Monday 3 September 2012

Harry Potter and the girls who never grew up

Flying on a broomstick…

Ok, I admit, this one was not on the original list but this is definitely a first for me. And while it is not technically flying, it’s as pretty close as you are ever going to get to it – there’s wind machines and everything. 

If I'm going to embarrass myself by writing about it, I may as well go all
out and give you pictorial evidence. And, yes, I was very excited to wear the gown. 

I should probably warn you that I might suddenly switch to gushing teenage nerd girl mode while I tell you about my time at The Making of Harry Potter tour at the WB Studios near Watford. But please don’t turn away so quickly. I can assure you that this is not just a place for 25-year-old children who love HP but for film buff ‘kids’ of any age. 

I’ve always been a bit of a Harry Potter fan. But Nathan was the first one in our house to really get into it. It was his books I read when I decided I wanted to know what all the fuss was about and it was mostly for his benefit that we queued outside WH Smith with all the kids in capes when The Prisoner of Azkaban came out. But he did get to an age where he decided it was babyish, whereas I was already past that age when I even started to get into it all. I was less the target age group of the original books and more the target audience for the ‘adult’ cover version. (What a joke they were! Seriously, if you’re reading Harry Potter, you’re reading a kids book no matter what the cover. A very good kids book, but a kids book nonetheless. Just be adult enough to admit it.) 

But it had been a few years since my last journey into the world of Hogwarts and all things magic and my brain is terrible at remembering details. I’m much more the kind of person who remembers overall feelings and atmospheres in films and books than remembering names or plot details. So, with one week to go before my trip to HP world (let’s just call it that, I know it’s not it’s proper name) I decided to take drastic action. I watched all eight films.

It was brilliant. I loved it. I had forgotten so many of the little plot twists and turns. And yes, Harry is an annoying little twerp who gets away with murder (almost literally at some points), and whose name has to be said in full and in a very specific tone of voice whenever it is mentioned and, yes, there are some pretty gaping holes in the representation of ethnic minorities within the film, and, yes, it’s pretty sickly at times. And some of the acting is pretty shocking. But I still loved it.

So I was extra excited when I got on the train with two of my friends, who luckily were as excitable as I was. And I was not disappointed. 

The friendly (border-line creepy) tour guides point out to you the details
you saw, and those you missed, in the films.
After a dramatic entrance into the Great Hall, you’re free to wonder around a whole variety of sets and props, as well as being told lots of film making secrets. If you want to know how they filmed the ceiling of the grand hall, how they make Hagrid look so big and how they filmed the dragon scene you can find all the answers at the studios.
And this is what makes the tour good, not just for fans of the boy wizard, but for anybody who has an interest in films at all. Obviously, if you’re excited by the thought of skipping down Diagon Alley or drinking Butterbeer than the overall experience will probably be more exhilarating for you. But to see the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes of a film and to learn how an idea gets from paper to the screen in fascinating for anybody.

For those visitors that are HP fans, it’s the attention to detail that makes it such a fantastic experience. Seeing how much consideration goes into props that seem almost insignificant in the grand scheme of the films is all the more mesmerising if you can remember seeing it on the screen. 

Butterbeer - yummier than it looks
For an example of this attention to detail, lets take the gift shop. The prices are pretty extortionate and the place is heaving, proving that people will be willing to pay pretty much anything for what is essentially ‘tat’ to clutter up their homes with. So WB could just sell any old stick in there labelled ‘Harry’s wand’ and I’m sure they would turn a healthy profit. But they don’t. You can have you’re very own Ollivanders experience by feeling and touching the variety of differently crafted wands that are on offer to find your perfect magic maker before selecting your hand painted box from the pile (and taking it to the till to pay the hefty price for it, but at least you have been sold an experience as well as a piece of plastic/wood).

Having read the last paragraph back in an attempt to decide how to end this post, I realise that all this talk of touching up wands sounds like some kind of euphemism. It’s not intended to be. But on a related note, my blog on Amsterdam will be available soon.

There does seem to be an overall running theme to this post of childhood vs adulthood. But, judging by the average age of the visitors to the studios, I would say the distinction is not all that clear. I’m pretty sure I was just as excited to be wearing a cape as the seven-year-old lad running round the Privet Drive set. The only difference being it would be acceptable for him to wear it outside of the tour and I had to give mine back when I got off the broom.

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