Yesterday we published an interview with David Yates, after he stopped by the Warner Bros Studio Tour to talk about his history with the films and his future plans. Now it’s time to look at the tour itself.
It should be noted that the recommended dwell time for the tour is three hours, but since I only attended on junket day I experienced a compressed 25 minute version. We were all but jogging through it – it was like an obstacle course where the only obstacle was whimsy. Still, I had a chance to get a good look at some of the sets, and even put together this gallery of camera-phone images for anyone who might be interested in taking the tour.
The first thing that should be said is that if you’re a fan of the Harry Potter books and series, you should almost certainly take this tour. It offers an unparalleled glimpse into the making of the films, and everything you will see was lifted directly from the film sets. There are no replicas here, and by taking a closer look you’ll pick up on a lot of the tiny details that production designer Stuart Craig and his team added to give each prop and piece of furniture its own individual character. A great example of this, pointed out by producer David Heyman during the press conference, is a tiny broom graffitied onto one of the Great Hall tables using the point of a compass. It’s the sort of thing that you’d never see in the wide, sweeping shots used in the film.
The opening of the tour is fairly impressive. One of the first things you’ll see is a slightly awkward video introduction by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. There are a few instances of scripted humour that fell flat, and you get a definite sense that the actors weren’t given clear instructions on what their eyelines should be for the piece. Still, when the screen rolls back to reveal the Hogwarts entrance hall, I’ve been told it’s a moment that often brought people to tears of excitement.
The sets in the tour include the Hogwarts Great Hall, Dumbledore’s Office, the Ministry of Magic, Umbridge’s terrifyingly pink office, the gates to the Hogwarts grounds and, most impressive of all, a complete reconstruction of Diagon Alley. On the backlot you’ll find, among other set pieces, Number 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus and a rickety old bridge that was frequently used for Hogwarts exteriors.
The tour isn’t entirely made up of sets, however. Budding special effects artists will find themselves in their own private heaven when introduced to the Creature Workshop, which showcases the prosthetics worn by Warwick Davis as Professor Flitwick and Griphook the Goblin (Davis said in the press conference, when asked what prop he’d most like to keep from the films, “My face … I was very attached to it when we were filming.”) There was far more in the Creature Workshop than can possibly be included here, but to tease you I’ll give you three items to spot if you decide to take the tour: Inferi, Fenrir Greyback, and Harry Potter’s “hayfever face” from the end of Deathly Hallows Part 1.
The centrepiece of all this is the model of Hogwarts used for flyover shots and building CGI effects, as seen in the timelapse construction video that we posted a while back. Having shed the worst of my personal Pottermania somewhere in my late teens, I’d managed thus far not to geek out too much over the tour. But even the most hardened and cynical journalists on the tour stood back in awe of the Hogwarts model, and I’m not ashamed to count myself among them.
Finally, you exit through the gift shop: an Aladdin’s cave of brightly-coloured and fantastically overpriced merchandise. On my look around I found a small statue of Fluffy the Three-Headed Dog which would set its buyer back £200, and even something as simple as a Gryffindor scarf costs £25. The gift shop is not a place for pocket money, but kids with rich parents and adult collectors will find more hidden treasures than they could possibly hope to carry home in one sitting.
Overall, for fans of the series the tour is a must-see. But if you’ve never seen a Harry Potter film and find yourself being dragged along by an over-enthusiastic friend then you probably won’t find yourself bored either. A downright ridiculous amount of time, money, talent and manpower went into building the sets and props that you’ll see on the tour, and it offers a unique insight into the process of building a multi-billion dollar franchise.