Alohomora to magic

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The Great Hall. Photos by Quah Su Ann

IT is a very rare gift indeed — so rare in fact that the oft-used phrase “one in a million” is woefully inadequate to describe it — to be bestowed the endless imagination and flair for writing that JK Rowling possesses. It is truly mind-boggling, the fact that she dreamed it all up — characters, plot, story — and all on a fateful train ride to London.

Rowling has drawn inspiration from playwrights like Shakespeare (she often quotes Macbeth as one of her main inspirations for Harry Potter) to CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, added bits of mythology and folklore to her writing, and invented a world that has successfully won the attention and love of countless people around the world, both young and old. She became the first author to ever become a millionaire by selling books alone.

Tucked away in a quiet area of suburban London, Warner Brothers has recreated the magic of Harry Potter in the form of a studio tour it has named “The Warner Bros Studio Tour — London”. Comprising several huge filming sound stages and lots, it features thousands of props, sets and costumes in addition to a 1:24 scale model of the entire Hogwarts Castle, as well as an outdoor cafeteria serving Harry Potter favourites such as Butterbeer.

Diagon Alley.

The studio tour handles about 5,000 visitors daily, and visitors from all over the world — the United States, Germany and Brazil when I visited — flock there to get a glimpse of the movie magic that brought the seven Harry Potter novels to life.

Upon entering, we are first greeted on-screen by our favourite magical trio, Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe), Ronald Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and then ushered onto the set of Hogwarts Great Hall. There, life-sized replicas of the actors dressed to the nines in their costumes stand by the long house tables which feature original props used in the making of the movies.

Move on a little further and a breathtaking replica of the Yule Ball scene awaits, along with a mannequin of Granger donning the famous pink dress that stole the breath of her fellow classmates in the Goblet of Fire movie.

Although there are hundreds of intriguing sets to be seen, like the ones of the Gryffindor common room, The Burrow and various classrooms, three main attractions stand out — the 1:24 scale model of the Hogwarts Castle, the replica of Diagon Alley and, of course, the famous Butterbeer (which is actually cream soda flavoured with butterscotch).

There is also a life-sized model of the Dursley home along Privet Drive, and when I visited, a Harry Potter fan had even placed her baby wrapped in a blanket on the doorstep and taken a picture as homage to Harry being placed there by Rubeus Hagrid when Harry’s parents were murdered by Voldemort. That gesture certainly entertained the crowd who gathered around!

Walking down Diagon Alley felt sort of surreal — everything is intricately modelled down to the minutest detail, and every famous store that you can possibly think of is there. From Gringotts Bank to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Ollivander’s Wand Shop and Madam Malkin’s Robes, the sights along the street are a treat indeed.

Some other incredible sets from the movies that can be seen on the studio tour are the Knight Bus and the Hogwarts Bridge, which visitors can actually walk on and take pictures of themselves.

The studio tour ends at a huge souvenir shop which has a dazzling array of Harry Potter accessories, collectibles, sweets and toys on display. Thousands of gifts and collector’s items can be found here — stuffed owls, time-turner keychains, chocolate frogs, replica wands, broomsticks, Hogwarts uniforms, and a myriad of other Harry Potter goodies. Among some of the most expensive and highly sought-after items are the framed Marauders Maps, Golden Snitches, Ravenclaw’s Lost Diadem, and some other collector’s editions that can only be bought here (most merchandise can be purchased from the online store).

For Harry Potter fans, this studio tour is a definite once-in-a-lifetime experience for all ages. As opposed to Orlando, Florida’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (part of Universal Studios), which is a theme park, the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London provides more of an educational experience on movie magic, and the amount of sheer dedication that it takes to do justice to the incredible, magical world invented by the unlimited imagination of JK Rowling.

The Warner Bros Studio Tour — London tickets can be purchased via http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/ and tickets are priced at £31 (RM163) for an individual ticket, although there are family and group tickets available as well. The studio is located in southwestern Hertfordshire, 29km from central London.
 

Hogwarts Castle scale model.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 15, 2014.