Sunday, 25 August 2013

Harry Potter Studio Tours

We didn’t make any holiday plans this year because of the precarious job situation, and also because we’re nominally in the process of decorating the kids’ rooms – one of the most self-defeating tasks in the world with a two-year old about, in case you were wondering. 
So Harry Potter Studios was our big treat of the summer, and even more so as the kids and I were meeting my lovely friend Zoe and her three boys and doing sleepovers with them in North London.  Zoe is my dearest friend discovered in the midst of the whole babygroup minefield.  But they moved a year ago and the school runs have been lacking a much-needed shot of cynicism ever since.

We’ve become Harry Potter geeks since Easter, when we watched the films back-to-back.  Somehow I had managed to miss the Harry Potter phenomenon, possibly due to a Buffy-motivated resistance that anything could match up and a pre-conceived idea that they just weren’t dark enough.  Whatever, I was very wrong.  The films are being repeated on Saturday nights at the moment, which has been really good timing to feed our obsession.  And my Harry (not actually named after HP, but Henry in The Secret History, another great coming-of-age/dark arts epic) has been so into the films that he had a Harry Potter-themed party, and generally hysteria has been building leading up to the weekend.  So it was also slightly worrying that it might have been a let-down.  Or that someone would get V&D, as they are prone to do at critical times.

But, the gods have shined on us and we even made it to the Studios within our timeslot, an unheard of level of competence which had been looking hairy on the M25.  The kids were thrilled to see each other, and time just melted away and they sank back into their friendships.  Charlotte and B, the eldest pair, took the whole thing incredibly seriously and drank in every piece of information. I think they would have happily spent days there scouring every inch they could.  Harry and A, the middle two, spent the afternoon hamming it up.  And Katie and J, the littlest two, were generally oblivious to the whole concept and veered between fascination with something unexpected and total meltdown.  And  so we began the queuing process, entertained by distractions like Harry’s cupboard under the stairs and intense conversations about how much Hermione rocks (oh yes).   And as soon as you got into in the collecting area and the Guide started talking, the air became ridden with hysteria – suddenly it was clear that the audience had a high geek factor and this was a good place to be.  The Guides throughout were wonderful, totally enthused and appreciative that everyone had been dying to come here and were hanging off their words.

First of all you go into the cinema and watch an introductory film, during which time Katie very loudly pointed out approximately 30 times that it was, indeed, ‘All dark,’ an asset to any cinematic experience.  Then the screen went up and in front of us was the huge Hogwart’s door.  Through the door and you landed in the Great Hall, and we lost ourselves in the total brilliance of the experience.

The main part after the Great Hall is this huge warehouse ridden with sets, things like the dormitories, Dumbledore’s office, and endlessly fascinating props. There are some good interactive bits like inside Weasley’s house which you use a touchpad to make the domestic items operate by themselves.  You could easily spend the 3 hours they suggest devoting to the tour in this part.  Obviously given the vast array of items of interest, what caught Katie’s fancy was a clock, which she steadfastedly refused to come away from.  I have been racking my brains for a lucrative clock-related career that could be in store for her, to no avail.  The eldest four did the wand skills workshop, Katie only had to be dragged off the wanding floor to their mortification once, and then the eldest two went off and did the broomsticks/flying car green screen bit, which was very cool.  Although disappointingly for them neither of us were sufficiently motivated to stump up £90 for the dvd.

We had to rush the end of this part of the tour a bit as blood sugar levels was taking a bit of a dip, but luckily the outside area was next where we refuelled on brownies sat next to the Privet Drive set.  We have still not quite come to terms with these houses not actually being made of brick, despite being to scale.  Outside too were the Nightbus, the flying car, motorbike and sidecar (all of which you can climb on/go inside), the chess game (that moves in response to people), and the beautifully carved covered bridge to Hogwarts.

Next you go back into the more technical part of the tour – make-up, prosthetics, monsters, models.  And Katie found possibly her favourite part of the day – the embryonic Voldemort, who you could awaken at the touch of the button.  Just to put this into perspective, in the whole eight films, the only part that genuinely scared Harry – not unreasonably - was when this embryonic creature got thrown into the pot to create Voldemort.  So it almost went without saying that this should be the point at which Katie fell madly in love.  Dragging her away was somewhat tricky, and we wondered for the umpteenth time if we would be the first people to get thrown out of the Studio tour.  I was just glad that a cuddly version of embryonic Voldemort wasn’t on offer in merchandise form.  And surprised as there is clearly a market for it.

Around the corner from the various monsters was Diagon Alley, one of the genuine breath-catching moments of the day.  A tour guide was on duty here and of the children got the chance to take part in a magic stunt, but Katie and I missed this as she had been told off for climbing on the rails and was catatonic with outrage.   A massive spider appeased her a little, but she wasn’t really herself again until she found a feature in the Weasley’s shop of a boy being sick.  This was obviously brilliant and cheered her right up.  By this point I had taken so many pictures that my phone died on me, which was quite galling as it meant I didn’t get any photos of the Hogwarts Castle – the size of a swimming pool, beautifully lit, and with a path that snaked around it so you got to see it close up from different angles.  This is obviously a brilliant marketing technique, because I for one felt so blissed out by the castle that when we arrived at the mega shop I found myself more tolerant of the rampant consumerism than usual.  Charlotte thoughtfully got an Alan Rickman postcard for her gran’s fridge and a Helena Bonham Carter one for her dad.  I spend some time trying to explain to Harry, who was insistent upon buying a rolled-up poster, that the trick was to match up the number to see what was inside.  But he was so disinterested in this level of detail that I gave up and luckily it turned out not to be an embryonic Voldemort, which would have been disastrous for morale or general sleeping patterns for the next ten years.

Afterwards we headed back to North London, where the children feasted on their first delivered pizza.  For once everyone was happy, all getting a sleepover experience in with no one gooseberry, and Zoe and I had a much-needed catch-up over a bottle of wine.  Driving back in the car the next day was one of those rare bittersweet moments of good times with people you love that you wish you could do over and over again.

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