MuggleNet Harry Potter : The ExhibitionSingapore
Opening Review by Nicolette Mok
Harry Potter: The Exhibition
ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
2 June – 30 September 2012
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A ‘tribute to artistry and craftsmanship’, ‘telling the story of human creativity’, in the words of Eddie Newquist (Chief Creative Officer of Global Experience Specialists, Inc.) and Nick Dixon (Executive Director of ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore), Harry Potter: The Exhibition promises to take visitors on an amazing journey as they relive JK Rowling’s timeless tale on the Singapore stop of its tour.
Boasting artefacts directly from the sets of all eight films, the exhibition’s first Asian stop has something extra in store for fans here— All the Horcruxes have been collected and are on display, with the exception of Harry, of course, as Robin Stapley (Creative Director of Harry Potter: The Exhibition) would have you know. We will get to that later, however, as this reporter here must now bore you a little with details from the Q&A session for the press.
Present for the Q&A session were Newquist, Dixon, Stapley and— you guessed it— James and Oliver Phelps, the wonderful, dashing guys who played the Weasley twins in the films. One can imagine how star-struck this fangirl was, seeing how we almost never get any of the Potter action here in Singapore. There was only a limited amount of time available for questions, but the five men graciously supplied us with as much information as they could. As we soon found out, this exhibition was indeed a ‘labour of love’ with Warner Brothers Studios, who generously gave up the precious original movie artefacts to allow fans the opportunity to experience, first-hand, the exquisite workmanship of the props. The men behind the exhibition, certainly, did what they could to ensure that a wide variety of memorabilia would be available, allowing visitors an altogether more complete journey through Harry’s world. The Phelps twins, too, had nothing but praises for the items on display, speaking of the attention paid to detail in each costume, prop, and set. In particular, they spoke about the Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes’ products, which were realistic packages rather than just empty boxes. These tiny ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ details are, indeed, the very things that comprise Harry Potter: The Exhibition. Not only is this a journey down memory lane for us fans, it is also an acknowledgment of the ten years worth of tremendous effort poured into the valiant attempt to do justice to JK Rowling’s magical prose.
It was soon time for us to embark on the guided tour, led by effervescent Newquist and Stapley. We were ushered into a dimly-lit room, where our anticipative silence was broken by the cheery voice of one of the exhibition guides, inviting us to the Sorting Ceremony, but not before issuing a friendly reminder that Muggle communicative devices would not work in the magical arena that we were about to enter. The Sorting Hat proceeded to amuse a few lucky fans by Sorting them into the Houses that they expressed partiality towards.
We were then brought into a pitch-dark room, lit only by eight glowing screens featuring the movie posters. As soon as the doors shut behind us— with a dramatic bang, I must add— soft music began playing. All notions of the outside world were banished from our minds, and we were completely immersed in the world of Harry Potter as Hedwig’s Theme echoed in our ears and clips from the films played on the screens. But of course, we were in for more surprises, when the side of the room lifted suddenly to reveal none other than the actual Hogwarts Express, surrounded majestically by billowing steam, resplendent in its sleek glory. We were on our way to Hogwarts.
Gryffindor Common Room
Our next destination greeted us with a wall adorned with numerous moving portraits, including the Fat Lady. A homely, rounded room dotted with various red and gold memorabilia— it was doubtless that we had entered the Gryffindor common room. What I loved most was a notice-board that featured handwritten memos by students, featuring everything from lost articles to recruitment notices, lending a touch of realism to the room. This is one lovely detail that I definitely did not catch in the films! It is also interesting to note that, according to our guides, this particular notice-board worked two ways, with the other side of it doubling as the blackboard in Professor McGonagall’s classroom.
Gryffindor Boys’ Dormitories
The common room led to the boys’ dormitories, and we were treated to some insight on Harry’s and Ron’s living habits. Both their beds looked rather messy and unmade— I suppose the house-elves hadn’t been there to clean up yet! Ron’s side of the wall was lined with Chudley Cannon posters; while Harry’s trunk lay open at the foot of his bed, displaying items such as the discarded box of spiked chocolates from Romilda Vane, and the Marauders’ Map.
Well-rested from our time in the Gryffindor Tower, it was time for lessons! The next room featured artefacts from all the Hogwarts classes, ranging from textbooks to costumes that the Professors had worn on set. Indeed, the GES team had spent two entire weeks in the Great Hall at Leavesden studios to amass these artefacts for the exhibition. Professor Lockhart’s test papers, wand (the biggest of all the cast, perhaps to match his personality), and lilac stationery were a sight to behold, but even these could not match up to an ornate, life-sized portrait of him that was the centrepiece of his exhibition.
The other Defence Against the Dark Arts Professors were also allotted their own display corners, with Remus Lupin’s space dominated by a Boggart rattling about in an old wardrobe, lovingly tarnished by the film crew and vibrating with such intensity that we were almost sure we were about to be confronted by our greatest fears. Umbridge’s ‘office’ was a scene straight from the set, with pink walls, chairs, and even ink. Her pink outfit stood proudly at her desk, with Cornelius Fudge’s smart black robes displayed by hers. Other memorabilia such as quills and parchment littered her desk, and I was particularly impressed by the Ministry of Magic paper airplanes that actually had text on them.
This reporter heard the Herbology greenhouses before actually seeing it. A row of Mandrakes formed the main attraction, and wailed ear-splittingly when pulled. We Muggles weren’t provided with any earmuffs, unfortunately, but survived to tell the tale!
The mood got palpably darker as we moved on to Professors Snape’s and Slughorn’s domain, the Potions ‘dungeons’. Insidiously colourful fluids were stored in a myriad of oddly-shaped vials and test-tubes. A box of bezoars lay open, while some matter that looked eerily like human flesh stood in large jars. Professor Trelawney’s space, however, was relatively small, with only a few Divination items such as a cup of tea leaves on display. We had barely finished attempting to read the leaves when we were whisked away to the next stop— the Quidditch pitch!
It turned out to be paradise for Quidditch fans, wizard and Muggle alike. The Quidditch robes from the Bulgarian and Irish national teams— as well as Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff ones— were presented proudly among numerous trophies that included, for some reason, a ‘Transfiguration Diploma’. Harry’s and Draco’s Nimbuses were also showcased, though I would have loved to get my hands on a Firebolt. Completing the display case were a chest of Quidditch balls straight from the movie, various Quidditch periodicals, a programme from the 422nd Quidditch World Cup, and a few pairs of what seemed to be Omnioculars. The highlight of the ‘pitch’, however, was the interactive arena where this reporter had way too much fun chucking actual-sized Quaffles through hoops!
After Quiddtich came two entire sections devoted to Hagrid— his pumpkin patch from Prisoner of Azkaban, and this large space that formed a realistic likeness of his plus-sized hut. Costumes that the actors themselves had worn re-enacted the scene of Buckbeak’s supposed execution, with a Macnair figure looming threateningly over the tiny costumes that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had donned all those years ago. Buckbeak, the actual one made for the movie, stood proudly in the background, complete with real feathers that were, according to our guides, laboriously inserted by its creators. Hagrid’s hut, on another hand, gave one a real feel of his size; we were invited to sink into his endlessly huge armchair. Other artefacts included his pink umbrella, a copy of the Monster Book of Monsters and Norbert(a)’s egg, which dominated his dining table. Crates and other knick-knacks adorned his walls and ceiling, giving the hut a rather cluttered feel, which, along with a faint strange smell, contributed to the whole experience.
The Forbidden Forest
Over at the Forbidden Forest, the cosy atmosphere had altered drastically, and we practically tiptoed through the seemingly real mist, wary of the creepy creatures that were on display. Regal centaurs, a terrifying Hungarian Horntail, one of Aragog’s descendants, and even a surprisingly adorable baby Thestral were positioned among the Forest’s foliage. However, if I found this rather frightening, then the next section that we entered was positively sinister.
The ‘Dark’ exhibit comprised mementos from Harry’s many run-ins with Voldemort and other dark forces throughout the story. There was Quirrel’s costume, relics from the Professors’ ‘obstacles’ that protected the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Stone itself from the first film. The second one was represented by the figure of a Petrified Colin Creevey that was used in the film, placed next to Tom Riddle’s Slytherin robes. The Angel of Death statue from the Little Hangleton graveyard in the fourth film was also displayed, along with some grubby Azkaban costumes, and Kreacher. A Dementor’s insubstantial form fluttered menacingly above our heads, causing some of us fainter-hearted ones to jump in fright. Our guides also had us stand in a special spot where, through the aid of impressive sound effects, we heard Voldemort himself whispering in our ears…
As if on cue, we gravitated towards the Death Eater exhibit, where Bellatrix’s and Voldemort’s costumes showcased alongside Death Eaters’ masks from the different films, as well as Bellatrix’s dagger from Deathly Hallows, a beautiful but lethal little thing. A Dark Mark, digitised to look like wispy smoke, hovered above the artefacts, intensifying the ominous feel.
And, finally, finally, we saw the coveted Horcruxes— available together to the public for the first time ever. The original ring, cup, locket, diary and diadem from the films sat proudly in their display case, basking in all their intricate splendour. Nagini, however, remained faithfully by the side of Voldemort’s costume. Harry, of course, was conspicuously missing.
The Great Hall
We then passed some walls lined with ‘Wanted’ posters featuring Death Eaters, and public notices with safety instructions from Half-Blood Prince, before reaching the sumptuously decorated Great Hall, complete with floating candles! Framed Educational Decrees from Umbridge’s reign at Hogwarts provided some light amusement, while hangings bearing the House colours and symbols lent an aura of grandeur to the Hall. The doors, walls, and panelling all looked pretty authentic, and we were told that moulds had been taken for scale in order to bring fans as close as possible to the original sets.
Other artefacts in the Great Hall hardly followed specific themes, and random corners were devoted to relatively small but nevertheless still significant portions of the films. The Triwizard Cup and a copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore lay at one side, while Fred’s and George’s Hogwarts robes stood alongside a whole host of deliciously colourful Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes’ products that included apparently genuine Skiving Snackboxes. An elaborate Quidditch board game from the Prisoner of Azkaban film was also featured, along with articles from the Daily Prophet, complete with actual text. Tonks’, Sirius’, Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s costumes, and the figure that ‘played’ Dobby, were displayed with a small case that contained the Deathly Hallows. Notably, the Resurrection Stone was much smaller than I’d imagined it to be, but it was nevertheless an exquisite piece of craft. The Yule Ball section, decorated opulently, showcased lavish costumes and the ice-sculpture centrepiece used in the fourth film. Then came Gryffindor’s very own hero Neville Longbottom— his costume standing tall next to the sword of Godric Gryffindor, and a fully-grown, magnificent Fawkes in an adjacent case.
My favourite part of the Great Hall, though, was none other than the dining area in the middle. Genuine-looking meats, cakes, ice cream and puddings gilded the table, virtually transporting us directly into a real Hogwarts feast. The decadent hues did not stop just there, as bags of Zonko’s and Honeydukes’ products were laid out as well, with jars of sweets, boxes of Fizzing Whizzbees, Chocolate Frogs and the like sorely tempting us.
Soon enough, we were led through a corridor full of portraits applauding us, complete with sound effects. A souvenir shop followed, with exorbitantly-priced Potter memorabilia placed under ‘shop’ headings like ‘Gambol & Japes’ and ‘Borgin and Burkes’, completing the entire experience. It was surely a test of self-control, as this reporter exerted every ounce of discipline not to empty the contents of her wallet for a replica of Sirius Black’s wand!
While I did leave the exhibition empty-handed, my mind is definitely still reeling from the incredible journey I had just experienced. Awestruck, and star-struck, too, I thank MuggleNet for allowing me to embark on this nostalgic yet eye-opening excursion, and look to the crew behind the Potter films with renewed respect.
(Nicolette Mok, 2 June 2012)
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