A first look at the world of Harry Potter
The Warner Bros Studio Tour London — The Making Of Harry Potter started a week of press previews today, in advance of its opening to the public on March 31, and Screen dutifully went along to Leavesden Studios to check it out.
As you’d expect from a film series so lavishly mounted over a decade, the attraction has been lovingly put together and delivers in spades.
For Potter obsessives, it will be unmissable and merit repeat visits; for others it is both fascinating insight into film-making on the highest level of budget and quality, and enjoyable amble behind the scenes of a cultural phenomenon. The tour is just the right length and has at least three gasp-out-loud moments (probably many more than three for fans).
It’s situated on two sound stages at the newly revamped Warner Bros Studios Leavesden which will house major movie productions on stages A through I, while hundreds of thousands of tourists pour through stages J and K for the Potter tour. It is actually a coincidence that the tour is on stages J and K, the initials of Potter creator JK Rowling.
Sets have been restored and all moved into the two stages, but they are the original sets from the films nonetheless and there is something inherently cool about walking through the Great Hall of Hogwarts or into Dumbledore’s study or down Diagon Alley and realize that eight of the most successful films of all time were shot there.
Every step of the way, the crafts geniuses who worked on the films explain what lengths were gone to to achieve the look and the effects of the franchise. The exquisite and extraordinary detail – in tapestries and paintings, carpentry, stonework, glasswork, costumes, graphics and props – is often overwhelming. It’s the detail that perhaps helped the audience to believe subsconsciously in the world of Potter, but sometimes it feels that the craftspeople on Potter went to lengths beyond the call of reason. That is confirmed in the creatures workshop where secrets are revealed around creature construction and mechanical movement.
My favourite moment of the tour is the jaw-dropping super-model of Hogwarts Castle which itself could fit a small soundstage. The model is the symbol of the attention to detail that was paid on the Potter films, every nook and cranny of the castle built with stunning care.
Having said the castle model was my favourite moment, I had a blast flying on a broomstick against greenscreen while I watched myself on screen soar through London streets and then dodge the towers of Hogwarts.
Tickets to the tour cost £28 for adults and £21 for children, although, parents beware, there is a lavish gift shop at the end of the tour – featuring everything from Gryffindor clothes lines, to wand ranges, soft toy owls and chocolate frogs – which will add to the expense of the outing.
It took my party around two hours to get through the tour and that was without stopping at every item or watching every short film. Talking of which, there are generous video contributions from all the participants on the series – including mainstays David Heyman, David Barron and David Yates to earlier directors like Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell, the three young actors Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, writer Steve Kloves and numerous department heads.
If the British film industry needed a temple to advertise its craft skills, it has one now. The Making Of Harry Potter is a perfect advertisement for what UK crews can achieve.