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As the Harry Potter film series draws to a close, we get the scoop on the final two installments — the first of which hits theaters this month.

On paper, Harry Potter has laid down his magic wand and hung from his last cliff. But his big-screen incarnation — ­personified by Daniel Radcliffe in a franchise that has grossed more than $5.4 billion worldwide — is still making magic with two more installments, the first of which, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, hits theaters this month. (The next and final film is due out next July.)

Based on J.K. Rowling’s wildly successful series (which has been translated into 69 languages and has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide), the Harry Potter film saga is that rarest of Muggles: a silver-screen adaptation of a beloved literary property that arguably has been as commercially and critically successful as its printed antecedent. It’s a particularly notable achievement in this case, considering the adaptations have employed four different directors and ignored three legendary rules for maintaining sanity on a motion picture set: no children, no animals and no special effects.

“Oh, I’ve been doing all three of those things since 1999,” laughs series producer David Heyman, who purchased rights to Rowling’s series more than a decade ago (a decision that he says was “a gut thing”), and who has been instrumental in bringing the books to cinematic life. “I have not found any of those things to be problematic at all. That’s what’s called luck, I suppose.”

Though Heyman has always been the series’ greatest cheerleader, he is particularly sanguine about the final two installments, originally conceived (per Rowling) as one epic slice of magic and mayhem, but ultimately split into two films. “We’ve always wanted to be faithful to the books,” Heyman says. “This last book, though, really required two films to do it justice. We really tried to make just one film, but we could never have done that and still claimed to be faithful. So now audiences get two epic films.”

In Part I, audiences will be treated not only to a “breathtaking” opening chase sequence but also to a handful of scenes written specifically for the film. Heyman, who delights in the seventh film’s intimacy and naturalism, says, “It’s a road film, really — very different stylistically and tonally from the other films. It’s very, very intimate, very close with the characters and their personal demons, albeit against an epic backdrop.”

Having only recently wrapped a 260-day production schedule and nearly a year of post-production — “a real abject lesson in stamina, to be certain,” he laughs — Heyman and his fellow Potterites are graduating Hogwarts and bittersweetly moving on to new ventures.
“Not unlike the characters in these books and films,” he says, “we’re all looking forward to what things may come.”

Magic Kingdom

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Step into the world of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando’s newest attraction. —J.R.

Ever wanted to soar over Hogwarts, have a close encounter with the Whomping Willow or compete in a white-knuckled Quidditch match? It’s all possible in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the newest attraction at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Fla.

Centered around Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — a state-of-the-art “immersive experience” (that’s fancy talk for “ride”) — the 20-acre Wizarding World also gives guests a chance to experience the mischief of Zonko’s joke shop, immerse themselves in the magic of Ollivander’s wand shop, mail letters from Hogsmeade at the Owl Post, take a training flight on Flight of the Hippogriff or face a Hungarian Horntail or a Chinese Fireball on dueling Dragon Challenge roller coasters. “You can even eat exploding sweets,” says Alyson Lundell, a spokesperson for Universal Orlando Resort.

Five years in the making, Wizarding World has already been voted 2010’s “Best New Attraction” by ThemeParkInsider.com and is drawing record crowds on a daily basis, according to Lundell.

David Heyman, producer of the Potter film series, was involved every step of the way in the creation of the Wizarding World. He believes the park’s attention to detail is what elevates it from mere attraction into a true experience. “Because of the passion for the books, people would have come even if the [park] was just OK,” he says. “But we’ve all set our ambition and our vision on being more than ‘good enough’ — [and] on being the very, very best.”