Friday, May 13, 2011

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

As I often do when I am planning to review something, I took rather copious notes at this exhibit.  However, I inadvertently left my notes on the subway this evening, and I imagine they are now somewhere in Queens. As no photographs or videos were allowed inside the actual exhibit, I am writing this completely from memory. Here goes...

Photograph of Warner Bros. Poster
Advertising "Harry Potter: The Exhibition"
Last weekend, to celebrate the day my mother earned her rightful name (Mom), I took her to Discovery Times Square, located on W. 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, to view one of the latest exhibits, "Harry Potter: The Exhibition." (Also exhibiting currently at the Discovery center is Pompeii: The Exhibit, Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius, which promises to be a genuine historical adventure. I plan to return to visit that exhibit soon.)

Upon entering "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," three brave, young volunteers had the opportunity to be "sorted" by the "sorting hat," an enchanted hat from author J.K. Rowling's beloved series, that peeks into the thoughts of young witches and wizards entering their first year at "Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," and determines in which of four houses they should be dormed. Typical traits the hat searches for include bravery ("Griffindor" House), a sharp mind ("Ravenclaw"), loyalty ("Hufflepuff"), and cunning cleverness ("Slytherin"), among other traits, and students' houses also tend to determine who they will become friends with and what "Quidditch" team (wizarding sport, more on that later) they will root or play for.

Moving on, the self-guided tour, for which I highly recommend purchasing an audio guide, takes you past both "casual" and "school" outfits for the main actors from the movies, including clothing worn by Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter"), Rupert Grint ("Ron Weasley") and Emma Watson ("Hermoine Granger") and others while exploring Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, as well as the school robes worn by students and individual teachers. Pass by Gilderoy Lockhart's classroom and see his many narcissistic forms. Come upon Severus Snape's potion room. See Dolores Umbridge's pink... everything. Check out the dorm room in which Harry and Ron sleep. Visit Hagrid's cottage and sit in his chair to get the feeling of exactly how large he is, and how small you are. And shortly thereafter, if you dare, venture into the Forbidden Forest...

Along the way, you will notice the wands of nearly every major wizard and witch from the "Harry Potter" movie series, even Headmaster Albus Dumbledore's "Elderwand." Be sure to also look out for Hermoine's "Time-Turner," Katie Bell's cursed necklace, Hagrid's razor-toothed "Monster Book of Monsters" (for use in his "Care of Magical Creatures" class), the Triwizard Tourament Cup, and other memorabilia. You may even spot models of house elves, Dobby, and Kreacher, hanging around the exhibit. Fun fact: although some of the mythical creatures were depicted using only CGI technology, according to the audio guide, having real-life models of the characters around the set helped directors, producers and actors interact in a more meaningful way with their CGI counterparts. Make sure to listen to comments on the audio guide at each numbered stop, where you will learn even more fun facts, such as how certain props were acquired, why/how a set design choice was made, and even about Daniel Radcliffe's allergy to his character's now iconic eyeglasses.

Have an athletic streak? At "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," you will also have the opportunity to try your hand at Quidditch, the most popular game in the wizarding world, which seems to mix soccer, lacrosse, basketball and hockey together, all while on flying brooms. Okay, so you won't actually get to fly on any brooms (although there is a showcase that holds a Nimbus 2000 and a Nimbus 2001...), chase a golden snitch or duck a bludger, but you will be able to take shots throwing "quaffle" balls into goals, which is probably about as close to playing real Quidditch as one can get without actually having the ability to fly.

After the Quidditch room, the mood in the exhibit becomes Dark, as the lights dim and the exhibit begins to focus on malevolent characters such as Lord Voldemort, Dementors, "Death Eaters," and a larger than life Acromantula.

Have no fear, though, as  you'll soon find yourself basking in the floating candlelight of the Great Hall (although sans tables/chairs, and full of even more props, costumes and memorabilia from the movies), where your journey will then lead you, finally, into the Gift Shop (where one look at the prices will make you wonder if it isn't magical how quickly your money leaves your wallet...).

"Harry Potter: The Exhibition" will be on display throughout the summer, ending its North American tour in September. The exhibit is appropriate for children and adults of all ages who are familiar with the "Harry Potter" books and movies. (Of course, young children, especially those who might be frightened by Death Eater masks, a larger than life spider, or  a Dementor, should be accompanied by an adult).

Purchase tickets online here for the "Harry Potter" exhibit only, or buy a discounted combo ticket that also includes admission to "Pompeii." If you pay with an American Express card, you will also be entitled to one free audio-guide (otherwise guides are $7 each). See more ticket info here.

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