In 1997, J.K. Rowling opened up all our imaginations by bringing the magical world of Harry Potter to life in the pages of her renowned books. Sixteen years after the first book was published and two years since the last movie installment, fans can still enjoy this enchanted world through Harry Potter: The Exhibition. Actors provide the core of movies, and without great acting and devotion to the script, the story can be lost on the audience. However, the sets, costumes, and designs are essential in presenting a believable world as well. The exhibition does just that by bringing together all the pieces of the Harry Potter movies so fans can enter this magical world themselves. Walking through the exhibit is an experience not to be missed, as the exhibit places fans at the heart of Harry’s world. The feeling of marvel when I walked through the exhibit was probably aligned with the awe that Harry experienced when Hagrid first took him through Diagon Alley. Harry Potter: The Exhibition is more than anything I could have imagined when I read the books all those years ago.
Fans are first greeted by the Sorting Hat, and a chance to be sorted into one of the Hogwarts houses. Afterwards, one literally steps into the world of magic and is greeted with the sight of Platform 9¾ and the Hogwarts Express. Props and sets from all eight movies are in the exhibit in different scenes and setups. The impressive amount of detail that went into the costume, set, and prop design brought Harry’s world alive. A lot of detailing is not visible on screen, yet the care placed into designing the movie is unfathomable. Whether or not you are a fan of Harry Potter, anyone can appreciate this attention to detail.
Near the beginning of the exhibition, fans visit the dormitory spaces of the characters. Most notably, there is a set devoted to Harry and Ron’s dormitory rooms. The beds are straight out of the movie set, and showcase the different personalities of Harry and Ron. In the series, Ron is a huge Chudley Cannons fan, which is made apparent through all of the Chudley Cannons paraphernalia plastered around his space. The prop that stood out the most to me was the howler that Mrs. Weasley sent Ron in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The howler is not described in anyway in the books, and so the creative minds thought the best way to present the howler was to fold it up origami-style into what we see in The Chamber of Secrets. It is that kind of detailing that made the movies so visually appealing and memorable.
As one walks through the rest of the exhibit, one encounters many different magical subjects, and interactive portions of the exhibit add to the excitement. Fans can take a gamble at pulling out screeching baby mandrakes or throwing quaffles through hoops to score some points. Each set evoked a different emotion in me, from excitement to enter Hogwarts, to fear at running through the Dark Forest, scared that the props and characters were going to turn alive and grab me at any moment. (Also watch out for the Dementor that is lurking about!) The exhibit ends in the Great Hall, with a grand entrance into the main hall with floating candles, as well as a scene from the Yuletide Ball from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Arriving at that point, I simply wanted to run back through the exhibit and stay in that magical place. There are so many elements, from the candy, treats, and desserts, to the bright emerald cloak of Professor McGonagall, that I wanted to inspect every piece of prop in detail.
Fortunately for me, the magic continued when I had the opportunity to meet the Phelps twins. Oliver (George Weasley) and James (Fred Weasley) Phelps were of good company, having a delightful conversation full of laughs with three others and myself. This chat was definitely the highlight of my visit to the exhibit. It was fantastic to see that even though they have been part of the movies and the exhibit tour, they are still excited about Harry Potter: The Exhibition. James’ greatest advice to fans visiting the exhibit: “Don’t just run through and see the big things. If you actually have a look at it, you see the detail on things like the Daily Prophet. My favourite thing is the dragon from the fourth movie. A lot of it was CGI, but what they do is still build a full size thing as reference for the movie.” For Oliver, an unexpected surprise was that “One of the things poking from Dumbledore’s outfit is Dobby. A lot of people thought that he was one hundred percent CGI, but there is a real life model of him. It may be something people are not expecting to see.”
Notably, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Fred says, “I think we’ve outgrown a full time education.” When I wondered if that was how the Phelps twins felt when they auditioned, James jokingly volleyed back, “No, not at all! We just purely went because it was a great opportunity to get in a film and it just so happened to be a big thing and something that we were familiar with because we’d read the books. But I wouldn’t say outgrown an education at fourteen.” Ask them about their favourite scene to shoot, and Oliver responds, “The joke shop scene. That was cool because you got to see the buildup and everything to that big scene. The building is three stories tall and packed with people, that was really cool. Or the Yule Ball sequence in The Goblet of Fire.” Surprisingly for me, James and the cast found Quidditch to be pretty boring, as it was quite repetitive, but the technology was still pretty cool for them.
The Phelps twins are both very humble people, and for them, being part of the movies was a life changer. However, James explained: “[being in the movies] hasn’t affected us in the sense that it stops us from doing other jobs or something like that. Doing things like this is a week of our life in certain places. And it’s not a problem at all and we have great fun doing it. And it’s cool because being so close to it, we don’t appreciate how big it is globally. So coming to the other side of the world to minus twenty-three degrees, seeing people checking out, to see it’s heaving, I heard Saturday was sold out already; to see how much it means to people and being so close I don’t think we can fully appreciate what it means to the audience.” When asked about what they would look forward to while visiting this frigid part of the world, they enthusiastically responded with going to watch the Oilers’ game against the Florida Panthers. Responses like that made me appreciate them as actors who are genuine people, and who want to connect and learn about where they are visiting and touring.
Unfortunately, the magic could not last forever and we had to wrap things up. Harry Potter: The Exhibition is on display at the TELUS World of Science in Edmonton until March 9, 2014, its tenth stop around the world. Visit the exhibit while you can!