BOOK REVIEW: Harry Potter Magical Places from the Films

You can’t apparate into Hogwarts but this book gets you pretty close…

Harry Potter Magical Places from the Films by Jody Revenson published by Titan Books

On receipt, it was just the sort of book you would hope for, a red leather bound tome with the picture of the Hogwarts towers arriving with the kind of thud on the door mat that one imagines of a spell book being dropped off by an owl from Flourish and Blotts.

Having just been to the studio tours and experienced close up the detail and pride taken in the film, I was hoping for the kind of rich imagery that I am accustomed to from Harry Potter films. Knowing the joy that JK Rowling took in planning her Harry Potter universe, seeing the map at the commencement of the book she drew for the Production Designer, Stuart Craig, reminds me of how much everyone really cared, from author, to production crew, to fans about getting this world just right. ‘It was the ultimate authority, this piece of paper, and I referred to it throughout the ten years of filming’ says Craig.

On the opening pages, one sees the vista leading to the castle a swooping view over the hills and river and the familiar chill of entering this fantastical and yet so credible world begins.

As JK Rowling knew her characters, so the designers got to know them through constant referencing and also through questioning the actors who inhabited these characters so completely for a decade. Alan Rickman advised that Severus Snape’s house should be devoid of personal items while Emma Watson simply asked that Hermione’s room have ‘more books’. These references to characters and actors and the considerations made are present throughout and each mention serves as a constant reminder to the pride and care apparent in the creation of the book and the films alike.

It is clear from the book’s production that every element of design involvement from technical to the beautiful artworks have been carefully considered before inclusion. All contributions are valued equally and the graduation from blueprint to model to art to creation is documented with care and attention.

Chapter 1 presents Privet Drive, the famous cul de sac, the place that would ‘kill creativity or originality that anyone would ever have who lived there’ and even here in this street like any other street, imagination is not dead and resides alongside the beige and brown boxes on the road demonstrated present in the hand knitted furnishings, the items that personalise the family and the stifling, cramped interior in the world created in the cupboard under the stairs. On what one might consider an element to be quickly mentioned and forgotten as easily as one forgets these insipid streets on passing through, in fact there are many details to be explored and make Privet Drive a fascinating place.

Having expected, from reading this book and having visited the studios, that all the exposés of the illusions and technical features that create the magical goings on at Hogwarts would take something away from the films, in fact the opposite is true. I think that all of us Geeks enjoy watching for the detail seeking references in the background in unlikely places.

Therefore learning why certain pieces of furniture were chosen such as Professor Umbridge’s spiky chairs or why a particular background effect was crucial to get right and what it meant for character development can only enhance the enjoyment of these great films. Looking at the photos of the Gryffindor common room and reading that the rooms were made small to make Harry feel secure in his refuge there as well as that his blankets cocooned him against the world outside and the vast castle just makes one feel even closer to the character and appreciate the thought and consideration that has gone into it. Knowing that the common room signs changed each year and that issues of comic books were made for the films enriches the following viewings of the films looking out for each item. The obvious pride in workmanship is certainly contagious and emanates from every page.

One of the best features of the book is the close up imagery afforded of items in the homes or in the shops or vaults that there is no way to see on the screen. As each designer and assistant has made or purchased an item and placed it on a shelf or under a counter, these small things are never seen or appreciated. Seeing what is written on the notes at the bank or knowing that each wand box was hand crafted and a paper label written and stuck on again serves to enrich the experience of the films on return viewing.

There is great pleasure to be taken in examining the beautiful photographs that adorn every page of this book, each an art work in its own right. The behind the scenes photographs and close up images of the iconic buildings make this a true visual feast and each page deserves significant attention and can be returned to again and again.

As many of us have grown up with Harry and so many have benefitted from, and been drawn into, the Harry Potter universe, there is throughout the book a sense of the pressure felt by all concerned to get it totally right. There is a proprietary sense amongst fans that each element should be correct not least because of the effort that JK Rowling put in at the very start to establish the maps, laws and backgrounds for the characters and magic alike.

There is a sense of intimacy since we have all travelled with these characters on their journey and become emotionally involved in their lives. Bringing out a Harry Potter book is a brave undertaking and this book exemplifies all it should be – not just a coffee table book of interesting facts and photographs but a beautiful and also intimate portrait of the making of these incredible films.

A hand drawn map of Diagon Alley, secreted in a camouflaged envelope at the back of the book, completes the journey in the most satisfying and completely appropriate way.

Micro Review: Jody Revenson’s book ‘Harry Potter- Magical Places From the Films’ a beautiful and fascinating read and intimate insight into how these films were made.

GS Rating: 5/5

GS Blogger: The Aviator

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