First the books, now the big screen. The Harry Potter saga has had both the young and old audiences gripped for nearly a decade. Streets outside bookshops were crowded with eager readers, and the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the fourth highest grossing film in history, according to boxofficemojo.com. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone is also the thirteenth highest grossing film in history. In fact, all eight films are in this list, all within the top 35 highest grossing films. This series truly is the most successful film saga ever made. I recently took the opportunity to visit the Warner Bros. Studios in Watford near London to see what all the fuss was about. I solemnly swear not to reveal the secrets…
A sunny July day in England is a rare occurance; especially on a Sunday. Excited children and their similarly animated parents wait in the entrance lobby just inside the studios. The lobby makes a fantastic first impression; giant canvases of important characters throughout the series line the tops of the walls, and props from the films hang down from the ceiling (the flying car from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!) you know you’re in for a treat before the tour has begun.
Once inside, and after a lengthy but understandable wait (about twenty minutes) we are greeted by very charismatic tour guides who really get you riled up for the tour ahead. They let you in the tour in groups of about fifty-sixty at a time, as there are a few rooms you are guided through first before you are allowed to roam on your own. When the guides asked us which film was our favourite, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire got the most cheers (it’s my favourite too!) as did The Deathly Hallows. You are then seated in a mini cinema and shown a short film presented by the cast of characters about the franchise as a whole and how amazing it has been working on the Harry Potter series. Then, you are allowed within Hogwarts. The entrance to the castle is amazing, and I won’t reveal how it’s done, but you will be surprised and shocked. You are guided into The Great Hall, which has a floor of genuine York concrete and a proper fireplace with the Hogwarts Crest and house badges sculpted into it. As I was looking round, it was really hard to believe that this is where some of the most iconic scenes were filmed over a decade of filming. This is where non-fans became adamant Harry Potter fans in my opinion, because the previously bored/sceptical looking folks who had been dragged along by their children were starting to look quite dumbfounded with amazement.
There are two studios/stages to the tour, as well as an outside area between the two. The two studios are named J and K (amusing) and they are magnificently massive. The first studio shows you the sets of Dumbledore’s office, the boys dormitory, Hagrid’s hut, The Ministry of Magic lobby, Snape’s potions classroom and many more. You get to really see all the minute details that the production team have put into the films. Things that you would have never noticed when watching them, but things that you will now notice when you watch the films again. All around the studios are television screens with descriptions from the cast members and the behind-the-scenes team on various things in the studios. You get to see some of the most important props in the film such as the seven horcruxes. Here, you also get the opportunity to have a go experiencing the green screen effects. You can ride on a broomstick and buy a photo with various backdrops. I heard it was £12 for one photo and £15 for two.
Before you reach the second studio you are introduced to an outside area where The Knight Bus and the Hogwarts bridge are located; as well as the houses from Privet Drive and also Harry’s childhood house in Godric’s Hollow. The houses look very real indeed and you have to be quick if you want to have a photo taken in front of them as there are many eager people wanting to do the same. You’ll also get to see and have a photo on another replica of the flying car and also Hagrid’s motorbike and sidecar. In this outside area there is a refreshments bar serving food (expensive) and Starbucks (also expensive). What is very clever is that there’s another bar serving cups of Butterbeer; which really adds to the experience. (£2.95 for one plastic cup, a strawberry and butterscotch fizzy drink with a creamy top. Deliciously sickly) Out here you can also take a look at the massive chess pieces featured in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone .
The second studio is just as awesome as the first. This time though, you are shown the original drawings and animatronics used for the films. Once again you are made to realise just how much intricate effort has been put into the production of these films, such as all the custom made (true!) electronics used in The Book of Monsters and the Mandrake plants (the ones that scream, remember?)
Also in this studio, you are let in on a massive secret that had many viewers purely puzzled throughout the saga. How on earth did they made Hagrid’s character so enormous? (There’s more to it than you think!)
Then there’s the grand finale. Right at the end of the tour (before the expensive gift shop) there is a room with a huge model of Hogwarts castle; used in all the faraway shots of the castle during the films. The model is very impressive and intricate, and had me laughing when I saw it. It will give you goosebumps when you see it.
The gift shop is predictably extortionate, but hey, you’re making the best of a great experience. I myself bought a programme guide (£9.95) and a giant Marauder’s Map mug (also £9.95). The gift shop alone is worth browsing, even if you don’t plan on buying anything. The candy section is immense and there’s merchandise from each of the Hogwarts houses. From scented key rings to replicas of Snape’s costume, you’ll be amazed at the variety of the things you can buy here. You do get a sense that Warner Bros are milking the franchise a bit here, but in a way it really doesn’t matter because that is what you’ve come to visit.
Altogether, the visit was really worth the money. It made me appreciate the films even more and also the books, because it was from the great mind of J.K Rowling that the whole idea came about. There is certainly a lot to see here and it’s almost too much to take in. I will warn you though, once you have gone through one studio you’re not allowed to turn back, so take your time seeing everything.
Entrance to the attraction is £83.00 for a family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) or £28 for individual adult tickets.