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After midnight

Growing up with Harry Potter and the bong of knowledge

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Part of what makes the Harry Potter franchise such a ridiculous runaway success is that its fan base is not limited strictly to children. J.K. Rowling's books appeal to the inner children of readers and moviegoers of all ages, including those old enough to, say, chug beer from a keg or suck hits from a gravity bong. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the latest film based on the series' fourth book, is billed as a turning point-not just a bump up to PG-13, but an entire shift in tone to even further the interest of older Potter fanatics. The plot is scarier, including one vicious horntail dragon and the death of a major character. The subtext is sexier, including the emergence of Harry's first crush and Hermione's cleavage. In fact, there are more flirtatious stare-downs in Goblet of Fire than you'll find at a strip club on Valentine's Day. This isn't just your child's Harry Potter anymore, and at the opening weekend's Saturday late show-an unadvertised, 11:30 p.m. screening added to accomodate overwhelming demand (see sidebar)-the more mature demographic is most evident.

For one, Potter appears to now be the ultimate date flick, and Noel Young is taking that concept to the extreme-he's sitting with seven women, all exchange students from Japan.

"It's not really a date," he says. "Well, it is. Sort of. I guess." He turns to the woman sitting next to him and asks for clarification of his date/friend status, but in mid-sentence is interrupted by another exchange student handing him a plastic cup.

"Special drink for you," she says.

The drink doesn't exactly smell like Hogwart's famous pumpkin juice. It's more Captain Morgan than Professor Mad-Eye Moody.

"It's okay," Young clarifies. "We're all of age."

Hey, it's Saturday night, and Young and his friends aren't the only ones turning Potter into a party. A couple sitting in the first row carry a tub of popcorn, two sodas and a pack of Snowcaps. Their eyes are red and they look uneasy when approached about attending the late show.

"High as hell," admits the guy, who for obvious reasons requests anonymity beyond saying he attends UM. "She's a big fan, and I figured it'd be a cool film to see on the big screen."

His girlfriend is the one who's read all six books and seen the previous three movies. She grew up with Harry Potter and read the first book, The Sorcerer's Stone, in sixth grade. She's shy about saying much more, but adds: "There's a lot of knowledge-like, life lessons-in the stories. It's a fantasy world, but the lessons are real."

Another couple sitting in the first row of the second level also admits to partying before the show. "We tried to hit the 10:15, but it was sold out," says the smiley pot-smoking Potter fan waiting for his date to return from the concession line. "It's all right. We just killed time by going down the street to a friend's house, smoked, and came back for the late show."

Richard Taylor, the Carmike 10 manager, added late night screenings on Friday and Saturday because the regularly scheduled 11 shows in three different theaters weren't meeting customer demand. Plus, he says, a lot of fans prefer the late night/early morning experience; the 11:30 screening will end at 2:15 a.m.

"I actually had people call to ask about the latest show possible," says Taylor, who personally logged 16-hour work days Friday and Saturday. "We didn't advertise Friday's [late show] and still had 130 out of 170 tickets sold."

What exactly is the draw?

"It's the witching hour thing, I guess."

But Taylor says the more mature content included in Goblet of Fire hasn't necessary marked a drastic change in the core Potter audience. The regular shows are still populated with families, high school students who have grown up with the Potter franchise and, most of all, teenage girls.

"It's mostly the young girls who dress up and come with the books," says Taylor. "I never see any boys dressing up. Just the girls, and they've come out full force this weekend."

The theater on Saturday night, however, is filled mostly with older couples-or, in Young's case, a harem-and only one family. And the film doesn't disappoint. The special effects are mesmerizing, highlighted by an opening scene at the Quidditch World Cup and a hair-raising underwater sequence with fanged aquatic creatures and mermaids. The acting is better, with Daniel Radcliffe as Potter deftly handling the moodier subtext, Emma Watson as Hermione showing the potential to be a star beyond this series, and a host of other A-list talents (particularly Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort) adding to the experience. Finally, director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) adroitly juggles the task of tying up the early story-lines of Potter's pre-pubescence and transitioning into his darker, more awkward adolescence-the film is choppy at times, but not to the point of being hard to follow. It's easily the best Potter film yet.

Toward the end of the movie, following the dramatic conclusion of the Tri-wizard Tournament, Potter, Hermione and Ron Weasley talk about their future. It's been a long, challenging ride for the three, a fact not lost on the young teens.

"Everything is going to change now, isn't it?" asks Hermione.

"I think it is," Harry responds.

Judging by the demographics and antics of Potter's late show audience, it may already have.

arts@missoulanews.com

How popular is Harry Potter?

Number of tickets sold opening weekend at the Carmike: 6,000

Number of sellout shows Friday: 6

Number of sellout shows Saturday: 10

Number of sellout shows Sunday: 10

By comparison, number of opening-day sellouts at the Carmike of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: 1

The Goblet of Fire's estimated opening-weekend national gross: $101.4 million

Total number of Harry Potter films: 4

Total national gross for first three Harry Potter films: $829million

Total number of Harry Potter books: 6

Estimated number of Harry Potter books in print: 113 million

Author J.K. Rowling's estimated annual income: $77 million

Statistics courtesy of Carmike 10, box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, Scholastic and Reuters.

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