It’s a cold, dark January night, 10:00pm. Warner Bros Studios, a building worthy of a snap-chat story or two, stands behind me as I make my way back to the only car left in the vast and empty car park. I have, of course, just visited The Making of Harry Potter tour in London.
Caution: Spoilers Ahead
Earlier this morning, at about 10am, between delicious mouthfuls of Kellog’s Crunchy Nut, when Mum had suggested this super-duper fun family trip, my initial reaction was that of any young adolescent, unenthusiastic and uninterested. Sure, I had loved the books, but the films to me were moneymakers and nothing too special in terms of filmmaking.
Besides, I had better things to do. Like Facebook. And then Twitter. After all, wasn’t this tour only designed to keep the cash flow rolling in via the pockets of overly-enthusiastic muggles unable to accept the fact that Harry Potter is, for one, not real, and secondly, that his story and the multi-billion pound franchise behind him was over? Done. Caput. Finito. From a business and economic perspective, I felt that the whole thing was a very clever and rewarding idea from WB, keeping the Potter pennies pounding their pockets rather than to preserve and uphold the intricacies and power of film as an art form.
Or so, I’m happy to say, I once thought…
I’m a cynic. Honestly and truly, nothing goes quite as far with me in terms of comedy than a sardonic comment aimed at a naïve and unquestioning individual willing to thrust his or her all into something mindlessly, so I can candidly say that while marching through the large airport-esque foyer, I began to think that this tour really was a hollow money-making scheme and the people here had all blindly accepted their fate as pawns in a large-scale corporation’s scheme.
And yes, this was despite the huge poster of Emma Watson above me beckoning me closer. Sadly, I don’t know where this bitter skepticism came from – perhaps too many times entering the cinema with high hopes and then leaving feeling lower than an old lady’s bosom? Either way, thanks a lot The Amazing Spider-Man, Shrek The Third and Man of Steel (and as of yesterday, The Inbetweeners 2).
So through my eye-rolling and the enthusiasm meter at zilch, we walked into the tour area, where a spotty teenage Saturday girl and boy greeted us, leading us onto the set of the Great Hall, the doors steadily opening to reveal the brick flooring and long brown tables where Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint and the lovely Emma Watson had once sat. At the front, stood good ol’ Hagrid and Dumbledore’s costumes as well as Snape and Mcgonagall’s. The fabrics, textures and time that must have been put into making these began to sway my rigid narrow-mindedness. Costumes, for me, and I suspect for the mass audience, are an element of film production that are often overlooked and taken for granted. And yeah, I’ll admit it myself, I’ve never really found them that intriguing on screen, but in person, you had to admire the craftsmanship.
Proceeding through, I was amazed to see just how epic the magnitude of certain sets were, most notably the complexities and design of The Ministry of Magic’s main statue. It was also incredibly exciting to see just how many uses of special effects were used in the film as opposed to visual effects. I had always thought that Harry Potter had survived mostly on visual effects/CGI and, to an extent it does, but you’d be surprised how much the films owe to twisting mechanisms to make objects appear as if they are floating (The flying utensils in the Weasley’s House), or moving as if at the will of the object (Harry’s briefcase from The Prisoner of Azkaban).
It was when I first laid eyes on the miniature model of Hogwarts school that I began to feel the unprecedented feeling of nostalgia – memories of seeing the earliest films with my primary school friends as well as my secondary school years. If you’re still on the fence about going or not, then I suggest the whole trip is worth it for this part of the tour. The enchanting soundtrack of John Williams helps to create an atmosphere so strong, imbued not only with nostalgia but with pride and genuine love and affection. I was told that as a result of this, several people have left crying, not out of sadness, but of joy. Now before entering, I would have laughed my noggin off at that. But it really was a little overwhelming. I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that the feeling was magical but clichés are often riddled in truth, and I really don’t think that there is a better word that perfectly captures that moment for me.
And so, I was a filmmaker and student looking through a different lens. I had come in cynical and, to be honest, a little fed up with filmmaking as an art form, having been let down so many times by big-budget gormless cinema intent solely on generating a profit. But here, I was reminded just how powerful the art form of cinema really is. For me, the power which truly lies in the construction of the visual and moving image is the cinema’s capability to extend the technique of fine art, combining the beauty and emotionality of music, the intricacies of graphic design, interior design, visual composition, costume design, engineering, acting and directing as well as computer generated imagery and special effects. What makes it even better is when those different elements have the ability to stand alone as art pieces in and of themselves aside from the film.
To the average viewer, the people behind the film who help to make every cog in the intricate machine tick, are often not valued as highly as the stars placed in front of the camera, and by extension are taken for granted. Where the Harry Potter studio tour truly succeeds is in its compliment and testament to the hard working and devoted craftsmen behind the scenes as well as the people in front of the camera. It is in this vein of thought that I feel only cinema as an art truly succeeds; in its unification of different people from different fields in order to create together.
In this sense, cinema moves one step further from the realms of fine art, combining it with the eloquence of other fields, music and costume for example, to create grand-scale art. Perhaps obviously, a great film will have every facet of it fulfill its role, moving in harmony to produce the desired atmospheric experience for the consumer or spectator. But the power of cinema moves beyond the construction process as well, it is also in its communicative ability to connect and bring people together as an audience, within which people can debate and, concomitantly, be moved emotionally to feel empathy, joy, sadness or happiness in response to a fellow human being. It truly is the dream factory, where the sky of possibility is endless.
So as I step into the family car, Croydon-bound, and having taken my obligatory snap-chat of the building, I realise that the torch I have always held for film as an art form has been reignited, after too long a hiatus. And, of all places, the Harry Potter tour, which just goes to show that sometimes it is in the unlikeliest of places that you can sometimes find your feet.
Andrea Marcovecchio is a Film and Literature student at The University of Warwick. He is considering dropping out to pursue tap-dancing, having been told he has “the daintiest toes to ever tap-slap the planet”. In all seriousness, he is currently working on several film projects, which you should all check out. Do it. Now. Okay. Bye. (Here: Andrea’s YouTube account).
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