Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hogwarts Castle model used to film the Harry Potter movies fills a large room on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour on the outskirts of London. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)
July 14, 2013, review:
Magical world comes to life
By Mike Haynes
            As a friend flicked through my wife’s smartphone photos of the London Warner Bros. Studio Tour, the friend – a woman about 50 years old – instantly recognized pictures of movie costumes.
            “That’s Bellatrix,” she said of a mannequin wearing a brown outfit and long, unruly brown hair. “Lucius Malfoy,” she said at the sight of a dark, padded jacket with a long, blond wig above it.
            And of course, at the appearance of a flowing, light green robe, her reaction was, “Voldemort.”
            Amarillo resident Marianne’s delight at images from “The Making of Harry Potter,” the huge exhibit at the Leavesden Studios in England, was a reminder that the good wizard isn’t just for kids. You also can ask friend Keitha, a 40-something from Happy whose eyes brightened at pictures of the “cupboard under the stairs” and the Gryffindor Common Room.
            Kathy and I took the tour last month. Anyone with the slightest interest in J.K. Rowling’s books or the movies they spawned – or anyone fascinated by moviemaking – should consider buying a ticket if they’re anywhere near London.
The movie set of Diagon Alley, the shopping area for wizards and witches, fills with fans on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour on the edge of London.
     True, a trip to Orlando, Fla., to “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is more realistic for many West Texans. We’ve been there, too, and it also is on the recommended list for its amusement park rides and faithful reproduction of a snowy Hogsmeade village and Diagon Alley shops.
            But short of meeting Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, the London studio tour is the closest thing to being a part of Harry Potter.
            Visitors actually walk into the Great Hall, one of several actual sets from the movies, striding between the long tables with place settings for Hogwarts students. A guide points up to light fixtures and scaffolding that, in the films, were replaced digitally with floating candles and the Enchanted Ceiling.
            Two cavernous soundstages have been converted into permanent display areas for thousands of props – such as Harry’s Nimbus 2000 broom – pieces of sets – such as Hagrid’s hut – and areas where kids can ride a broom in front of a green screen or practice magic wand moves.

Visitors can walk across the Hogwarts Bridge, which was digitally lengthened in the Harry Potter movies, during the Warner Bros. Studio Tour just outside London. The bridge appeared in the films but not in J.K. Rowling’s books.

           Anyone making it to England between July 26 and Sept. 2 can participate in the “Summer Spelltacular,” where children’s activities will include wand moves taught by Paul Harris, who choreographed the battle scene between Dumbledore and Voldemort in the fifth Potter movie. He’s called “the world’s only wand combat choreographer.”
            Outside the studio, visitors can board the skinny, purple Knight Bus, whose sign says, “All Destinations – Nothing Underwater.” They can walk across the Hogwarts Bridge, which in the movies extended several hundred yards but in real life is maybe 20 yards long. And they can stand at the door of 4 Privet Drive, Harry’s childhood home.
            The tour is laid out well. After spending as much time as you want in the two soundstages and the courtyard – where you can pose with giant chess pieces from the first film – Kathy and I walked through an exhibit of paper and cardboard production models of the bridge, the Weasleys’ house and Hogwarts castle. Kathy rounded the next turn before me and called back, “Wait ’til you see this.”
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour near London features props, costumes and wigs such as these for the characters of (front) Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley and (back) the Bloody Baron ghost and Luna Lovegood.
   It was the scale model of Hogwarts used in the films, complete with castle turrets, drawbridges, lighted windows and surrounding rocks and trees. “Model” is a misleading word, because it’s around 40 feet high at its tallest tower. Visitors can walk all the way around it. Anyone who ever had childhood fantasies of a romantic castle won’t be able to resist staring as its lighting changes from night to day and back.
            “The Making of Harry Potter” has been open since 2012, and even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Will and Kate to those not up on royal titles) made an official visit this April complete with a wand “fight.”
            For anyone seeing the serious historical sights of London, it’s worth a half-day’s magical diversion.
If You Go...
Warner Bros. Studio Tour: “The Making of Harry Potter”
Studio Tour Drive
WD25 7LR
(near Watford Junction train station, outskirts of London)
Phone: 011 44 08450 840 900
Adults (age 16 and up), 29 British pounds (about $45)
Children (ages 5 to 15) 21.5 British pounds (about $33)

Age 4 and under: free but ticket required