Wizarding World of Harry Potter Grand Opening June 18: Details About Hogwarts EmergeFan Events
Today Universal Studios announced that the highly anticipated amusement park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, will have its grand opening on June 18th. (This is the grand opening date, not the first time it will be open to the public: those who have purchased one of the advertised packages for May 28 are still promised a "Harry Potter experience.") Leaky was at the park this week for a preview of some of the attractions - many, many details on the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" below! Stay tuned also for discussion of this and more at a special LIVE video PotterCast Monday evening at our Livestream channel. See you then!
-By Melissa Anelli
This summer and after - after the June 18 opening and decades into the future - fans who visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will experience a series of owl-home events. During a recent preview of the Hogwarts attraction, however, it became blindingly obvious which one of these events will send them into the kind of joyful squeal that only those who have been part of a true fandom can say they ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
(Below: the portrait gallery - click for high res - featuring Helga Hufflepuff at center and Godric Gryffindor in the large frame on the right.)
Just in front of Hogwarts castle, at the very beginning of "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," the attraction that developers call a "game changing" visitor magnet, are two high columns. Atop these columns, two boars flank the entrance to the castle. Walking through them - seeing them above you as you walk by - creates the kind of transporting moment that most attendees, and all fans, have been excited about for years. Nothing has yet compared to the mouth-open wonder and nearly tangible lift of spirit that accompanies walking through those gates and toward the massive, rock-set, spired castle of our imagination. We've seen lot of things as fans and reporters on this fandom - sets, museums, exhibits. Nothing creates the feeling of Hogwarts so spectacularly as crossing that threshold.
(Pictured below: the Room of Requirement during the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride)
Then there's a the castle itself in its incomprehensible mass and cool Scottish beauty. It's good that the first few feet of the interior of Hogwarts are relatively stone holding rooms, because it takes some time to absorb the fact that you're actually inside. (And it will indeed be a feat to get inside it once this park is open to the public: the line snakes through what must have been a quarter to a half a mile of scenery, snaking through the greenhouses in a maze of metal line-holders: this will be two hours of your day at Universal at the least. Probably three.) Once you are, a few things become clear:
Firstly, J.K. Rowling's influence is all over the attraction, from the sparkling dialogue (screenwriter Steve Kloves is also apparent here) on portraits and characters, to small story touches (such as the fact that one statue is of Hogwarts' first headmaster: the founders were professors, none was ever a headmaster) that dot the attraction.
(Pictured below: Dumbeldore's office. Click for high res.)
Second, the effects are stunning: the portraits move and talk without leaving any traces of digital imagery or technology. They are not even reflective: they appear to have been coated in varnish and look as though they hopped out of your 18th century art textbook and could speak to you without any help from electronics. The same is nearly true of the visual representations of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). As of yet undescribed projection technology has resulted in videos that look like they could take form and accompany you to the Three Broomsticks (more on that next week).
Leaky traveled through most of the castle attraction, stopping short of the ride itself (which is not yet ready). We will have more details on this as we get closer to the opening of the park, but here's an idea of what's in store (spoiler warning, for those who want to remain pure…)
(Below: The gryffin leading up to Dumbledore's office. Click for high res.)
-For the first time ever we will meet the four founders. Gryffindor, Slythering, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw were cast, approved by J.K. Rowling (Vice President of Universal Creative Thierry Coup says Ms. Rowling proclaimed they were exactly as they were in her imagination), and talk to visitors about the ride's storyline. They also josh each other about quidditch rivalries; Slytherin openly seethes about Harry Potter (the boy who "survived"). Ravenclaw is angled and dark-haired while Hufflepuff is soft and gracious looking. Slytherin towers in his photo, all long nosed and stern, while Gryffindor has a beefy appearance that bears a slight resemblance to Hagrid. All of their accents differ, in accordance with the origins named by the Sorting Hat song of the first book.
-The sets are fully reconstructed inside the castle; you walk through Dumbledore's office, the Gryffindor common room, several hallways dotted with memorabilia (the Mirror of Erised, the Fat Lady's portrait, a Gryffindor pasteboard featuring a moving Daily Prophet proclaiming that Gryffindor would be defending its title that afternoon).
(Below: Dan Radcliffe on the Quidditch pitch during the Hogwarts attraction. Click for high res.)
-You will be able to peruse this area at your leisure even though it's technically a line: no one will rush you through to the end. The set is so detailed that that kind of browsing may be necessary. -The front hall also boasts statues of the One-eyed Witch and the Architect of Hogwarts (unnamed, he is also seen frequently in the films; he's the gold/bronze statue holding a model of Hogwarts in his hand).
-The story revolves around the fact that Muggles are being allowed into the castle for the first time ever. Dumbledore gives you a short intro and directs you to the Defense Against the Dark Arts room where Professor Binns is set to give a lecture on the history of the castle. Of course, Harry, Ron and Hermione won't let this happen. When you get to the DADA room, a door opens, and Harry, Ron and Hermione appear from under the Invisibility Cloak, Ron and Hermione bickering sharply. Harry informs you that instead of listening to a boring lecture (which Hermione says is actually fascinating!) they want to take you to a Quidditch game by sneaking you out of the castle. So, you're directed to the Room of Requirement, where the ride will begin.
-"You won't be able to tell the difference between inside and outside" on the HPatFJ ride, says Woodbury.
-The ride will be four people to a carriage, and carries the conceit that the carriages (really enchanted "benches") are supposed to fly.
-A secondary storyline, that Hagrid has lost a dragon that very day, is hinted at.
-The technology includes something that has been referred to as a 360-degree film experience. There were also several mentions of a robotic arm and the "biggest special effects we have ever put on," according to President of Universal Creative Mark Woodbury. "It's a level of execution that makes everything else pale in comparison."
-The experience will take you through the Forbidden Forest, an encounter with the Whomping Willow, out to the Quidditch pitch, through a cold patch of Dementors, and more.
-J.K. Rowling's approved, ultimately, everything, and her "level of involvement [created] the backbone of making it as authentic as it is," says Woodbury.
Coup (vice president of Universal Creative) said, "We had to create a whole new level of experience," and that there has been "an attention to detail unlike anything we have ever done before. " He promises that the combination of new patented technologies and Universal's history of thrill rides will create an attraction that will make feel as though you are "riding beside" the characters from the books and films.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is in Orlando, Florida, at the Universal Islands of Adventure park. Two fan events have already been planned near the park: LeakyCon 2011, which takes place the weekend of the release of the last Potter film, and Infinitus 2010, planned for July of this year.
Remember you can look at videos of the park in our gallery here. Expect Leaky and PotterCast to have more details soon!