Harry Potter and the quest for your entertainment dollar

July 15, 2009, 9:26 PM · Well, today was the premiere of the new Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," the fix for fans before the debut of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando next year. (The final two HP movies bow in November 2010 and July 2011.)

Let's let this be an open thread to talk about the latest HP flick, as well as the Potter theme park land. I know that several folks involved in the project read TPI (remember, you can post anonymously by logging out first). And a few of them have been kind enough to leak some juicy stuff to me. (Thankyouverymuch!)

Most of big picture is out in the open by now: Kuka robot arms will power a suspended dark ride through Hogwarts Castle (think Legoland's Knights Tournament meets Peter Pan or ET - but with a much cooler storyline and animated effects.) The timeline will be in the middle of the book/movie storyline - around the fourth book, I've heard. Dining will be at the Three Broomsticks in adjacent Hogsmeade, with another more kid-focused attraction in the mix. And Dueling Dragons will be rethemed to Potter, as well.

So how do you think this will rate? Feel free to add your wishes or insider's details, in the comments.

Replies (40)

July 15, 2009 at 9:53 PM · Personally, I can't wait for the Harry Potter World to be open, and i'm very excited to see them create Hogsmeade and Hogwarts! And hopefully while they are renovating Dueling Dragons they create a better Universal Express line! Dragons truly has the worst Express line in the park, as it just merges in with the regular line at the middle of the line. Definitely nothing like the Hulks express line, which catapults you straight to the loading station!
One question: what is the estimated down time for Dragons to be closed for renovations?
July 15, 2009 at 10:15 PM · Apples and Oranges really. I know Ms. Rowling has some sort of say in the theme park, so I trust that it will be true to the storyline. Of course it will follow more to the movie than the books, as it's the movie we can 'see' and the visuals are what we will relate to the most.

The more pressing question is, how do I get in before it opens? (I work retail.. the entire month of December is out :( )

July 16, 2009 at 4:14 AM · I was at Universal about two months ago and you could really see the area taking shape. It was disappointing to see the Unicorn ride going to waste in the middle of the construction. Any word on whether they keep that ride? I really hope so because it was one of the more enjoyable rides they had at IoA.
July 16, 2009 at 4:29 AM · Universal Creative designs and builds the best attractions on the planet. Period! What theme park fan could possibly not be interested in visiting the new attraction.
July 16, 2009 at 5:16 AM · While I am a fan of the novels, I have never been a fan of the Harry Potter movies. IMO, far too much of what made the novels enjoyable has always been left on the cutting room floor, or been modified for the screen to appease a non-reading public with a very short attention-span. As far as I am concerned, only the first movie even came close to putting the magic of Harry Potter's story on the big screen. However, the movies have always been a visual treat, despite storyline changes and shortcomings, and I expect nothing less from the new themed area at IOA. It should be an amazingly detailed and immersive new land, a world set apart despite being in a park already considered one of the best theme parks in the world. The main attraction, set inside Hogwarts and utilizing a combination of Spider-Man's hi-tech "wizardry" and Kuka's robotics know-how, should be a one-of-a-kind delight, another great experience in a park filled with great experiences.

To be completely honest, I postponed my "every-other-year" visit to Orlando by one year just because of the Harry Potter expansion, so my expectations are indeed very high. Furthermore, Universal (and the rest of Orlando) can use a shot in the arm attendance-wise, and Harry Potter, the 4.5 billion dollar movie juggernaut and 400 million copy best selling book series, should provide that boost. And with Hogwarts fans rushing out to multiplexes on Tuesday night powering Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to a new post-midnight box-office record $22.2M, the desire for Harry Potter-related entertainment seems to be as strong as ever. The movie's towering box office success should be great news for Universal execs sweating out a down economy.

I cannot wait for 2010. Bring it on, Universal!

July 16, 2009 at 5:35 AM · I sincerely hope that it's going to be an improvement on the movies. A good attraction or ride is made better by good theming but , in the final analysis, it's still the attraction or ride itself that's most important to me.
A strong theme alone won't carry the day.
So I'm hoping that the whole Potter area is formed of strong attractions and restaurants that are supplemented by the Potter franchise.
The appeal of the Potter thing to me is limited to the design and ambience........but this is probably more to do with it's Dickensian attributes and that I went to a school not dissimilar to Hog-whatever.
July 16, 2009 at 5:38 AM · I sincerely hope that it's going to be an improvement on the movies. A good attraction or ride is made better by good theming but , in the final analysis, it's still the attraction or ride itself that's most important to me.
A strong theme alone won't carry the day.
So I'm hoping that the whole Potter area is formed of strong attractions and restaurants that are supplemented by the Potter franchise.
The appeal of the Potter thing to me is limited to the design and ambience........but this is probably more to do with it's Dickensian attributes and that I went to a school not dissimilar to Hog-whatever
July 16, 2009 at 6:02 AM · TH, I think you mean DISNEY makes the best rides on the planet. However, like you, I am bias too :)

I think its going to be great, but I voted for about the same. I feel the movies have either been really good or so so (SPHBP I thought was very good). It is also a challenge to really bring a movie to life in a 3D enviroment that the audience can interact with. It was the million dollar question for Walt Disney when deciding to make Disneyland and will continue to be an issue. I fear that its not going to stand up to the extremly high expectations of its fans.

I also really liked the Lost Continent the way it was. One of the best themed theme park lands that I have ever stepped foot into (besides Asia at AK)

July 16, 2009 at 7:05 AM · With the Wizarding World I'd plan to return over March break 2010, but I'm delaying the trip until the 2nd half of the year just because of the new land at IoA.

I'm hoping they have something like an interactive class for children, like Disney's Jedi Academy, Pirate school (?) or the princess tutorial (I think only in Disneyland?). A magic class would be a natural; dress the kids in cloaks and give them wands. Enter some Death Eaters, or maybe a competition between houses for a little conflict and suspense. A high payback no brainer for Universal, IMHO.

My daughter took the Jedi training, but wouldn't sell out to the dark side. I was so disappointed, with her ruling the galaxy at Vaders' side I could've been set for life... wait, maybe she made the right choice after all ;-)

July 16, 2009 at 7:25 AM · I voted the same, but have hopes that it will be better. Universal is great at immersive experiences, so hopefully with the newer technologies available they create something great. My strongest hope is that the Hogwarts Castle Dark ride with the Kuka Robotic Arms is NOT tamed down. Meaning that if Universal only offers this ride in one form, like Spiderman, then I hope it is a bit more intense in the way the robot arms are set to operate. What would really be nice is if the same ride experience/story told could be had under different intensive variations. You'd be able to choose your level before the ride starts. Problem I see with this is that Universal would have to program different arms and set certain lines to enter so that the same people ride what they choose on the same programmed arm. Not that this can't be done, but will they offer it?? -Fingers Crossed-
July 16, 2009 at 8:00 AM · I always find it funny when people talk-down the movies, saying that the movie eliminated so much of what made the books great.

Yeah - welcome to the movies. Of course a lot is eliminated. They have to condense an entire novel into a 2-4 hour movie. But the movies can also enhance certain features of the novels. Imelda Staunton, for example, played Dolores Umbridge in a manner that made her much more interesting than the original character.

Yes, I've read the books and seen the movies. I feel that the movies keep getting better. The original movies had somewhat mediocre acting. The cast has really come together over time. The special effects keep improving and the tone is more adult-oriented, appropriate since the children who grew up loving these books are now adults (the first one appeared in 1997 when I was 10).

Like the anonymous poster mentioned, it's apples and oranges. What's better - the Spiderman show/movies/comics or the ride? This is TPI, so the latter seems obvious, but try to convince a Spiderman fanatic that.

July 16, 2009 at 9:09 AM · Without getting into a debate, Josh, there are huge differences between condensing a novel for the screen, and butchering it. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a great example of how great books can become great movies. Changes were made, scenes were deleted and added, but ultimately, the movies were very true to the source material. With Harry Potter movies, too often changes are made for no apparent reason, and incredibly important information and characters omitted “just because.” Too much of what makes the Harry Potter books enjoyable is related to atmosphere and scenes that have nothing to do with the overall plotline. Sadly, the streamlined story provided by the movies does not allow for the whimsical and magical moments that made the books instant classics.

If Universal can just harness the magic, then everything else will be fine.

July 16, 2009 at 9:51 AM · JR writes: With Harry Potter movies, too often changes are made for no apparent reason, and incredibly important information and characters omitted “just because.”

I Respond: Examples?

July 16, 2009 at 10:13 AM · Please, I don't want to hijack another thread with a useless debate. If you have read the books, you know of what I am speaking. If not, then why would you care?
July 16, 2009 at 10:22 AM · Not debating at all. I've read the books and I know some stuff had been removed (like the de-gnoming of the gardens in book #2, or the giant spider in the maze in book #4. That whole "protest the house elves" thing Hermione was on about. That was missing.

And Dobby has disappeared -- the director said it was because every time he was in a shot it cost $100,00 (not really a :just because reason). And of course Dobby plays a role in the last book.

But, honestly, what am I missing? What was eighty-sixed from the movies that was so critical to telling the story?

Not a debate an academic question.

July 16, 2009 at 10:41 AM · Hey, I'm new here, but I've been reading your site for at least a year. I fully expect the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to be consistant with the sweet and innocent tone of Chris Colombus' first couple of Harry Potter movies and have less in common with the more recent, darker films. However, films and theme park rides are very different animals. For example, I didn't like either of Stephen Sommers' "Mummy" movies and I absolutely hated "Van Helsing", but I think Universal Orlando's "Mummy's Revenge" is one of the best themed rides I've ever experienced. I immediately thought Sommers should stop directing films and devote all his time to imagineering rides. As a fan, I'm frightened by the idea of how long the lines will be when the area opens. I doubt they'll be able to let people staying at the hotels to jump the line or the line will never move.
July 16, 2009 at 11:18 AM · TH, for brevity's sake, I will just point out my biggest gripe, which is in the third movie where 95% of the book's Quidditch matches were dropped from the script. Harry's victory over Slytherin to win the Quidditch Cup was the most triumphant moment in all seven books, and probably one of the events most easy to transfer to the big screen, and yet it was omitted and replaced with talking heads and singing frogs (IMHO the third HP movie was far and away the worst of the series - I don't believe the well-respected director, Alfonso Cuarón, ever even read the books).

Again, as Quidditch was not part of the main storyline, it was dropped from the movie. But I would argue that over the span of Harry's life, his victory in winning the Quidditch Cup was a significant event. It marked the ultimate closure to Harry's Quidditch career, and a huge example of his character's growth and development.

And from a stand point of pure fun, Harry capturing the Snitch, defeating Slytherin, and winning the Quidditch Cup was a jump-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer moment that would have made the third movie much, much better.

Anyway, that's just one of MANY gripes I have about the Harry Potter films. If you are truly interested, there are entire Wikipedia sections devoted to the details of everything dropped, changed, or butchered in the Harry Potter film adaptions. Feel free to explore to your heart's content.


July 16, 2009 at 11:13 AM · One last comment: Can you imagine on how long the load time will be with those kuka robot arms? This isn't going to have constantly moving ride vehicles like "The Haunted Mansion." The only designs I've seen so far hold only two riders at a time, but I'm guessing these will hold more. Still, for the movement needed, they won't hold many, and the strapping in process is going to be SLOW. Add to that any technical ride problems that may crop up and you're looking at wait times of MANY HOURS.
July 16, 2009 at 11:32 AM · ^^The low capacity issue of the Kuka arm is the main reason Disney has largely bypassed using the technology. I hope Universal has a solution up their sleeve (no pun intended).
July 16, 2009 at 11:51 AM · I can't imagine that Universal would design a ride that had such terrible loading times. The last design pictures I have seen showed an eight-seated Kuka arm. How accurate those pictures were, I don't know. However, no one should compare it to the Knight's Tournament in Legoland. That is a start and stop loader. This will have multiple cars with Kuka attachments. I figure the load times will surprise everyone.

I am in complete agreement with TH. Since the opening of Spider-man, Universal has overtaken Disney in attraction design. The late eighties-to-early nineties period was a boom time for WDI. Splash Mountain, Tower, Alien Encounter, Buzz Lightyear, and Indy are all classics and exemplary examples of ride design. However, the cost cutting measures that Eisner implemented in the latter part of his tenure allowed Universal to take the lead in design. WDI still mentions their Spidey killer, but after 10 years, they still haven't built it. IMHO, Mummy is the best themed coaster. MIB is the best interactive ride. Spider-man is the greatest simulator ride ever. I only see Harry Potter pushing this case forward.

I have to also agree with Josh and TH on the films. The first two, particularly the first, Potter films were tedious and plodding. Columbus felt the need to cater to the fans of the books by including everything. In my opinion, this created two episodic films that had no narrative drive. Alfonso Cuarón was wise to streamline the stories to give the films a greater sense of urgency. Many fans complained about the loss of Tom Bombadil and other scenes and characters from The Lord of the Rings as well. However, Jackson made great movies by keeping the story focused. The latter Potter books would have to be miniseries in order to include everything. It just didn't make cinematic sense. We will see how the two part Deathly Hallows turns out.

July 16, 2009 at 12:09 PM · Sorry I'm a little lost here, but what are kuka arms and what kind of ride do they make up? (simulator, spinning ride, etc.)
July 16, 2009 at 12:23 PM · If you have ever seen video of an automobile plant, you would see a line of giant robotic arms that help build the vehicles. The KUKA company has adapted those robotic arms to hold people for ride experiences. People will be strapped to these arms and be able to move all-around a themed ride area. It will create an unprecedented sense of freedom in a ride. You can check the company website for more info. This video shows the KUKA arm at work in Legoland. Just imagine that arm attached to a moving vehicle to get a sense of what the ride will feel like.
July 16, 2009 at 1:10 PM · Raul, the first two films were tedious and plodding because the first two books were tedious and plodding. Rowling really did not hit her stride until the third book, at which point Cuarón took over the directing helm and got rid of everything that made the third book (Azkaban) great. Because the third film was the lowest grossing of the series, Cuarón was replaced with a new director for the fourth film (Mike Newell) and fifth film (David Yates) who both did a slightly better job of following the story and not interjecting their own twist on an already established and well-received universe.

And I am sure Universal has the inside track on a ride system that will move a substantial number of people very quickly. They would not have moved forward with a Kuka based attraction without solving that issue first.

NOTE: The official opening day gross for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince = $58M, the fourth-biggest single day in history. Universal Studios execs are having a party!

July 16, 2009 at 1:10 PM · Actually, Cuarón was asked back by the producers to direct Goblet of Fire, but he had no interest in doing the same thing again. Azkaban is the most controversial film in the series. Writer Steve Kloves actually liked that Cuarón freed him from having too much fidelity to the books. Rowling also concurred.

I don't take much stock in a film's gross. If that were the case, then Transformers 2 must be a masterpiece. Many unsuccessful films were flops initially and then were later seen to be great. Critics have generally been more complementary of Azkaban and the subsequent films than to the earlier ones. Take that as you will.

People either hate or love the third movie. I am in the latter camp.

July 16, 2009 at 1:30 PM · Actually, Cuarón turned it down because he was still immersed in the final editing of the 3rd movie - it hadn't even been released yet when work on the 4th film started. Furthermore, the criticism Cuarón faced from Potter fans for his approach to the 3rd film combined with the lower than expected gross (but still a stellar $240+ Mil) cemented the fact that the director would not be returning.

Don't get me wrong - I like Cuarón, and I like his style. I just wish he had stuck to the story a bit more. After all, the third book was very short, and very visual, and really should have been the best of the movies. Instead it was just one more missed opportunity.

And I don't hate any of the movies, I just find them to be sadly lacking. The third movie was the most disappointing just because it was my favorite book in the series.

July 16, 2009 at 1:25 PM · Gotta tell you, I like each new film more than the previous films. My fave list would go #6,5,4,3,2,1. And I like them all better than the LOTR series (a.k.a. movies about walking).
July 16, 2009 at 1:32 PM · So, based on your "movies about walking" comment, can we agree that Clerks II was hilarious, TH?
July 16, 2009 at 1:47 PM · I don't think we will ever known exactly why Cuarón left. The official story is that he was offered the fourth and then turned it down. I will bring up that it was his idea of making Goblet a single film instead of two. So, the producers seemed to like his direction for the franchise since they went with that idea.

As far as the movies getting better, one would imagine that is because the books pretty much got better.

I have to disagree with TH on LOTR, though. I think those films are the pinnacle for fantasy cinema and maybe the best trilogy ever made. Reducing them to films about walking is akin to saying the Potter films are about homework.

July 16, 2009 at 2:25 PM · I too think the LOTR movies are masterpieces that (dare I say it?) actually improved upon the source material.

Good discussion today, guys...but I gotta head out. Have fun!

July 16, 2009 at 4:06 PM · It's interesting how I agree with much of what James says about the book to movie translation, but then he cites my favorite film of the series as his least favorite.

I think the latest movie was a complete disaster. The ending was dramatically changed to the point where what came before it ended up making no sense whatsoever. The mystery of who the "Half Blood Prince" was was completely glazed over. That was a driving force in the book, and by disregarding that, they managed to make the reveal a "meh" moment rather than the "aha!" moment that it was in the book.

There were some good moments in there, but the adaptation seemed focused only on moving the major plotline along rather than telling its own story. As a result, it simply serves as an appetizer for what hopefully will be a stunning final two films (but based on the quality of this adaptation and the questionable abilities of the director, I'm not sure how great those are going to end up).

Going back to James' comparison to LOTR, he's quite spot-on. It's the big difference in having people with a complete passion for the subject matter and hired guns making the movie before the popularity wears off. Peter Jackson had years to figure out how we was going to compress three very lengthy movies down. The Harry Potter creators sign on with a script already written and a release date already set in stone (the worst example of that, of course, has to be X3. We had the poster hanging in the theatre before a director was signed!)

Oh, and the land will probably be pretty good and stuff.

July 16, 2009 at 5:38 PM · "Even the TREES walked in that movie" - Kevin Smith

I am thinking about designing a Mooby's Theme Park.


Also LOTR had Rudy in it. How can anyone take that seriously? An ex-Goonie.

July 16, 2009 at 5:38 PM · Being in the business I am in, have had the fortunate opportunity to be privy to quite a bit of the plans for the wizarding world as well as the dark ride (today I actually found out what the dark ride will be named, at least its working title) On the other hand, there are downsides to knowing certain things, it spoils all the fun on opening day..But from what I have seen, it is going to be one incredible experience..at least it looks that way on paper. However I dont think the dark ride will be a suspended vehicle, but rather a floor track system similar to Spiderman. Alot of the theming and visuals of course will probably be pulled from the films, because it's what most of the general public relates to, Im sure there will be tidbits in there for all the book fans as well, here's hopin. Ive seen all 6 films so far, but I havent read the books yet, but I plan on reading them before next november, or maybe before this park section opens, even better. So I cant really debate on whether the films are better than the books or vice versa, but I could probably still confidently say that the books are indeed better, just due to the detail they have...We would have at least 14 films if to contain all that! But I digress. I gotta say though, Universal's gonna put the nail in the coffin with this one I think...at least for the next few years!
July 16, 2009 at 7:06 PM · Personally, I figure that the popularity of the franchise speaks for itself. I'm looking forward to visiting because I've read all the books and I'm up to date with the movies (atleast until yesterday, anyway). I'll go as a fan and hope that it makes me FEEL immersed.

Which, honestly, I doubt they'll fail at that.

Except for the heat when you're surrounded by fake snow.

July 16, 2009 at 10:58 PM · Umm theres two more movies coming out? I thoguht there was only seven sorry if I have'nt realized theres an eighth please someone fill me in.
July 17, 2009 at 8:53 AM · It seems to me that the movies vs books discussion is really moot in relation to the topic. Movies aren't books, and theme park attractions aren't either of the two. Given the popularity of the books and films, they both have their supporters. The real questions are whether Universal will be able to a) capture the essence of "Harry Potter" and b) will that make for a fun theme park experience? Universal has proven that they can make theme park attractions out of movies. However, since the Harry Potter BOOKS are so popular, can they appease that market as well? I certainly hope so, especially since Ms Rowling has been (at least minimally) involved in the process. I was at IOA about a month ago, and caught a glimpse of what appeared to be Hagrid's cottage from the Dueling Dragons queue, and got quite excited. The fact is that I'll be making a special trip to IOA within a few weeks of the opening of the Harry Potter section. Even if it doesn't meet my expectations (and my expectations are so high I can't imagine them being met), I'm still excited to see it. As long as Hogwarts Castle is more than a shop selling t-shirts with Daniel Radcliff's picture on them, I imagine I'll be pleased. What we've heard of the dark ride, what we've seen of the artist's concepts, and what I've personally seen of the construction all lead me to think that The World of Harry Potter will be the best of what I want from a theme park- an immersive experience.
July 17, 2009 at 10:27 AM · "Also LOTR had Rudy in it. How can anyone take that seriously? An ex-Goonie."


July 17, 2009 at 3:12 PM · Anonymous Poster, the final book is being split into two movies. Probably something that should have been happening since the fourth book. But, I digress.
July 17, 2009 at 11:29 PM · I didn't realize until now that the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter will mostly be a themed area with just one major new ride. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, I just think that the venture will be highly dependent on the quality of the Hogwarts Castle dark ride. So that ride will have to be exceptional to justify the massive expense, hype and anticipation generated by this new mini theme park. If the ride is a let down, no amount of beautiful theming will compensate for that. I do hope it will live up to expectations.

By the way, to the person who said that Universal has the best interactive ride...I agree MIB is excellent, but I would argue that the best interactive ride right now is Toy Story Midway Mania. 3D interactive represents an impressive technological leap forward, and the ride is addictive fun, too.

July 18, 2009 at 2:49 AM · I don't know about everyone else, but I have kind of been let down a little by the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter". They're calling it a "Theme Park withing a Theme Park.", but I don't think that's an honest way of portraying it at all. It is simply going to be one land inside the Islands of Adventure. I, and I think every other Potter fan, would have loved to have had an entire new park built just for Harry Potter. They could have gone all out.... Make Hogwarts much larger, elaborate, and detailed, included many more locations like Diagon Alley (I would've loved to have been able to explore the Weasley's shop!), and just much more of the wizarding world we all see in the movies and so desperately want to jump into the screen and take hours, days, weeks, and months to explore!

I mean... the Wizarding World is only going to be 20 acres in size! That's nothing. To give you guys a comparison, Disneyland Park is well over 100 acres. So this will be no means be a "theme park within a theme park", it's going to be like Toontown or Tomorrowland or Adventureland, just themed to Harry Potter.

Granted, I can't wait to see it and to explore what they do recreate from the Harry Potter world, don't get me wrong. But don't you all wish that they had made the effort to create an entire huge park that would have taken at least a couple of days to visit and explore in it's entirety? I know I do...

July 18, 2009 at 3:00 AM · "As long as Hogwarts Castle is more than a shop selling t-shirts with Daniel Radcliff's picture on them, I imagine I'll be pleased."

Better be. Emma's a lot cuter.

Just wanted to jump in because who wants to be left out? Anyway, I'm holding out for the 3-D IMAX version of the movie.

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