This post was originally written in September 2014, fresh out of the tour and exhibit. Although I took a lot of pictures, I didn’t include any in the post. Maybe the pictures weren’t ready for prime time and I wanted to get my impressions of the place down on paper ASAP? What follows is the original post with some enhancements to show you as well as tell you.
As an enormous Harry Potter fan from the beginning (all the books, all the movies, in fact I downloaded all the books to my Kindle so I could read them again over here, along with the complete Jane Austen) I was determined to find time for the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden. Given that the location started life as an aircraft factory, the studio is a bit out of the way, but Warner Bros makes it easy to visit on the train with a specially decorated bus from the Watford Junction railway station directly to the door. The best time for me to visit was my travel day between Hampton Court and Salisbury, but stowing my bags was a breeze and everyone was very helpful. The reviews online gave me certain expectations-expensive food and expensive shop-but I didn’t need reviews to tell me that! If those are the only complaints, well they are really no complaints at all. (However, if you bring children along, you may want to set a shopping budget in advance and warn them so they are not disappointed.) Yes, it was crowded, but I was able to see all the sets, props, and exhibits without too much trouble, and I spent almost three hours in the first building alone!
Included there are the Great Hall, including House banners, and costumes of all four houses and professors, displays of makeup, wigs, and special costumes, art direction, castle gates, Gryffindor common room and boy’s dorm, Potions classroom, the Burrow, Dumbledore’s office, motorcycles (including the small one used to make Hagrid look even larger), portraits, Ministry of Magic fireplaces, Death Eater costumes, the Black tapestry, and more, including hundreds of props large and small. The exhibits and videos explaining special effects and video effects are outstanding, and include the setups for flying brooms in Quidditch, as well as the Gringotts cart, and information about green screen effects used throughout. It seems that the Harry Potter movies advanced the technology of movie-making over their ten year span-many of those involved mention in the videos how the effects in Deathly Hallows were light-years from those in the beginning. Further proof of the excellent hands-on craftsmanship evident at every turn-when they needed to do something, they figured out a better way, and contributed to the industry all along. (You can even get a video of you or your kids flying on a broomstick if you desire-I passed on that.) The exhibits are very well done, with informational videos and live guides, as well as an audio/video tour that is well worth the extra money. All in all, just incredible! My only complaint? The lighting is miserable for photography! Bright studio lights shine from the high ceiling, making it very difficult to get a shot without fiddling with settings, which of course I didn’t do. I was actually surprised at the quality of some of the Iphone pictures, however some were not so good. Get your fill of the stage set, because once you leave this segment of the tour, there’s no turning back, but there is plenty more ahead, so pace yourself.
Next up is Diagon Alley, yes the real set. It looks much smaller in person, but then so does every set here. Again difficult to get good pictures because of the lighting. (And of course, the people taking pictures of themselves and/or their kids in front of all of the sets-proof they were really there I guess.)
After exiting Diagon Alley, one walks outside into the back lot, where one can climb aboard the Knight Bus, check out Privet Drive, climb in the flying car, see the Potter’s ruined house, as well as the larger-than-life wizard’s chess figures. Snacks (and butterbeer, supposedly icky sweet; I did not indulge) are available here, expensive of course, but it was nice to sit down before tackling the next phase.
The next building includes the creature shop, with videos showing makeup work and more, models of creatures including an animated Buckbeak, Aragog, et al. Next up, some work from the art department; this area really impressed me. Detailed drawings of all the creatures, buildings, and sets, white cardboard mock-ups of all the buildings, paintings and renderings of scenes from the movies, and on and on! Incredible.
Everyone freaks out about the enormous model of Hogwarts at the end, and I admit it is extremely well done and intricately detailed; maybe I was just exhausted at that point so couldn’t muster the proper enthusiasm. Or maybe I was annoyed that it is really unphotographable; again the lighting hampers one’s ability to get it in totality.
Although that may have been deliberate. At that point I was too tired to care actually. An amazing day, and well worth it! If you go, be sure to allow plenty of time, like a big chunk of the day, because there is so much to see. So, you ask, how much did I drop in the shop? Since all the kids I know are past the age (or too young) for Harry Potter swag, I had only myself to please.
The official guide came with my tour package, so book in hand, I perused the shop. My choices are actually very interesting and revealing. I mentioned I am reading the books on my Kindle while here; given I have no TV or internet in the apartment, they have been my main evening entertainment. I find them more and more relevant to the world today; even more than when JK Rowling sat down to write them. Given that the truth is decidedly out of fashion in today’s world in favor of “Ministry” propaganda, the books are eerily prescient, and I do believe that Rowling was only the vehicle for this story, especially given her output since the series. (I almost wish she would stop writing, except of course for a turn at Hogwarts-A History. I’m chomping at the bit for that one!) So my choices? A T-shirt with the marauders map-I solemnly swear I am up to no good-on the front, and mischief managed on the back. This may seem strange in light of my previous paragraph, but Harry Potter demonstrates quite clearly that mischief can be very serious business! My only other purchase? A keychain with the emblem of the Order of the Phoenix, whose paint will probably chip immediately unless I coat it with clear nail polish, but I just had to have it. As a salute to truth tellers and fighters of evil in the real world.
Thanks for reading.
A little quiz based on the pictures:
What did the students and professors see when they looked up at the Great Hall ceiling?
How did the food magically appear on the plates at mealtimes?
I have pictures of the Gryfinndor common room and boy’s dorm-where in the castle are Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff common rooms located?
What is Draco Malfoy’s mother’s name, and how is she related to Sirius Black?
Name all the Weasley children in birth order.
Whose annotated potions book does Harry use in The Half Blood Prince?
What happens to Umbridge’s proclamations, and what is the last one? What happens to Umbridge, and whose idea is it?
Name all the Quidditch balls.
Whose faces are burned off of the Black family tapestry?
Where do the Weasley twins get the seed money for their Diagon Alley joke shop?
Who is the chess master?
What is Buckbeak?
What is the Whomping Willow, and why is it there?