco, these are adults playing at being kids.

To access any cast or crew information, you have to go in the “Marauder’s Map” and, as the knight told Indiana Jones, “Choose wisely”. Unfold the map, select a destination and you may or may not be taken to an actor’s profile. You may also be taken to a portion of the site available only to those who have registered or somewhere like “The Daily Prophet” where you have already been.

The “Marauder’s Map seems like something proposed in a meeting that everyone agreed sounded really cool but is ultimately useless. Nothing on the “Map” is labeled very well and seems specifically designed to confuse and frustrate someone actually looking for information.


The campaign is consistent, showing that there may be dark days ahead for Harry and the gang. This is a tough play for Warner Bros. as kids in the audience mean not only repeat business, but also a good number of adults being dragged along who might not otherwise see the movie. Older sci-fi/fantasy fans may be soiling themselves at the grittier side of the Harry Potter universe, but they aren’t necessarily going to plan birthday parties around going to the movie like kids might. The mix of grit and fantasy didn’t seem to blend in the trailer though, playing more like two sides of a split personality and not like one coherent movie.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Random Thoughts blog.

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