A trip to that Harry Potter studio tour you’ve heard so much about

Sunday March 18th 2012


Last Thursday began as all great days do: with a lengthy wait at the Watford Junction bus shelter. I’d been invited to a special preview of The Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour, an ambitious yet messily-titled new wizarding experience which opens to the public (at the not-exactly-cheap price of £28 a ticket) from the end of March. The shuttle bus was a little bit late.

Before long though we were whisking through the motorways and back alleys of Watford towards the studios, slowing every so often to negotiate a particularly difficult bend in the suburban streets that line much of the route.

It might not look like much (especially compared to its ridonkulous American equivalent) but my inner boy wizard couldn’t help but be excited as I walked through the automatic doors to the familiar melody of Hedwig’s Theme. Which, incidentally, you will never want to hear again after two hours inside the Harry Potter Studio Tour.

Ten years’ worth of cast portraits lined the foyer, towering over visitors like the pop cultural titans they’ve somehow become. All my favourites were well represented: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape, Malfoy, Dumbledore …

DAMN YOU LUNA!! WHY MUST YOU RUIN EVERYTHING WITH YOUR INFERNAL QUIRKY INDIVIDUALITY?!?

Queuing to begin the tour, we got a brief look inside Harry’s infamous cupboard under the stairs, preserved in its shooting state like some kind of macabre tribute to the rampant child abuse of the Dursley household. It was a bit like visiting the Anne Frank House, if marginally less poignant.

There was also a display featuring the hand prints of the series’s three main stars. Rupert Grint has surprisingly tiny fingers for a fully grown human.

The first stop on the tour was the Great Hall, which was apparently moved piece by piece from a sound stage nearby to serve as the centrepiece of the attraction. I know this fact because I was told it by our insanely chirpy tour guide, who was either incredibly passionate about Harry Potter, or else up to her eyes on the cocaines. We soon discovered that the entire place is peppered with these people, all incredibly friendly and helpful, but filled with a level of enthusiasm that’s quite exhausting. Such an extreme level of energy might have made sense if we were in a group of 100 or so people. But ours had seven.

The next section of the tour introduced us to the various directors who left their mark on the franchise. A cruel twist of fate (or just reverse-chronologisation) had conspired to put the man who did the most damage to the franchise and the man who did the most good right next to one another. If you need clarification as to which is which, you are dead to me.

This is either the ice sculpture from the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire, or a promotional display for WKD.

Thoroughout the next few rooms, we were allowed to partake in various ‘interactive’ activities. Brooms and other methods of magical transport had been set up in front of green screens, and one by one we hoisted ourselves onto them and were coached (read: screamed at) by a member of staff on how to best recreate the experience of flying in front of aerial footage of the River Thames.

Photographs were not allowed in this section — they’d rather you pay £12, YES TWELVE POUNDS, for a print-out of yourself looking stupid on a broom — but I did manage to grab a short video of Hagrid’s motorbike, which was on a rotating display in front of yet another green screen. Ten minutes in Final Cut later yielded this:

Time well spent.

Next up was the Gryffindor common room, scene of many a night of magical onanism. Stop to think about the possibilities of wizarding sexuality and you’ll never look at the Harry Potter universe the same way again. Polyjuice Potion alone has the potential to revolutionise the sex industry.

This photo was taken shortly after I simultaneously threw up and urinated into a plastic cup. ONLY JOKING. It’s actually £2.95 worth of Butterbeer, a substance that I personally would’ve preferred remain fictional.

The next few rooms were comprised mostly of effects models, like these eminently creepy sculptures of Harry’s face recovering from the effects of a Stinging Hex in the final film. I can scarcely imagine anything more unsettling …

A CHALLENGER APPEARS.

The big denouement of the tour was a gargantuan model of Hogwarts that was used throughout the series for aerial shots. I won’t post photos of the whole thing lest the fury of a thousand Potter fans rain down on me for ruining the surprise, but here’s a close up of that weird rock area where Hermione punched Malfoy quite pathetically in the third film.

Unsurprisingly, the whole thing ended in a shop. But not just any old shop mind you — a shop that sells replicas of Dumbledore’s robes for just shy of £500. That might seem steep but bear in mind that it does come with ‘two hidden wand pockets’ and ‘the familiar Dumbledore cap’. So really it’s a total bargain.

While impressively comprehensive, the shop gives new meaning to the word ‘extortionate’. Think of almost any product you’d expect to be available in a Harry Potter merchandise shop, imagine what you’d expect to pay for it, times that number by three and you’re somewhere close. And that’s just the stuff you’d actually consider buying — which fucking loser kids are lining up to buy all this Ravenclaw shit?

I mean, I know my son is also named Bort, but £8.95 for a Hufflepuff flag? Y’all serious?

With all this rampant consumerism it’s easy to lose sight of what the experience is supposed to be about: making Warner Brothers gigantic sums of cash the sheer magic of the Harry Potter story, as told across eight remarkable films ranging from the sublime (Half-Blood Prince) to the unspeakably awful (Goblet of Fire). And if nothing else, The Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour does make you want to discover them all over again.

Out now, on magnificent ‘Blue Ray Disc’.