Harry Potter: The Exhibition!

As an avid fan of the Harry Potter series (the idea of Harry was conceived in 1990, the same year I was born, so I like to think we’ve both been around the same amount of time), I could not have been more excited to hear that props, costumes, and set pieces from the movies would be on display in a traveling exhibit. I nearly screamed (actually, I might have) when I learned that my beloved Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago would be the first recipient of the magical memorabilia. With school nearing and my summer time ticking away, I jumped at the opportunity to see it today when, just last night, at nearly midnight, a couple of friends asked me to go.

Now, I’m as much of a textual purist as any rabid fan, so I understand all the complaints against the movies. I’ve been guilty of wrinkling my nose in the theater and whispering agitated criticisms to my friends on premier day about this plot deviation or that inconsistency. But nitpicking aside, the movies always held for themselves a certain degree of magic. They captured the spirit of the books and gave us faces and rooms and gizmos to fit the text in the windows of our minds. And no true Potter fan can snipe against the truly remarkable detail, authenticity, and craftsmanship that turned text to pictures to reality.

The Exhibition is a phenomenal tribute to the people behind the actors. In the Museum lobby, the cheery blue Ford Anglia greets visitors on their way up the escalators to the waiting area, where a few charming Brits keep the crowd entertained with Harry Potter trivia (I admit, I whispered all the answers and my friend laughed and rolled her eyes). Then you’re ushered in to see the Sorting Hat, which announces houses for a few brave volunteers (I was already clearly a Ravenclaw in my nifty t-shirt, thank you). Then, a brief montage of memorable Potter scenes ushers you past the Scarlett steam engine into the portrait hall, where the Fat Lady welcomes you to Hogwarts.

From there, you can walk at your leisure through a maze of scenes furnished with genuine costumes, props, set pieces, and replicas, labelled and described for the amateur and connoisseur alike. The path takes you through Harry’s dorm, a collection of classrooms, a Quidditch gallery with an interactive Quaffle challenge, Hagrid’s hut, the Forbidden forest, the Great Hall, and a variety of others–so realistically fit together that you can mentally place yourself right into each scene. I sadly surveyed Snape’s signature black robes and shuddered next to Umbridge’s hot-pink torture chamber, gushed over racing broomsticks, gaped at Robbie Coltrane’s vast Hagrid costume, and reached the gift shop with a fervent desire to reread every book and rewatch every movie.

For the well-versed fan, it is a walk through the annals of a personal and shared history, preserved and presented like ancient relics for devotion. For the casual fan, it is an amusing and worthwhile behind-the-scenes peek at the pieces that build the on-screen world. Even a Potter amateur can appreciate the intricacy and care of the design and the craftsmanship.

If you find yourself in Chicago between now and September 27th, visit this remarkable exhibit at MSI. A satisfying walk-through takes just over an hour, and for the truly Potter-starved, [i]Half Blood Prince[/i] is playing on the MSI Omnimax screen. After that, the Potter legacy will make its next stop at Boston’s impressive Museum of Science. For more information, check out the official site.