A few weeks ago Thea and I ventured an hour out from where we live in order to enter the magical land of Harry Potter, just off the M25 near Watford, and all courtesy of a GroupOn deal we purchased months prior.
We had just finished making our way through the entire Harry Potter series of movies on Blu-Ray a few months prior and had always intended to cap the cinematic journey with a trip to the Harry Potter tour in order to further immerse ourselves within the intricate world of Harry Potter’s kid-friendly, adult baiting, whimsical universe.
I’m a Harry Potter fan, for sure. I’ve read the books multiple times; I’ve watched the entire series of movies, anticipating each new one as they opened over the years, but I wouldn’t call myself a Pothead. Is that what hardcore Potter fans call themselves? Potheads? My girlfriend however sides more with the visual realm that Warner Bros. helped to create for the better part of ten years, and so there was plenty of anticipation between us for the night we had ahead of us, the promise of food, ‘special guests’ (who they never officially named or announced, as far as I know) and Butterbeer coming ever closer with each passing mile.
The trip was relatively uneventful, which is exactly how I prefer to have my car rides. I hate driving, especially for long periods of time, and so the best outcome of any long journey is an uneventful trip. Considering that the opposite would be a horrendously EVENTFUL experience, I’ll take an easy ride with Chris Jericho’s Podcast (interviewing Dean Ambrose) playing any day. And so, on a cold Thursday night in December, we journeyed to a place where they created a cinematic legacy, all from a book based on a boy wizard.
The first thing that greets you over the festive period of the tour is a huge Christmas tree in the middle of the foyer, as well as the never ending loop of John Williams’ contributions to the franchise, and the litany of pictures that adorn the walls showcasing the actors across the years.
As you look upon the images of an aging Daniel Radcliffe across the walls, it sets an immediate tone: this is going to be a journey. It does a great job of highlighting how much of a dedication creating these movies were, as they crafted each film over the course of the decade to bring all the books to screen.
The GroupOn offer allowed us a brochure (normally £10), some food (hotdogs for about £7!) and a free drink (we each had a small thimbleful of wine without looking at a price). Considering the normal ticket prices, the £50 we each paid was already paying itself off for the experience we were about to had. We had some issues with the GroupOn app on the way over, and there was worry over whether we would be able to get in at all, but the guys there were more than helpful and ushered us through without any problem.
The experience itself began properly in a cinema, where we are treated to a collection of highlights from across all the movies and introduced by the three main actors of the franchise, ending with them entering Hogwarts, the screen lifting to reveal a grandiose set of doors right behind it. Nice touch.
The tour itself was a wonderfully put together experience that has clearly had thought lavished upon it. After the Great Hall, decorated as it was in beautiful Christmas decor, with plenty of interactive, moving parts that help to capture the imagination of even the most hardened cynic, the event opens up into the expansive bowels of the Studio actual.
It’s hard to imagine that so much of the series was filmed here, let alone the sheer recycling of sets to represent the many different rooms/areas, as frequently highlighted throughout the tour.
I found it hard to believe that so many of the sets were so small. The way they appear on screen always gives the impression of size, of space, but to actually be there looking upon certain sets I couldn’t help but think “surely not”; this was mostly for the Weasley household and the Gryffindor (interestingly, Gryffindor seems to be recognised within WordPress’ dictionary. No squiggly line deriding my spelling abilities here!) Common Room as well as the Potions lab. The amount of camera movement they incorporate within the scenes on screen always lends itself to size: sweeping camera, tracking shots, et al. But no, here we are looking upon what is, in truth, quite a humbly sized set in a cavernous studio that so many called home as they made these movies.
The tour as a whole is as wonderfully immersive and engaging as you allow it to be. There is plenty to see and pour over for the Harry Potter fan in your life and, as a fair assumption, considering the only people who would really come to this would be Potter fans across the entire spectrum, from Potheads (there it is again) to casual fans, I would recommend taking your time to really appreciate all the intricate details. Stop and read the signs to learn more about the props used within the movie, as well as the sheer technical ability needed to craft them. Take your time, don’t rush, and allow yourself to pour over the details that all went into creating this boy wizards impressive universe.
To think it all came from a single book.
People have won Oscars (a SFX artist who had was there in attendance, demonstrating the practical effects used within the movie, though we weren’t aware of these until talking to him, walking around the corner, and seeing his face appear on giant screens talking about the effects works that went into the series), made careers and experienced life changing experiences by working on these movies, and it all came from one woman’s imagination after a delayed train journey between Manchester and London.
The one thought crafted a world that has captured the imaginations and adulation of children and adults worldwide, and is the sole reason the movies exist at all. It’s an amazing thought, if you allow yourself to think on it for a few moments.
Just look at this:
Butterbeer is a thing now.
Ponder that for a moment.
A product invented within the pages of the books was created, honed and perfected until it now exists within the real world.
It’s the creamiest cream soda you can have, and super sweet to boot. It’s awesome, and if you were to have about four then you’d most probably be leaving the Tour with diabetes. (As an aside: the Butterbeer in the UK is way pricey for a tiny half cup in comparison to what you pay, and get, in the States.)
With the entire experience slanted more towards the filmic side of the Harry Potter world, the books barely get much of a look in outside of a few boards of writing near the beginning talking about the transition from book to screenplay, and then from page to screen.
As a fan of the books it’s an undeniable shame that there wasn’t more made out of the source material, but given that we were standing on the ground that was built specifically for the film, surrounded by its props and sets, it makes a begrudging sense to focus it almost entirely on that aspect of the Harry Potter universe.
So if you are, or have, a Potter fan in your life, do yourself a favour and go and enjoy the experience that the Warner Bros. Studio Tour provides. Take as much time to pour over all the minor intricacies that went into the props and locations; from dorm rooms to wand crafting, there truly is an astonishing amount to look at and soak in. The GroupOn deal made it worth every penny, granted, and the Christmas vibe across the exhibit was a great touch, but it’s definitely worth seeing at any time of the year, just maybe keep an eye out for another deal in the future.
From the books to the movies and everywhere in between, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour for Harry Potter does a great job of highlighting the arduous task of turning a series of beloved books into much loved cinematic blockbusters. It really is a journey.