When the conversation turns to favourite books, those people around me who like to affect a public disdain for all things Harry Potter always seem to assume I'm one of them and include me as part of their team even when the truth is I rather like the idea of Harry and Hogwarts (and especially Snape) and I love the fact that so many people seem to truly love the series.
I assume people jump to this conclusion because I'm the current guardian of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and thus, perhaps, should be first and foremost an ambassador for the serious grown-up business of all things science fictional and fantastical and thus immune to any kind of fannish behaviour hinting at early signs of Pottermania.
It's true I haven't read any of the books but that's not disinterest, it's basic time economics, and I'm busy reading people like China Miéville and Lauren Beukes and Christopher Priest because that's what award directors like me are supposed to do (plus they're all great writers, of course) but I have watched all of the films, and now having taken the Warner Bros Studio Tour, I can definitely say I'm a fan of Harry Potter and the Global Phenomenon.
Despite the instant hype, the Potter movies kind of snuck up on me initially and I always seemed to catch them on lazy Christmas afternoons or as in-flight movies, all times when I had less than full attention. More recently though, with the story coming to an end with Deathly Hallows Part II, the complete box set did finally magically arrive in the flat (via the medium of a fan-girl girlfriend rather than owl messenger) and I set out to watch all of them, in order, from beginning to end.
Being 30, um, something, I foolishly assumed that I'd probably watch with interest but not necessarily fannish zeal, so obviously by the time the credits rolled on The Chamber of Secrets I was utterly obsessed with practicing an Alan Rickman-like sneer, celebrating every minor achievement by declaring "100 points for Gryffindor!" and demanding Butterbeer with every meal.
So, fast forward a few weeks and suddenly I'm on a press tour for Warner Studio's new tour, The Making of Harry Potter, and wondering exactly what to expect.
Happily my first prediction was 100% spot on and, yes, I'm able to confirm that the gift shop is indeed massive.
SPOILER ALERT: You do still exit through the gift shop, but have no fear, you can also start there... Plenty of time then to check out the loot or to get in some early purchasing while waiting for your tour to start in other words - and for the record I bought a Slytherin colours scarf and some Chocolate Toads.
This is actually a very good thing as the tours are timed to control visitor numbers, so the opportunity to browse while waiting to be called up will prove very welcome I suspect. Kids will want to dive in right away, and parents will likely appreciate both the immediate distraction for the children - much better than starting with a lengthy queue I think - as well as the chance to advance plan a purchasing strategy at the other end of the tour.
And what of the tour itself?
Appropriately enough for a film studio tour, we're first led into a cinema screening room and treated to a few minutes of filmed build up from Daniel, Emma and Rupert to get the magic started. Some might find this a little heavy with the saccharine, but the tribute they pay to the efforts of the thousands of cast and crew is heartfelt and when you realise how the stars effectively lived on the set for the best part of 10 years perhaps you'll forgive them a little last word of closure.
Beyond the screen lies Hogwarts' Great Hall where we're allowed to linger for plentiful photo ops before moving on into the two main studio spaces of the tour.
Studio one houses the main sets including Dumbledore's office, the Potions room and parts of the vast Ministry of Magic (including Voldemort's Magic is Might statue) plus a huge array of original costumes, while studio two houses animatronics, a vast scale model of Hogwarts and a sure-hit fan favourite walk-through of Diagon Alley.
Ultimately what could have been the ultimate exercise in cash-in opportunities (and, have no illusions, there a lot of ways to spend money here if you want to) comes off as very well considered thanks to the sheer number of memorable props and details on show, and full kudos to a front of house staff who all seem to have memorized every frame of the films and are happy to share every detail.
My favourite moment comes right at the end inside a recreation of Olivander's wand shop with walls lined with thousands of individual boxed wands, each box carrying the name of a cast or crew member in a final, fitting credits roll that would probably have even Severus Snape cracking a smile.
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