‘Harry Potter’ magic comes to live in British studio tour
SH13E061HARRYPOTTERSTUDIO May 7, 2013 -- At the Warner Bros. Studio Tour "The Making of Harry Potter," Leavesden Studios, London, visitors can walk the cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley, the wizarding worlds shopping district, which was modeled after descriptions in Charles Dickens books. (SHNS photo by Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
An unexpected trip to London magically appeared and with little time to plan, one addition to the itinerary was a must: “The Making of Harry Potter,” the Warner Bros. Studio Tour at Leavesden Studios. It’s 18 miles from the heart of the city as the broomstick flies and a roundabout but easy journey by train and bus.
Unlike Universal Orlando’s “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” a theme park with razzle-dazzle and dizzying rides, the studio tour allows you to keep your feet firmly on the ground as you stroll the site where the seven movies based on J.K. Rowling’s megahit books were created.
While still in the United States, my first destination was wbstudiotour.co.uk, which recommends planning for three hours for the timed-start tour. I booked a 10:30 a.m. tour and the package that includes a digital guide and souvenir book.
On the day of the visit, I marched from my Bloomsbury hotel base to the Tottenham Court Road tube stop and chose the longest and least expensive route: two stops to Euston Station on the Northern Line and a switch to the Overground train to Watford Junction, the last stop on a route that passes Wembley Stadium.
At Watford Junction, visitors hopped aboard double-decker buses for a quick ride, made quicker by a small-screen video about the history of Leavesden Studios, host to mega-film franchises including James Bond and Star Wars. The bus at last pulled up at “J Stage,” which could be any airplane-hangar-sized studio building except for the gigantic “The Making of Harry Potter” sign.
At 11 a.m., a single door opened into an enclosed space, all black except for digital panels showing international posters from the
movies. The posters transformed into film clips that charted the path from the books to the most successful film franchise of all time.
We then were led into a theater with a large screen showing the now-grown-up stars of
the Harry Potter movies – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – paying tribute to the masses who created what we were about to see. The screen rose to reveal the door to Hogwarts’s Great Hall.
Suddenly, we were in the hall. Aside from missing the enchanted ceiling and floating candles, it was the real deal – at least as far as movie reality goes. Two of the long picnic-style tables and benches occupied either side, with the middle opened for our gaping group.
The oddest thing about the hall and every other place where costumes were on display was that outfits were fitted to either headless or faceless mannequins. It was a little creepy, even if it did put them in size and venue context.
Before leaving us to continue the tour on our own,
the docent pointed toward doors to the left of the teachers’ dais – the entryway to a treasure trove of Harry Potter lore.
The ice sculpture, chocolate feast, golden egg, Triwizard cup and title prop from the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – all there. The mirror of Erised, which projects the viewer’s fondest wishes, was perched beside the Fat Lady portrait that served as entry to Gryffindor’s common room. That room
was there, too, along with the Weasleys’ burrow, Snape’s potions class and the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory, along with Hagrid’s hut and Professor Umbridge’s all-things-pink office.
Of the rooms on display, most impressive was
Dumbledore’s tower, with details such as 800 labeled vials of memories, kept in a gold, filigreed cabinet. The Sorting Hat, which tells Hogwarts
students which of four
houses will be their home base, sat high atop a packed bookcase.
If you can tear yourself away as you walk past the sky-high Ministry of Magic tiers, you exit into an outdoor courtyard or back lot. Here you can walk through the grounded Hogwarts Bridge, where Professor Lupin tells Harry about his parents; knock on the
door of Harry’s childhood home at No. 4 Privet Drive; and sit on Hagrid’s motorcycle with sidecar. There also are places to purchase butterbeer or have a smoke before heading indoors again to the creature shop.
Heads, hands and full-body mannequins greet you among the displays of the movies’ makeup and prosthetics. Continuing the easy-to-navigate tour, you pass a giant spider and an animatronic Buckbeak the Hippogriff as you make your way to the cobblestone path of Diagon Alley, which was inspired by streets described by Charles Dickens, according to the souvenir guide.
Still to come were rooms with architectural drawings, artists’ renderings and scale models, including the wooden ship that carried the Durmstrang team to Hogwarts’s Triwizard Tournament. They were the opening act for the big finish: a 50-foot-high, fully rendered and landscaped model of Hogwarts.
Ramps allow visitors to view the buildings and grounds from many angles, so you can take in intricate details such as the thousands of tiny tiles hand-glued to the turrets. Ever-changing lights faded from day into the bluish glow of night and back again, while interactive videos revealed some green-screen tricks and a time-lapse clip of the 32 days it took to put the pieces of the Hogwarts puzzle together.