I have to start with a confession. I haven’t read all of the Harry Potter series. *ducks while you throw things at me*
I LOVED books one to four, lost myself in them, adored the characters, watched the movies, couldn’t wait for book five to come out. But, the same summer that Order of the Phoenix was released, I also started my first job in publishing, and suddenly my reading list quadrupled overnight, my commute decreased and the 900 page HB in my bag got replaced by countless manuscripts and proof copies. I always swore to come back, but this pattern only got worse as my career progressed. I always felt a bit of a fraud working in children’s books and not having made it to the end, but I’m a terrible liar so I had to come straight out with it. (Now the ebooks have released though I am very tempted to pick up the story again…)
I have however, seen, and adored all the films; and which I recently watched back to back over the course of two weeks this January. This obsession and love coincided with the announcement of the Warner Bros Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, so on a whim, I booked tickets. And yesterday, the magical visit took place.
Our day wasn’t going well. Somewhat groggy from a birthday party the night before, Sunday transport not being at its best, resulting in a hellishly, stressful journey to get to Watford (faced with the very real possibility that we would miss our time slot and not get there at all) – we finally arrived at Leavesden with the belief that this had to be quite spectacular to cheer us up.
I can honestly say that within 5 minutes of making it through the queue and into the orientation theatre our mood had lifted. As the cinema screen rolled up to reveal the door into the Great Hall we were beaming and jumping up and down like small children at Christmas.
The tour is self-guided, but you can pay £5 for a ‘digital guide’ which consists of an iPod touch filled with behind the scenes video and audio content, an interactive map and vast amounts of imagery. I’m normally not a fan of audio guides – sometimes I feel like all you do is listen and not look – but this one was different. It really encouraged you to use it with the exhibits rather than distract you from them.
From the Great Hall, through to a huge hanger filled with sets, props and costumes from all the films we were totally in awe: see the Griffindor Dorm and Common Room; walk into Dumbledore’s Office; use a wand to chop carrots in the Burrow; see the incredible door of Gringots which was an actual, mechanical work of art taking 3 months to build; look in the Mirror of Erised; stand outside Number 4 Privet Drive; drink Butterbeer; jump off the back of the Knight Bus…the amazing list goes on.
Throughout the tour several things struck me. For one – the incredible attention to detail that every aspect of anything that appeared in shot was given. Every single piece of paper, every costume, every back drop – was planned, drawn, painted, sculpted, hand-made or aged etc so it would look completely realistic, even if it was only in shot for a matter of seconds. Even if you have no interest in Potter, the intricacy of what you see here will blow you away in the art of movie making.
Two – the scale of Rowling’s imagination was incredible. Every item is only believable as she made it so. Every character, from big to small, had a place, a point and emotional connection which made you care about them. And that is no mean feat for any author.
And finally, and most impressively I think – this all came from a book.
A book. A story. An author’s mind. And in a time when sometimes we’re told that reading isn’t cool or that the written word is dead, that is a very magical thing indeed.
I urge you to go. Young, old, Potter-fan or Not-a-fan (sorry), I challenge you not to enjoy it.
A word of warning though – watch out for the gift shop. Everything is remarkably reasonable…and therefore easy to spend a fortune. (I will be using my beautiful Slitherin leather notebook, eating my Every Flavour Jelly Beans, and sheltering under my Griffindor umbrella for a while yet though…)