We went to The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Watford. It was a present for my girlfriend, who really wanted to go. Of course, I really wanted to go too, but it was only upon arriving that it sunk in just how much I care about that troubled young magician and his pet owl.
Yes, whilst there it gradually dawned on me that – holy potato – I first started reading the books when I was but 12 years old. That means that Harry Potter has been part of my life for 15 years. That’s more than half the total time I’ve been alive. No wonder I still really feel for these characters. No wonder I still find myself wishing, sometimes, that my Hogwarts letter was just lost in the post, and that the possibility still exists for me to enter Hogwarts as a mature student. You’re never too old to go to Hogwarts, are you? Are you? Are you? No.
And it’s not just me: Harry Potter truly matters for millions of people. People love this stuff. There is a passionate, dedicated fandom and, lord above, I appear to be part of it. Why else would I seriously consider spending £20 for a green t-shirt with “Wizard” written on it?
But one of the most life-affirming realisations was that J.K. Rowling has, for all these years, been one of my biggest role models. She lights the way as a writer, as a human, as a muggle. She’s a glorious product of welfare UK; a genuinely inspirational example of how to be rich without being evil. Even more heartening, though, is that she understands how much meaning she’s given to the lives of millions, yet still she appears humble, strangely down-to-earth, despite her hypercolour imagination. She always comes across as grounded, yet spellbound, as if she too is enchanted by this world she’s created.
Each of these realisations sunk in quite early on in the tour. As we were queuing, in fact. One of the first things they show you is a short film on a huge screen in which Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson speak fondly of the time spent filming these films, a time during which these studios were essentially their homes.
Having by then accepted how much this whole thing means to me, I was by that point feeling warm and fuzzy, and getting more than a little bleary eyed. But then something truly magical happened. The film ended with the three actors entering those iconic Hogwarts doors. The music swelled, and then the cinema screen began to ascend, revealing the REAL doors behind it!
There were quite a few gasps and squeals of delight. It was just like Disneyland, but in Watford.
We were then free to explore the Warner Brothers Studios at our leisure. My pithy, concise intro has been neatly wrapped up in – goodness – well under 500 words. So from now on, I’ll let the images do the talking.
You start in the Great Hall, the only part of the tour that’s actually guided. Our effusive guide shouted out the names of each of the houses in turn, demanding that we reveal our allegiance. Of course, Gryffindor received the most support. I was the only one to cheer for Ravenclaw. I’ve always liked to think that the Sorting Hat would not hesitate to place me in Ravenclaw. I’d be much happier reading about magical history and theory than I would actually practicing it. Have you not learned by now that I’m really quite boring?
It becomes immediately apparent that obsessive detail was lavished upon absolutely everything. Sequences I previously thought to be CGI, such as the elaborate entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, were actually fully-functioning mechanisms. And look how exquisite the craftsmanship is on these treasures! In the finished film, they would have received less than an inch of screen space for a fraction of a second. But look at them! It’s like The Antiques Roadshow but with genuinely interesting things!
Even more amazing was the ephemera, propaganda and paraphernalia; the various books, posters and publications which, again, would barely register onscreen. It was all the work of a graphic design company called MinaLima. It being the second anniversary of the tour’s opening, the guys from MinaLima were actually onsite to explain their work. They created an enthralling visual language for the entire Wizarding World, seeped in Victoriana but with an arcane, unknowable edge and stunning use of colour. Honestly, this single cabinet was worth the price of entry alone.
This background ephemera sometimes told its own story. This miniature Ford Anglia was presumably for sale in the Weasley Twins’ joke shop. It probably isn’t even visible at all in the film, but the idea that Fred and George designed and sold this thing in order to tease/honour their hapless younger brother is so endearing it almost hurts.
And I finally got to try Butter Beer! The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is one of only two places in the world to sell it. Regrettably non-alcoholic; but beyond that, it didn’t disappoint. It essentially tastes like a crisper, more refreshing cream soda.
Then came the best bit of the whole tour. The Creature Workshop!
Yes, a special exhibition about the various monsters, models and mechanisms used in the films. Warwick Davis explained how things worked on a series of video screens, and you could even operate a few monsters yourself. The dying Voldemort and Mandrake below, for instance, both came to life at the touch of a button. Again, I had previously assumed these things to be CGI. It turns out that the Harry Potter films were so much more a labour of love than we could possibly have imagined.
(Not that CGI cannot itself be a labour of love but…that’s a sermon for another day.)
Next you got to walk down Diagon Alley. Who hasn’t dreamed of walking down Diagon Alley at some point? You couldn’t enter the shops, but the windows were so stuffed with detail that it didn’t really matter. This is one of the best places in the world for window shopping.
It ended with the Hogwarts model. Hidden round a dark corner, this was yet another section of the tour designed to evoke audible gasps and squeals. It’s immense, with a day and night cycle and stirring music playing at the sort of volumes designed to inspire total submission.
So there you go. It turns out that I’ve been a hopeless Harry Potter fanboy for years. All it took to make me realise was a long journey into deepest, darkest Watford.
It would be nice if people could tell that I felt “that way” about Harry Potter at a single glance. I do wish I’d bought that Wizard t-shirt now. Maybe I should get a tattoo.
I’m not really sure how to end this sermon, so here’s a Mirror of Erised selfie. As you can see, I got photobombed by a Thestral.