Sunday, November 18, 2001

The past four years of author J.K. Rowling’s life can be described as magical. Her stories about an orphaned child who enters a school for wizards and witches became instant classics in children’s eyes and have garnered notice in literary circles around the world.

Of course, Hollywood also was watching, and the film premiere of “Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone” has shown the power of this work in advance ticket sales and lines at the theaters.

A Web-site companion to the movie hosts a range of multimedia fun for fans to interact with some of the Potter lore by becoming a student at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, buying merchandise or reading about film-related happenings.

Harry Potter

Site address:

Creator: and its international counterparts all were created by Warner Bros. Online, an AOL Time Warner company, in association with several other Warner Bros. divisions, including those involved in theatrical production, theatrical marketing and consumer products and their international counterparts. Warner Bros. Online in Glendale, Calif., has been in operation for more than five years.

Creator quotable:

“ creates an immersive world that enables Harry Potter fans to bring their time online into the ‘world’ of Harry Potter. We built it with the high standard of quality set by Jo Rowling and the filmmakers, producer David Heyman and director Chris Columbus.

“Lots of us involved with the project tested aspects of the site features with our own kids and other family members. It was important to get it right. The site will live on as it supports the fan base, the later DVD release, subsequent film releases and the other Harry Potter efforts across the company,” says Don Buckley, senior vice president of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Word from the Webwise:

The potential student’s journey begins with a video showing the Hogwarts Express train pulling into Platform 93/4 to let visitors off at the site’s main page.

Seven areas of exploration are presented. These include “Hogwarts,” where training begins at the famous school; “Diagon Alley,” offering downloadable items such as screen savers; “Platform 93/4,” acting as the Harry Potter community area with message boards; “Daily Prophet,” which displays the latest news on the film and books; “Diversions,” guaranteed to entertain; “Wizard’s Shop,” which offers all manner of Harry Potter merchandise for sale; and “Live the Magic,” which gives fans even more games.

All prospective students must begin at the “Hogwarts” section and type in their first name or nickname. The sorting hat then asks a series of questions to place each visitor in one of the four houses at Hogwarts.

I decided I most wanted the power of invisibility, would enjoy a horseradish-flavored Bertie Botts Bean, preferred an owl as my Hogwarts pet, would act as keeper in the Quidditch game (an aerial soccerlike challenge to hone broomstick-control skills) and would return a satchel of galleons I found. These answers placed me in Harry’s house, Gryffindor, and I am now recognized by name and house each time I look around the site.

Visitors next select an item at Ollivander’s Wand Shop to help with spell-casting. I liked the 8-inch mahogany wand with a core of unicorn hair. After selecting the wand, move it around the room to see some magic. Quidditch training and wand shopping can be offered only to enrolled students, so visitors should sign up.

Fans interested in the movie will love the “Daily Prophet” section. In addition to a full cast roster with biographies and photos of both the characters and the actors playing them, I found images of posters and three ways (Real Player, Windows Media and Quicktime) to see the film’s latest trailer. Highlights from the premiere in London and the United States also are available.

Other visitors, even lowly Muggles (non-magic folk), looking for a challenge should stop by the “Diversion” area for games, which include playing a round of Quidditch and dressing up a magical creature. There’s also a primer (which is really a shameless plug) for the Wizards of the Coast collectible card game.

Ease of use:

Many of the site’s sections overlap, leaving only about a dozen things to do. Visitors with speedier Internet connections will enjoy the areas much more, but at minimum, visitors will need Macromedia’s Flash 4 plug-in, Quicktime and a version 5.0 or higher browser. Although the look and feel of the site breathe Harry Potter, I would have liked to have seen a bit more about the books and a few educational opportunities.

Don’t miss:

The “Live the Magic” section features the Coke-sponsored simulation “Route to Hogwarts Virtual Tour.” Players race against the clock to make the Hogwarts Express in King’s Cross Station, navigate the waters of the lake near Hogwarts and reach the school. Along the way, visitors find a pet, practice some spells and discover bonuses to stay alive before time runs out. This rudimentary Myst-like game can be played either through a smaller Flash version or with the help of a 3-D plug-in loaded onto a PC (450 MHz minimum speed) for a much more intense 3-D experience.

Family activity:

Warner Bros. would recommend that everyone on the planet see the movie as a family activity away from the site. I would suggest having the entire clan read the first book, print out a few coloring pages or bookmarks from the site (found under the “Flourish and Blotts” area in “Diagon Alley”) and have a family discussion delving into the characters and the lessons Harry learns in his various travails.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Parents should sit next to junior as he travels through the site. A dizzying number of advertisements and promotions may cast a spell upon younger wizards, leading them down a road of drinking too much Coca-Cola, wanting to wear an official Harry Potter backpack, reading TV Guide and demanding access to an America Online account to create their own Web site.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail (

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