As the door opened we were let into a room where you see a montage of Harry Potter posters from across the world greet you to remind you that the world of Harry Potter practically took over our one, we are then treated to how the transition was made from books to film so this very much serves as our prologue.
It very much reminded me of seeing the likes of seeing Terminator 2 3D at Universal, the excitement just builds and builds and if you weren’t excited before then shame on you, but you now feel a step closer, to what we aren’t sure, but its progress.
The doors swoosh open to reveal a small cinema, we take our seats, the light darken and the screen comes to life showing us a highlights package the Harry Potter films, until we meet some familiar faces; Daniel, Emma and Rupert. It’s great to see them and for them to be part of the introduction of this experience, something which at the end of the day has also been such a big part of their lives as well and in many ways where they grew up as people and not just as characters.
At the end of the short film the threesome disappear behind a familiar large door that takes them into the Great Hall. They bid us a fond farewell and exit through a giant door and then the cinema screen is majestically raised to reveal THAT actual giant door…for some it’s almost like the reveal of King Kong in the theatre and you can hear an audible gasp and certainly it was with the group we were with initially, these were grown adults, we aren’t talking kids here! They gasped; for this door is an entrance into Hogwarts, but it is more than that it is an entrance into the great hall…the first ‘this is what we are here for’ moment on the tour. To be honest they just keep coming after that, a bit like a child who has too many Christmas presents and just doesn’t know what to play with first.
It’s perhaps the most iconic and widely recognised sets from all the Potter films and for many who have made this pilgrimage it is their filmic Mecca as in this very ‘room’ so much so significant, so memorable has happened through each of the books and subsequent films…this is where Harry history was quite literally made.
As a set it is impressive and all that is seemingly missing is a bank of floating candles (and a roof to the build, to complete it. Although still large, as with many actual sets it is smaller than perhaps you might imagine it, not that this takes away from any of the magic of being there, from seeing the fireplace, the never ending house tables and at the end clothed mannequins standing in the very spots where Dumbledore, Snape and Haggrid once ‘stood’.
Even though one part of you is telling you that it is only a set and not actually a great hallway all your other senses, especially underfoot as that is very much real flagstones you are stepping on, tell you that it is and that it is as real as say something like the Tower of London.
We found that there were plenty of photo opportunities here, even if some folk did try and hog(warts) the models for far too long, but we never felt rushed.
From here it was into Studio J, which was a feast for the eyes as pretty much every inch of this Studio was filled with sets and pieces from all of the films. To say it was vast just doesn’t cover it as the horizon just went on and on with its sets and costumes and sets, each one instantly recognisable.
And the great thing about this warehouse of wonder, one is reminded of the vastness of the warehouse from the very end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is your Potter playground to discover and uncover things at your leisure as you could spend as much time in that section as you wished. The only rule being that once you left to go to the next section you could never return, which was of course was for handling crowd numbers, but all the same sounded suitably like something Harry and Co would have to adhere to on one of their quests.
Although there were lots of people in the Studio looking round at the menagerie of sets and delights it very rarely seemed that people were stood in your way or that you had to wait anytime to catch a closer glimpse of say the potion room, the Weasley house interior, Hagrid’s Hut, Dumbledore’s Office or one of the Dorm rooms, to name but a few.
The decadent chocolate feast from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire looked, well, good enough to eat but don’t get too excited though as it turns out most of it was painted resin. Mmm, resin, as Homer Simpson might say. The detail is amazing, complete with a pesky trail of sugar mice.
The Hogwarts Gates, from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, look like something straight out of Hammer Horror, no doubt they would have looked right at home in Radcliffe’s first post-Potter outing, The Woman in Black. Rather than that though it was more a case of The Bloke in the Green Coat when I stood in front of them, I did have my glasses on as well so that must at least count for something!
In the Gryffindor dormitory, inexplicably there seemed to be a distinct lack of an Ordinary Boys single, as featured playing in Harry Potter and, surely the darkest point of all the Harry Potter films . You know, they were ‘famous’ for five minutes when lead singer Preston was in Big Brother.
The Leaky Cauldron, as well as home to the rather large and obvious item that gives the pub its name, in this drinking establishment there was also a great example of forced perspective, made smaller as it goes off into the distance to make it appear much longer than it actually was, an old Hollywood and stage trick that is still as effective today and shows that not everything has to be done in a computer.
One of my favourite pieces has to be the giant stone griffin, almost like a giant maltese falcon, whilst he portraits of Hogwarts saw over 350 hand-painted ‘masterpieces’ showing the wizards and witches of times gone by.
Set designers clearly had to Phink Pink (one for old Pink Panther cartoon fans there) when it came to the set design for Dolores Umbridge’s Ministry of Magic office from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, it echoed many of those same features and – ahem – styles featured in her Defence Against the Dark Arts Office in Order of the Phoenix.
The Death Eaters and their masks were certainly one of the more sinisterly memorable features from the Potterverse, which no doubt cropped up in a few nightmares post trip to the cinema, this one giving Iron Man a run for his money.
It was nice to be able to take the time to take in some of these glorious crafted moments, not just in some of the bigger recreated sets but also the smaller objects and the massive amount of care and detail that has been put into everything, even if it only appeared on screen in the background or was a fleeting appearance.
And so onto the next section of the Tour, a section that would see us get hands on with some of the props, a place where we would meet our greatest foes, say hello to some old friends most people decided to exit throught the door, I thought I’d take the more direct route…