Find the Light Within the Darkness: Review of the Dark Arts Light Show at Universal Studios Hollywood
With its comforting cobbled streets, bustling shops, and the sight of the castle that feels like home to so many of us, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood seems like an evergreen cheerful destination. But for a limited time, a new light show will change that perspective – reminding us that even in our favorite story, there is darkness waiting within.
The new show – “Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle” – is an impressive feat of technology, if nothing else. The show begins with billowing smoke and the hissing sounds of Parseltongue (perhaps for too long, since there is nothing going on visually at the time, making the viewer wonder if there might be something hidden from sight).
The castle bells chime and there is an interesting glimpse of shadows on the castle that goes nowhere. What seems to be intended as Professor Dumbledore’s voice then mentions that something dark is coming. From there, the castle transforms into the shop windows of Borgin and Burkes, as shrunken heads and skulls fly around and the more haunting of John Williams’ scores crescendos.
The Hand of Glory, an artifact that’s rarely seen on film, makes an appearance that sends a shiver down the spine. Aragog and his spider family emerge, followed by Devil’s Snare and battling armored trolls. Thestrals and Inferi make an entrance, with pyrotechnics dazzling the viewer. Dementors encircle the castle spires, and then none other than Lord Voldemort himself arrives, vowing to destroy all and make his power undeniable.
As we watch the castle appear to crack and burn with a green flame, an eerie silence settles over the crowd. But Dumbledore arrives again to remind us that happiness can always be found. And here, the real spectacle begins as Harry’s stag Patronus glows on the castle wall and small pinpricks of light appear at the side of the castle.
Using drone technology, the stag forms in the air and then moves, bowing to the crowd before fading. A final glimpse of the castle reveals a smoky symbol drawn on the main tower: the Deathly Hallows.
The show feels a little long and drawn out in places, and at about eight and a half minutes long, it is nearly a full minute longer than the Christmas light show. Though there is a story during the latter half of the show, there is a lack of focus at the beginning. Despite that, the drone Patronus is a sight to behold. It appears so gradually and flawlessly and moves so seamlessly, it seems the only explanation could be magic. I was not expecting it to move, but that made it seem all the more alive.
This new light show is sure to be a hit with those more inclined toward the darker aspects of the series (according to senior entertainment officials, that was the aim), and the Patronus is certainly a showstopper. Whether this show will prove as successful as the Hogwarts Houses and holiday shows is still to be seen.