Thursday, January 9, 2014

London Holiday, 4: Happy Christmas!

Christmas Eve on our London holiday started bright and early as we ran to Baker Street to catch the shuttle for Leavesden Studios and the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour. Now, I like Harry Potter. My daughter likes Harry Potter; she grew up with us reading the books at bedtime and loved going to midnight release parties for the books as they came out. But my wife LO-O-OVES Harry Potter. She loves the books. She loves the films. She loves absolutely everything about the franchise. (We gave her Gryffindor earrings for Christmas, OK?) So doing this tour was an absolute necessity.

 (Christmas feast in the Great Hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.)

I have to admit it. It was a lot of fun. The shuttle ride gave us a nice glimpse of London. And the studio tour itself was great. We got there early for our tour so we had brunch at the studio canteen. The food was excellent, as it was pretty much everywhere on this trip. Then we hit the gift shop, where they had everything Potter imaginable. Books, prop replicas, clothing, edibles, magic wands--everything. We loaded up on some stuff and then entered the tour. It starts at the door to the Hogwarts Great Hall, and is the actual set from the films. One nice thing: since it was Christmas, the Great Hall was dressed for the Yuletide celebration. They only do this during the holiday season, and it was way cool. The only things missing were the magic ceiling and the floating candles. The level of detail in the sets and costumes displayed were really amazing. I mean, I've worked in film. I've seen how corners are cut and I know the little tricks used to, say, make styrofoam look like stone. There were no tricks and no cut corners here.

(The set for Hagrid's Hut, complete with full props and a screen-worn costume.)

From here we went into the first soundstage, which was full of props and sets and costumes from all eight films. My wife was in heaven. She got to see pretty much everything she'd ever wanted to, from the Gryffindor Common Room to Dumbledore's office to the Weasley's kitchen. Very cool. Outdoors on the way to the next soundstage we stopped off for some butterbeer and saw the Knight Bus, Sirius Black's motorcycle, the Hogwarts rickety bridge, and Harry's muggle home at 4 Privet Drive in Surrey, among other exterior sets. Soundstage Two was where the movie magic really happens-- creature construction, animatronics, costume shop, makeup effects, models, original concept art, and the set for Diagon Alley (the latest version, including the Weasley brothers' joke shop.)

(Waiting for the Knight Bus.)

(John Cleese's Nearly Headless Nick and Prof. Lupin's werewolf form in the workshop.)

(Diagon Alley in all its glory.)

Then we came to what was, for me, the highlight of the tour: the model of Hogwarts Castle. Like the Great Hall, it was dressed for winter and even at what I estimated to be around 1/12th scale, this thing was enormous. It is constructed so that there appears to be movement and activity behind the windows, and the level of detail is truly lovely. It is a masterpiece, and I am so glad that it has been preserved. My wife was in tears, and I found myself quite moved as well.

(A glimpse of the Hogwarts model.  No photo can truly do it justice.)

From Leavesden, we went to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland, a kind of state fair/carnival affair. I mentioned it in an earlier entry, the one with all the complaining. There was good food, though, and hot (alcoholic!) cider; nifty ice sculptures, and a terrific circus, the Cirque Berzerk. The star of the show was an extremely talented high wire artist who took insane risks without a safety harness or a net, but with supreme confidence in his abilities. It was a great shoe, but as I mentioned in an earlier entry, I think we were so worried about having nothing to do that we arranged to do far too much. We went home cold, crabby and exhausted.

Christmas Day we slept in, had a quiet brunch in the flat, and watched a little telly. Mid afternoon we walked to the Marylebone Hotel for a spectacular Christmas Dinner--venison, Norfolk turkey, chestnut stuffing and figgie pudding. We had a perfectly lovely time. Then we made our way home just in time to check one more thing off my bucket list: I got to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special on the BBC in London on Christmas Day. Heaven.

(Christmas dinner at a posh hotel!)

(Now back to the flat for Doctor Who!)

1 comment:

  1. I love HP! And the wand with fiberoptic cables to make "sparks" got a lot more of my freshmen interested in optical fiber than ever had been with typical physics demos.