Harry Potter POA Set Report: The Cocktower, the Hospital Wing, the Details

Dec 02, 2007

Posted by: Doris


Set Report: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Part I: The Kids : | Part II: The Clocktower, the Hospital Wing, the Details |
Part III: Shrieking | Part IV: Flights and French Men |
Part V: Candy | Part VI: Great Things

Part II: The clocktower, the hospital wing, the details

By Melissa Anelli
The Leaky Cauldron Staff

The first portion of the set we visited is Prisoner of Azkaban‘s newest, largest and most talked-about set. In their interview the trio gushed about it, and it wasn’t hard to see why the clocktower courtyard was so worthy. It was hard, however, to imagine a better place to start.

If we were to put the outside world away and dive into the land of Harry Potter, this was the place to begin: with one step onto the worn stone floor (which is actually made of plaster, but hey, who cares?); one look at the vegetation draped lazily over walls; one eyeful of the gnarled trees twining around stone, one gander at the crooked, bonsai-like tree that bears lumpy, three-apple-high pears which are in turn scattered wil-nil all over the enclosure, and it was done – we were there.

The set is so big it’s separated into three sections: the courtyard is separated from the bottom half of the pendulum by 40-foot-high wooden doors, and a half a studio away is the top half of the pendulum, which sits next to the new-and-improved hospital wing.

This is the place where Harry begs McGonagall to let him to go Hogsmeade, we were told, but how to focus on plot points when the place actually smells like moss?

Already my hairs were on end. The courtyard is structured so that an outer courtyard forms a promenade around the perimeter of the inner courtyard – a mountainscape papers the walls, so that during filming only the inner courtyard seems to exist – I wasted no time. I walked the entire perimeter of the outer courtyard, stopping at each cathedral window, pausing to admire the view from the tiny footbridge (which actually stopped at a perspective drawing but seemed to go on forever), feeling the walls to make sure I was really there.

The first thing you understand about the Harry Potter set is the detail – the sheer volume of it and the amount that will never be seen in the film. In the courtyard, that touch is most evident in those non-muggle pears; they pop up everywhere — in corners, sitting on windowledges, and even hiding in the fountain.

That fountain, the centerpiece of the courtyard, has a very special touch to it that even a Harry Potter fan might miss. Director Alfonso Cuarón has added any number of small oddities to the set that pay tribute to his Mexican heritage: one of them is the shrunken head that hangs from the rearview mirror of the Knight Bus and provides comedy; another is this fountain, which is guarded by several eagles who appear to be eating snakes.

As the snake is the symbol of Slytherin and the Eagle the symbol of Ravenclaw, a Harry Potter fan might not find this out of order — a little housist, perhaps, but not too strange. The figures, however, actually come straight from the Mexican flag.

The publicists on the film told us that one of Alfonso Cuarón’s chief concerns with Prisoner of Azkaban was broadening it: giving the audience more of a sense of the larger scope of Hogwarts, getting out of the studio, grounding Hogwarts in a real world instead of making Hogwarts the world itself. This is why the cast and crew traveled to Scotland to film the final scenes; it’s also why the hospital wing had to be rebuilt.

The refurbished hospital wing now opens onto the hallway, where the top half of the pendulum can be seen, though its bottom half is way across Leavesden, outside the courtyard. Itâ€s used at least twice in this movie: when Harry falls off his broom during Quidditch, and right before Harry and Hermione go back in time.

As tremendous as the wing looks in the films is how small it looks in real life. Barely the size of a two-car garage, it holds about eight tiny beds, the ends of which have clipboards on them bearing patient lists and medical charts on actual Hogwarts stationery.

The chandeliers, brass, aged stone and stained glass – all of which are in abundance in this small space – were all created and tempered by in-house artists. The pill bottles are full and items all around the room bear Hogwartsian names like Rose Lozenge and the Brown Low Health Filter (which is presumably for water). A cabinet marked “Potions: Keep locked” was in fact locked.

Walking from set to set entails passing through virtual junkyards of paraphernalia, all of which reveal these tiny, treasured details that impart the idea that plenty of people are having fun while making this film. On the way to the next set we saw one door emblazoned with a spray-painted “Swish and flick!” and a sparse basketball court where we were told Christopher Columbus would shoot hoops during breaks. And of course, nailed to a wooden column, was The Leaky Cauldron‘s doormarker, a witch stirring a brew, hanging there as if waiting for me to see it.

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.