No spoilers ahead. No worries.

Local blog The Fresno Beehive ran a contest last week to win one of 70 pairs of tickets to an early screening of the new Harry Potter film and whaddaya know…I won. Always cool when that happens with a movie you’d spend money to see anyway. Saw it Monday night while the rest of you were debating whether or not to eat that leftover jelly donut while you watched The Bachelorette. (Or is that just¬†my¬†usual Monday night?)

Anyway, my wife Erin and I attended the screening along with a couple hundred other selfish locals who didn’t tell any of their friends on Facebook about the contest. (Wait…that wasn’t just me too, right?) We both went in not sure what to expect. I’d heard mixed things about the movie. Mostly positive, but many reviewers had cited pacing issues. Pacing is really important to me. I didn’t even know if it would be in 3D, which I’m not always a fan of. It was. Check out the cool glasses they handed out.

Click here if you can’t see the above image!

Erin is the one with the cheekbones.

The 3D was post-converted from a 2D image, but, for the most part, you couldn’t really tell. Both Erin and I agreed the 3D didn’t make too much of a difference as far as the viewing experience went, but it didn’t get in the way either. I felt bad for the security guards who wanded us as we entered the auditorium. They were supposed to be watching for recording devices while we enjoyed the movie, but they just watched the movie with us instead, sans glasses. If it’s a cost issue, I’d say you’re fine to go 2D. Just make sure you enter the right auditorium.

But on to the movie. I’m by no means a Harry Potter fanboy. I’ve read the books and seen the movies, but my connection to it is entirely within the scope of my adulthood and I don’t have the strong, strong connection so many a decade younger than me do. What I do love about the books and movies is the sense of wonder they’ve always inspired. I don’t get the exact same feeling from Harry Potter that I got growing up on Star Wars and Back to the Future, but it comes a lot closer than the Prequels ever have. I don’t even have to tell you which prequels I’m talking about, do I? Sad, that.

Time to cut right to it: the movie was amazing. I mean, seriously incredible. It worked me over on every level: viscerally, emotionally…somehtingelseally. At the end, I clapped right along with everyone else and that’s stupid. No one who created the movie was in the room. But I clapped and I was happy to do it. The movie caps off a film series that never had any right to be good. And it caps it well.

Pacing issues? None that I could see. This sucker moves when it needs to and slows down when you need the break. It grabbed hold of me from the very start and never let go.

You know the story by now. Final showdown. Good and evil. Hilter and Nazi allegories with dragons and goblins. Friendship and love triumphing over all. Etc. I think the difference this time was that the stakes were sufficiently raised and I felt them in a way I haven’t on the other films. I’ve never gone into a Harry Potter film blind; I’ve always read the books beforehand, but somehow, with this one, I was on the edge of my seat. I felt some stirrings. That hadn’t ever really happened before with these characters.

In fact, things get so dire for our 2-story high friends that at one point I heard a woman sobbing uncontrollably in the theater. She went on for about half an hour like that. I hope she was okay. Also: I both hope and do not hope she’s an Iraq War vet or something. Maybe the war scenes brought up some bad mojo for her.

That’s the other thing: this movie’s got scale. At some points, we’re talking Lord of the Rings, everybody-fight-at-once-like scale. It’s pretty amazing to see on the big screen (DO NOT wait for home video). I completely support the filmmakers’ decision to split the last book in two. I don’t think anyone coming out of this film will feel otherwise.

What can I say? It worked on me. Daniel Radcliffe has finally come into his own. There were moments in each of the previous films that felt a little false, but not so this time. Harry Potter is a fully realized character and Radcliffe comes off well and holds his own ably against Alan Rickman’s Snape and Ralph Fienne’s Voldemort.

Hoo boy, Voldemort. You get a lot of him in this film and he’s just so much fun to watch. There’s a moment when he actually gives another character a hug and it’s both the funniest and the creepiest moment of the entire series. I don’t remember if that moment was in the books or not, but I kinda doubt it. It just felt so odd and perfectly visual. Words can’t describe.

See Deathly Hallows Part 2. It’s the only movie in the series I’d say is legitimately better than the book (well, this one and Order of the Phoenix–but everyone knows that book kinda blew). It has replaced Prisoner of Azkaban as my favorite Potter movie overall, and I never thought that would happen. Prisoner of Azkaban is truly magical, but Deathly Hallows Part 2 trumps it in nearly ever way.

Have fun. I can’t wait for the complete Blu-ray set.