Harry Potter studio tour: first review

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From Hagrid’s motorcycle to an 18-foot wide Aragog, everything in the newly unveiled ‘Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter’ is as wonderful up close as it is on screen.
The Harry Potter franchise may have drawn to a close, but Warner Bros are not about to let their billion dollar boy wizard fade away.
The latest money-spinner is the Harry Potter Studio Tour, offering fans a behind-the-scenes look at how the films were made.
And there’s no doubting that Potter aficionados will love what they see here, because it is the real deal.
The setting is Leavesden Studios near Watford, Hertfordshire, where all eight films were made over the course of a decade.
Here are the sets, props and costumes that appeared in the movies. Visitors can wander down the cobbles of Diagon Alley, inspect the table settings in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, gaze at the bookshelves in Dumbledore’s office and peer through the windows of number four Privet Drive.
Hagrid’s motorcycle, Harry’s broomstick, Hermione’s cloak – all are present, and they look as wonderful up close as they did on screen.
The highlight – which drew gasps from the young fans invited to today’s sneak preview – is the model of Hogwarts.
Built to 1:24 scale, it was used in the exterior shots for the first six films. The attention to detail is incredible, with 3,000 fibre optic lights fitted inside and turned on as the night sky darkens. It took six months to build and is testament to the skill of the production designers.
The fantastical creatures dreamed up by JK Rowling are also on display: an 18-foot wide Aragog is suspended from the ceiling above an animatronic Buckbeak. Visitors can see models of Dobby the House-Elf and the Gringotts goblins.
Videos explain how the films were made, from the Quidditch stunts to the visual effects which removed Ralph Fiennes’s nose for his role as Voldemort. Occasionally, you come across something that takes away a little of the mystique: those dusty tomes on Dumbledore’s shelves turn out to be phonebooks covered in leather.
Is it value for money? The prices – £21 for a child aged 5-15, £28 for an adult, £83 for a family of four – are comparable to the likes of Alton Towers but definitely on the expensive side when you consider there are no rides.
Unless you are the most trainspotterish of fans, there is not enough here to sustain a full day out. Three hours is the maximum you would spend here, including stopping off for a glass of butterbeer (a sickly sweet, toffee-flavoured cream soda).
And a visit to the gift shop – as with most tourist attractions, you have no choice but to walk through it en route to the exit – could leave you seriously out of pocket.
There are mountains of merchandise, and much of it is on the pricey side: a Horcrux ring is £39.95, a polyester Slytherin scarf is £24.95. The cheapest item to be found is a £3.95 lollipop and the most expensive is a replica of Dumbledore’s robe – high quality and beautifully recreated, but retailing at an eye-watering £495.95.
When it comes to the sets, you can look but not touch. The rooms are cordoned off behind ropes, so there’s no chance of perching on Harry’s dorm room bed or settling down in Hagrid’s hut.
One of the few interactive activities is the green screen room, where you can sit astride a broomstick as the streets of London whizz by behind you. It’s fun, and you can take a picture home with you for £12. If you’re coming from abroad and require an audio translation, add another £4.95 to the ticket price.
Warner Bros are expecting 5,000 people per day to come through the doors when the attraction opens to the public.
The studios may be in Hertfordshire but a visit can be made easily from London – the train journey from Euston to Watford Junction takes only 20 minutes. From there, special Harry Potter-themed double-deckers ferry visitors the extra 10 minute ride to the studio.
Prices aside, the tour is a must-see for Potter fans and a fitting monument to the team who created Britain’s most successful film franchise.
The only real disappointment comes as you approach the studios. Because when you’ve got an image in your mind of the Hogwarts’ fairytale spires, pulling up outside an aircraft hangar near to Watford’s branch of Carpetright destroys a little bit of the magic.
:: Warner Bros Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter opens on March 31.
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