Roll up, muggles! The Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter opens to the public on March 31. The tour’s website promises that “secrets will be revealed” – but are they secrets anyone wants to know? And is the studio tour just the poor man’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
Film studio Warner Brothers spent £100,000 (a drop in the bucket when considering how much the eight films raked in) over the last 18 months converting the studio where the Potter films were made into a permanent tourist attraction. There, fans will be able to see the actual sets, props and special effects used in the films, including a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts, an 18-foot wide Aragog, and an animatronic Buckbeak. [Ed. note: Periscope understands if that information means nothing to you, dear muggle reader.]
The studio is in Leavesden in Hertfordshire, just a short Potter-themed double-decker shuttle ride from Watford Junction station (20 minutes by train from Euston). Previously the home of James Bond (during the Pierce Brosnan years, 1994 to 2000), the studio is a converted aircraft factory.
Beautiful Leavesden? The studio’s rather pedestrian location came as a disappointment to Telegraph Showbusiness Editor Anita Singh, who had an image in her mind of “Hogwarts’ fairytale spires” that was cruelly dashed when she arrived “outside an aircraft hangar near to Watford’s branch of Carpetright”. Sam Jones, reviewing for the Guardian also described the “huge, mustard-coloured hangar” on an industrial estate outside Watford as “bleak” on the “grey March morning” he visited.
But is the magic still intact? For the most part, it is. The Telegraph’s Singh found that a few details, such as learning that the “dusty tomes on Dumbledore’s shelves turn out to be phonebooks covered in leather”, destroyed the mystique a little, but noted that Potter fans will be delighted as “this is the real deal”. And indeed, 13-year-old Potter fan Jan Bantic, from the Isle of Dogs, reassured Guardian reporter Sam Jones during Wednesday’s preview that “the magic is still very much intact”, despite peering behind the curtain.
What is there to see? The tour includes the original sets of Hogwarts Hall, Dumbledore’s Study, Harry’s dorm room, 4 Privet Close and Diagon Alley. Also on display are Hagrid’s motorcycle, Harry’s broomstick, Hermione’s cloak and models of the more magical characters including Dobby the House-Elf and the Gringotts goblins. You can also try your hand at broomstick flying in the green screen room or try a glass of butterbeer, described by Singh in the Telegraph as “a sickly sweet, toffee-flavoured cream soda.” The grand finale of the tour is the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts, an impressive 30ft high and 50ft in diameter, used for exterior shots in the first six films. It took a team of 86 people a total of 74 years in man-hours to create.
Potter is pun-tastic! Nigel Thompson of The Mirror enjoyed his preview tour, not least because it gave him the opportunity to make comments such as: “[I]t really does go the whole Hog-warts!” and tell readers “the chamber of secrets door complete with moving serpents (technical problems yesterday meant they were not Slytherin).”
Oh, and a wallet-sucking Dementor! The “cavernous gift shop that lurks like a ghastly, wallet-sucking Dementor at the end of the tour”, The Guardian‘s Jones noted, is overflowing with merchandise mostly shipped straight from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando, with $ switched to £ (according a comment by twets on The Guardian website). Prices range from £3.95 for a lollipop to an eye-watering £495.95 for a high-quality replica of Dumbledore’s robe. And if you run out of cash, Warner Brothers have thoughtfully installed a cash machine in the lobby (next to Starbucks).
Just a money spinner? Singh in the Telegraph commented that Warner Bros were “not about to let their billion dollar boy wizard fade away” and questioned whether the experience is value for money. Even if you can dodge the worst attacks of the “wallet-sucking Dementor” that is the gift shop, the tickets (advance sales only) will still set you back £28 for adults, £21 children and £83 for a family of four. These prices are comparable to those at theme park Alton Towers, but there are no rides and, she said, not enough to see to fill more than about three hours. The Daily Mail also reported that some critics are seeing red at the less than family-friendly prices, quoting Ed Mayo, former chief executive of Consumer Focus, as saying, “It’s no surprise the sets have been turned into a commercial enterprise, but this will be an expensive morning or afternoon out. Part of being a parent is being able to say no, but having to walk through the gift shop to leave the tour makes it very difficult.”
Fans want more Potter at any price. Still, the steep prices aren’t likely to deter the Potter-mad hordes: The Warner Brothers site crashed when advance tickets went on sale in October, reported the Mirror, and the studio are expecting 5,000 visitors a day, so we can expect big queues when the attraction opens.
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