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REVIEW: The Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour
IN A year when we'll be celebrating so many other big British events, The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour is first out of the blocks - and what a winner it is. If you have watched the films, then you'll miss this at your peril.
Tickets must be purchased in advance and have been planned to admit visitors in 30 minute intervals. It may cost £83 for a family ticket (surely standard for an attraction of this level) - but let me assure you, it is worth every single penny. I'd have paid it, and more, for what I was privileged to see. This is a one-off and wholly amazing attraction, a celebration of British ingenuity and skill and something which oozes quality from beginning to end.
It's not every day that huge film series' are made, so Warner Brothers were in a unique position when the final eighth film - based on the phenomenon that are JK Rowling's seven Harry Potter books - was complete. They were in possession of a huge wealth of material, props, sets and so on, many of which were now familiar to any fans of the film adaptations. And so they have come up with this. In the same studio used for filming, and where young stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint spent a decade growing up and making one of the most successful franchises in history, they have assembled such a bounty for our viewing pleasure.
Certain elements this tour's construction are similar to those used in American theme parks, but it still feels quintessentially British. Its tour guides are all enthusiastic and informed young Britons who proved their passion for the subject in interviews, and all those I encountered are already a credit to this attraction.
I took the train to London Euston and then caught a 20 minute rail service to Watford. Those who arrive this way will leave the station and spot the special double decker Mullany's Buses - decorated for this job - and take a brief 10 minute journey to the studio itself.
Of course it's not particularly glamorously located, but that's irrelevant. The studios are a huge warehouse-type of building but we're not fussed about externals here, are we? Regardless of what it looks like on approach, fans will surely be ready to combust with excitement by the time they enter the high ceilinged foyer - complete with huge pictures of the key cast - which is where the treats begin. Once you pick up an audio guide, and spot Harry and Ron's trunks and luggage plus the bedroom under the stairs, you make your way through two excellent audio visual presentations. The second's conclusion will doubtless prove rather thrilling for fans.
As the three main stars finish introducing the tour, Radcliffe pushes a door and magically the screen rises to expose the actual door to the Great Hall. I found it hard not to rush through like a child but thankfully got a grip of myself.
It's a fantastic start, the instantly recognisable key location where Harry first saw Dumbledore, met the Sorting Hat, received post, ate meals and the like. My one key piece of advice is to pace yourself, making sure that you won't miss anything when you've come all this way. Take in all obvious things like the costumes but also delight in finding out about the details - inscriptions in fireplaces, the inspiration behind tapestries and so on.
This feast for the eyes has one brilliant thing after another around every corner, many of which are totally familiar and many of which you couldn't have imagined. There are the costumes of the key cast - including Robbie Coltrane's huge Hagrid suit and Radcliffe's first Gryffindor uniform , a display from the Yule Ball, pictures, an amazing fake chocolate set from one of the feasts, and hundreds and hundreds of other props.
These range from the smallest imaginable detail - a mole on the makeup table - to some of the biggest single items, including the Knight Bus, the Magic is Might statue and the key walkway out on the walls. I spotted so many things in which to delight, from a bottle of Skele-Gro to the horcruxes, and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw key sets laid out. There they are, one after another - the boys' dorm, the Gryffindor common room, Snape's potions classroom, Umbridge's office and, of course, Dumbledore's office, where a Richard Harris (the original and best headmaster) costume sits tucked away towards the top, leaving Michael Gambon's to take centre stage.
The green screen section informs about the special effects and leads to an area where you can don a gown and have a broomstick ride, during which a photograph is taken. Yes, the picture is expensive (£12 for one, £15 for two) but when are you ever going to have that opportunity again?!
In an outside area, Butterbeer, praise be, is available - the only location outside America where it can be purchased. I had a glass, sickly sweet and deeply fabulous, before moving on to see the Riddle tomb, Privet Drive, and the chess pieces from the conclusion of the film of book one.
Then things get deep into the details. There are fantastic displays on the puppetry, animatronics and so on - you'll spot Dobby, Harry's owl Hedwig and the terrifying spider Aragog, amongst many others - before taking a stroll up Diagon Alley to take a peek at the stores you know so well including Ollivanders wand shop.
What's really wonderful about the rest is its celebration of the Oscar winning filmmakers who built the sets and the props; who drew the characters originally, constructed the tiny scale models and suffused every scene with the detail that fans rightly demanded. This is a section where parents may want to linger while the kids will want to run to the concluding two humdingers - the wand room (which contains a box for every person who worked on any of the films in any capacity) and the jaw-dropping huge model of Hogwarts.
I couldn't help but spend a fortune in the gift shop on the way out - purchasing a chocolate frog, complete with collector's card (just like in the book!) - but I was quite happy to do so. This is a superbly put together and all round exceptional opportunity - take a bow, Warner Brothers - a place where you can look, learn and fall in love with the franchise all over again.
Just think, next time the films are on TV you can say, I've seen that up close. What a golden chance, film fans, what a chance.
For more information, go to wbstudiotour.co.uk.