An owl brought me my Hogwarts acceptance letter!
In the interests of full disclosure; I am a big Harry Potter fan. Not to the extent that I would camp out in the rain to see the stars, but enough that I can quote from the books and the films off the top of my head, and I have a pub quiz worth of trivia about all things Potter related. Oh, and I've done the real sorting hat on Pottermore, and it confirmed what I always knew; I am a Ravenclaw for life.
So this weekend I donned my uniform and went back to school:
Why I will never be a grown-up
Despite being giddy with excitement I was also a little trepidatious: what if it didn't live up to my expectations? But I needn't have worried. From the moment we arrived, even the parking attendants welcomed us with a smile.
The tours have entry times, for reasons of crowd and queue control, but once you're in, you can take your time. The only stipulation is that it's one way - once you have moved on from a room you can't go back in to see something you may have missed. So we really did take our time. The tour encompasses two large studios and an external backlot and we were told the visits averaged three hours. We took over five!
The Great Hall
I'm not going to give away all of the secrets of the tour; it was filled with informative and entertaining videos, not only of the stars of the film, but also those behind the scenes such as Creature Effects managers, Production Designers and so on.
Fleur Delacour: mock-up and final outfit ** The Tri-Wizard Cup and Golden Egg
Harry's Glasses ** Dumbledore's Office
Costumes, props and set pieces were all accompanied by plaques, describing details and providing titbits of insider experiences, which were occasionally quite funny, especially in the case of the Animal Department!
At the half-way mark we stopped for a much needed tankard of Butterbeer; the recipe for which is a closely guarded secret, and had the opportunity to see some of the props and sets which were too big to be permanently inside, such as the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and the iconic Hogwarts Bridge.
The second studio houses the Special Effects and Creature Workshops, where we met a variety of the inhabitants of Harry's world, including Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Aragog the giant spider! In this studio we took a wander down Diagon Alley, marvelling at the tiny details in each shop window. It is also home to some of the concept artwork and the design and planning pictures and models, which were extremely impressive.
Butterbeer! ** Outside Harry's House
Meeting Aragog ** Paper model of Hogsmeade
For me, my favourite part of the tour came at the end: a scale model of Hogwarts, used for the impressive wide frame shots of the castle and the huge, sweeping vistas around the grounds. I admit I got goosebumps as we rounded the corner and saw it lit up as though at night, with tiny lights glowing in the windows.
I highly recommend this tour to anyone who is a fan of the books or films, or both. The tickets can be quite expensive but if you really take your time, and take in everything in each section as we did, then it is definitely worth it. I'm glad we don't have any children as I think we'd have spent most of our time trying to corral them and keep them under control, although there are lots of things to keep them occupied such as Wand Choreography and Broomstick Riding (which we didn't do)
This has left me with a greater appreciation for the films and the decade of work and vast amount of effort that went into making them so magical. When we got home we watched the fourth film and I realised I was looking at everything except the actors, recognising props and costumes, and tiny details such as the decoration on the bed curtains in the Gryffindor boys dormitory!
The first book came out in 1997, meaning there are people in university who have never known a world without Harry Potter. And the Warner Brothers Studio Tour really does bring that world to life.