Whether it’s in devouring some of Bertie Bott’s famed Every Flavour Beans, quenching a thirst with a pint of The Three Broomsticks’ prized butterbeer, window-shopping as you make your way down Diagon Alley's crooked streets, or becoming acquainted with Hogwarts staff in the Great Hall, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London offers its visitors an insight into the making of Harry Potter in a way no amount of on-disc documentaries, cast and crew interviews or director commentaries ever can. We went to check it out...
As filming wrapped on the eighth and final Harry Potter film in the summer of 2011, only then could those behind bringing the beloved boy wizard from the pages of JK Rowling’s other-worldly books to the big screen and into a billion dollar worldwide phenomenon comprehend what they had achieved. Over a decades worth of hard work, perseverance, dedication and painstaking craftsmanship later and the production team had filled over six large warehouses full of trinkets, odds and ends, created in glorious detail hundreds of sets and fabricated thousands upon thousands of costumes and graphic art.
Given that fact, it's a testament to Warner Bros. that it has managed to condense the Potter production into this expansive, richly-detailed and engrossing tour on the now iconic studio back-lot that was referred to as a 'home from home' for cast and crew for over a decade. Spanning across two huge warehouses (appropriately named 'Studio J' and 'K') and oozing in Potter-injected production value –- from the way the Great Hall's magnificent doors reveal themselves, to the way in which the setting feels neither too cramped nor too sparsely populated at any time –- it's a love letter to the Potter films, and furthermore an appreciative nod by the studio who green-lighted its productions to the visionary directors, talented actors and actresses, screenwriters, producers, production designers, artists, composers and more that made it all possible.
From that familiar, warm orange and red glow of the Gryffindor common room where so many nights were spent pondering what Voldemort's next move might be by the three leads; the dark, dingy, dusty Potions classroom Alan Rickman made his own as Snape; to the menacing if homely, cramped surroundings of Hagrid's Hut; the sets that the Studio Tour welcomes us to are fascinating and astonishing in equal measure. It's the way in which the art department and set designers have painstakingly ensured each feels as authentic and believable on-screen as a part of the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can be through the big and small creative artistic strokes.
Hundreds of potions filled with various chemicals and oddities litter the shelves of the dungeon, hand-written labels noting their contents ('Bouncing Spider Juice' is a particular oddity that catches our eyes); full cover-to-cover editions of the Daily Prophet are scattered about the Common Room; the Weasley's The Burrow presents a conglomeration of magical oddities (self-cleaning frying pan, brought to life with the SFX departments' help), higgledy-piggledy construction and fashion faux-pas. Even details that somehow failed to boast a screen time spanning minutes are breathtakingly impressive – Dumbledore's telescope, for example, was one of the most expensive makes of the entire series (an elegant, steampunk-ish design befitting of the astute headmaster) but was only ever seen in the background.
Further still, introductions from the film-makers behind the films themselves (Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates) at the start of the tour allow us to get a sense of the vision and direction each film headed in, while behind-the-scenes footage new and old and interviews with cast and crew ensures even the most devoted and knowledgeable of fans will get something from the experience. Getting a look at some of the special effects contraptions and a glimpse into visual effects techniques with a section dedicated to all things green screen and the creation of the tangible 'magic' of the films only further punctuates the tour full of insightful and well-delivered trinkets of information.
Taking a look behind-the-scenes really is a dream for a Harry Potter fan like myself, so much so that lifting the veil somewhat on the production will only make you appreciate the films that much more. For fans of the books that morphed into a worldwide phenomenon and consequentially grew into an altogether different beast with the spellbinding concurrent films, rarely has such an attraction paid so much service. It's a must-see, likely to please those impartial to the series as much as the Potter aficionados themselves. And Lord knows there are a lot of us out there... 9/10
Book tickets for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour here. Tickets must be bought in advance.