Although the primary purpose of my trip to England was to see family, my wife and I had a special incentive too – as a birthday present, my cousin managed to procure us tickets to the UK Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford, just outside of London. Now, unlike studio tours here in Hollywood, this was a show-and-tell with exactly one topic: Harry Potter. But on that one topic, it had every damn thing you can imagine short of a personal greeting from Alan Rickman. The studio isn’t allowed to have anything that be considered a “ride” – that would infringe on Universal Studios’ exclusive international rights to same – but it does have as many props, costumes, miniatures, wigs, effects and other doodads as could presumably be secured, and it presents them in a way that puts most collections of far more acclaimed artworks to shame.
You can probably picture some of what’s there already. But I’m here to show you the best things you might not have expected…
14. Hall Together Now.
After the first room of the tour, which displays movie posters in multiple languages, you move into a movie theater to watch a short film in which Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson stand in front of the entrance to the Great Hall of Hogwarts and tell you what you’re about to see. As the movie ends, the screen retracts into the ceiling, and…HOLYSHITTHE ENTRANCEIS RIGHT THERE!
Sorry, no photos were allowed in the theater. But right behind those doors…
13. Brush With Greatness.
Though the exhibit lacks rides as such, you can get astride a broomstick in front of a greenscreen to get a goofy-looking photo taken. They even dangle an honest-to-goodness golden snitch up above the frame so that your eyeline will match the background correctly.
(Alternate takes before this one was selected included one of me doing the Daniel Bryan “Yes” gesture.)
12. Your Money or Your Lupins!
At the touch of a button, Remus Lupin’s luggage auto-unpacks itself right in front of you. Which is considerably more surprising than the fact that a character in fantasy named “Remus Lupin” turned out to be a wolf.
11. The Claws Are out.
Honestly, the way the media digs into the behind-the-scenes dirt on the movies’ costars is shamefully catty sometimes. Mee-ouch!
10. I Call This the “Wife-Confuser.”
Julia is devoted to the world of Harry Potter, and dutifully boos the villains. Yet she also loves all things pink, cute and kitten-bedecked. Thus, Dolores Umbridge’s room is like the ultimate paradox.
9. Come and Knock on Their Door…
The Dursleys aren’t home, and with the real-life Uncle Vernon having sadly died, they never will be. But you can walk right on up to their doorstep anyway.
8. Nick of Time Passing.
Well well well, NEARLY Headless Nick. Guess it’s time to revise your name.
7. Nothing Here but, er, Beer.
Currently available only here and at Universal Studios Florida, butterbeer is basically cream soda with a butterscotch froth head on top. To my tastebuds, it was quite enjoyable, but there has clearly been a sizeable contingent who’ve disagreed with that assessment.
Hence the need for this:
Yes, bad beer can have you over a barrel sometimes.
6. 82 Per-Cent of Michael Gambon.
Not kidding – this scarily lifelike replica of Dumbledore #2 is constructed at 82% scale, for reasons that were not immediately apparent (much like most of Dumbledore’s plans).
Presumably the other 18% is in the form of a Horcrux somewhere else.
5. Animatronic Voldemort Fetus!
Minus the blood and guts he was covered in for his big reveal in Deathly Hallows Part 2, You-Know-Who-Has-No-Nose is even creepier, looking like the world’s most evil baby. Press a button on the display in front of the cabinet, and his little heart starts beating, after which he stretches and writhes.
It’s the most unpleasant-looking thing to be associated with Ralph Fiennes since Onegin.
4. ‘Gon Today, Here Tomorrow.
No special knocks needed – this Diagon Alley is open to all, though the storefronts remain locked and their tempting windows full of desirable delicacies remain just out of reach. Sadly, the Gringotts facade is just that, as you’ll have to bring your own Goblin Gold to even dream of affording some of the stuff in the gift shop…
If you have to ask how much, you don’t want to know…
At the Weasleys’ joke shop, this life-sized Garbage Pail Kid wannabe emits a steadily rotating stream of literal technicolor yawn, turning “spewing nonsense” into an amusing noun rather than a derisive verbal adjective.
2. Would a Skeptical Phoenix Feather Doubt Fire?
Every wand that was in Ollivander’s shop in Diagon Alley had a potential owner’s name on the box, and they were all different. But one in particular caught my eye…
Homealoneus! This, finally, is an explanation for how such a decidedly middle-of-the-road director continues to prevail – he’s a wizard, Harry!
1. Whole Hog, Warts and All.
The grand finale of the tour is a scale model of the entire school of witchcraft and wizardry, built for the first film and featuring details as minute as individually crafted shingles on every rooftop. It is seriously huge, and yet still smaller than if you were to make a screen-accurate Hogwarts playset scaled perfectly to Lego minifigs.
But since it doesn’t include the Whomping Willow, the debate about where the tantrum-throwing tree is actually located (real answer: depends which movie you consult) remains unsettled.
That the exhibit is worthwhile, however, should be unambiguous.