Through a very rare work benefit, I was able to acquire a pair of complimentary tickets for today's soft opening of the Harry Potter Studio Tour at the Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden (near Watford!), so I figured a little trip report might be in order for anyone who's interested. There will be some potential spoilers, so if you're planning on going and don't want anything ruined, you know what to do.
After exchanging confirmation email for entrance tickets and all that malarky, we entered into a reasonably sized square foyer, adorned with pictures on all four sides of the characters at various ages in the films, with the Ford Anglia prop hanging from the top right hand ceiling. On the left is your bog standard over-priced cafe, a rather large merchandise shop is on the right, and directly ahead is the main entrance to the attraction.
So after a short queue, which is broken up by a prop of the cupboard under the stairs that Harry lives in 'in the real world' in the first few films, we were ushered in to a small-ish holding room, with portrait style video screens projection the various film posters used around the world for the movies. A short talk followed from one of the guides, mostly around etiquette, and then we were shown a short film about the origins of the Harry Potter series, and how the films came to be made.
The doors opened, and our group of around 30 people moved on into a larger auditorium, this time with seats... possibly the most comfortable seats in the world in fact! All cinemas should have these. So another little guide talk, and another short film followed. This time, on a huge cinema screen, showing a kind of 'behind the scenes' look at the production, which was fronted by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. In what was on of the first simple, but cool effects of the day, the film ended with the 3 actors walking in to the door of the Great Hall. With that image remaining, the screen lifted up to reveal the actual entrance to the Great Hall, and everyone jumped off of their seats to head inside.
So now we're in the actual set used for the Great Hall, and it's pretty bloody impressive. Like most things seen on film or screen, it's not quite as big as you imagine it, but it's hardly small either! The level of detail on the walls with the gargoyles and the murals is quite spectacular, and WB Studios have installed slightly creepy looking faceless models in particular locations wearing the character clothes to depict where they'd sit/stand etc.
After a talk from the guide on the Great Hall, including a little snippet on how the actors would celebrate their birthdays with parties in there during filming, we moved on. The next section is like a big open studio, featuring lots of smaller sets that you're free to roam. These included the Gryffendoor dorms and common room, Dumbledore's office, Hagrid's house, potions classroom and the Weasley's house amongst others. There's also a photo/video opportunity where you can 'ride' a broomstick in front of a green screen having your image mapped onto various movie scenes. The queue for this was slow moving, so we gave it a miss.
As we headed out to the back lot area, there were a few more exhibits to check out, such as the Ministry of Magic fireplace. Out in to the back lot stage, and the beautiful sunshine. Here you can grab some refreshments (and yes, the do sell butter beer), and check out some of the outdoor exhibits such as the Ford Anglia, the London Knight bus, the Potter's house in Godric's Hollow, the house Harry lives in in the first few films, and most impressively of all, the bridge to Hogwarts. On a lovely summer-like day as today was, this was a really cool little area.
As you head back inside, past the chess figures from 'Philosopher's Stone', you enter a kind of effects workshop, with a big video screen showing how many of the make-up / monster effects were made, along with shelves of props and a really cool glass exhibit in the middle of the room with animatronic props of the freaky Voldermort fetus, a mandrake and that monster book thing.
Through to the next room, and the really big, nasty props such as one of the spider's, the baselisk's corpse and head, and Butterbeak!
And that little section leads you in to Diagon Alley...
Diagon Alley is really cool, and pretty much exactly as you'd expect it to be. You walk from Gringots right up to the top, and then through another concept art section featuring comprehensive drawings of many of the key scenes from the films, and scale models of many of the buildings, including Hogwarts.
And this leads you through to the grand finale...
... A 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts. This was created for the various exterior shots for the films, as well as being use to create the CGI model for the various close ups and sweeping shots. Combining the man hours that went in to creating this, it would take a single person 76 years to build this by themself!
So that's pretty much it. You exit through Ollivanders and into the gift shop, which is essentially a bigger version of the one at Universal, but selling pretty much exactly the same stuff, albeit at slightly inflated prices!
To wrap up my feelings in a soundbite: It was good, very good, but short. The entire tour took around 2 hours, and once it's done, there's little else to do other than to peruse the gift shop and buy food. Considering they'll be charging £28 for an adult ticket, I think there should be a little more on offer. Following on from that point, there's nothing to warrant making a return visit. Once you've seen it all, there's no real reason to go back, as it's essentially a Harry Potter museum if you like.
As such, I'd probably recommend it as a must-do for die hard HP fans only. As a more casual fan, I would feel a little aggrieved to have laid out that kind of money for such little return. If you have no interest in Potter, then it really doesn't offer anything for you, simply put.