Museum of Science works magic with ‘Harry Potter: The Exhibition’
A new exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science may be proof there’s a bit of wizard or witch in every Muggle. If you don’t know what a “Muggle” is, just ask any kid strolling through “Harry Potter: The Exhibition,” which opens Sunday at the museum. He or she will explain with great seriousness a Muggle is a nonmagical person and throw in a lesson on Quidditch or brewing polyjuice potion as well.
I heard youngsters educating their elders thusly during a preview of the exhibit, which features more than 200 props and costumes from the six (thus far) Harry Potter films, based on the popular series by J.K. Rowling. It’s Hogwarts by Hollywood; there are models of dragons, house elves and bathtub-size spiders, Harry’s wand, Hermione’s Yule ball gown, Ron’s robes, even the sorcerer’s stone itself.
Like the museum’s 2004 “Lord of the Rings” movie exhibit, the Potter exhibit gives you a sense of how directors, artists and set and costume designers created fantastical images on the moving screen. The Potter exhibit, however, is a more immersive experience; you wind through replicas of the Gryffindor common room, the Great Hall, Hagrid’s Hut and the Forbidden Forest amid strange and yet familiar objects and under the watchful eyes of moving “paintings.” I happily wallowed in Harry’s world for more than an hour, appeasing both my inner witch and inner geek.
The exhibit lets you leisurely study the details of things only glimpsed on the screen, such as the different wands used by each character. You can peruse the label on a bottle of pumpkin juice or peer at a snarling “Monster Book of Monsters” and a life-size model of Buckbeak, the hippogriff. As an ink-stained wretch (albeit without Rita Skeeter’s snarky auto-quill) I lingered over the fine print of the wizarding world newspapers, including the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler. (Headline: “Sirius Black: Villain or Victim.”)
Never has the color pink been quite so ominous as when favored by Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge (played with loathsome glee by Imelda Staunton in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”), perhaps the most evil character ever to mimic a Bubble Yum wrapper. The exhibit has a reproduction of her pink-appointed office, with its nauseating kitten-picture plates as well as her fluffy angora power suit.
Some of this is force-fed fantasy; the books captured so many fans because they inspired readers to imagine what a wizard world would look like; children shouldn’t rely on the movies to hand-deliver imagination. Moreover, the voices on the audio tour seemed to have a self-congratulatory, “ain’t it cool” tone in describing how they pulled off various special effects. I did, however, learn that the movie’s costume designer thought the aged Dumbledore’s best years were in the 1970s, so she gave his dress robes a hippie look by tie-dying the silk. Indeed, the venerated headmaster would look fabulous in Rainbow Pride parade. (Rowlings has revealed that the character was gay.)
What does this all have to do with science? Dunno. Don’t care. There’s room in this world for more than one kind of Mr. Wizard.
Of course, after Harry Potter the Exhibit, you are led into Harry Potter the Emporium. Not even Voldemort can quell the dark forces of movie tie-in marketing. Obviously: The exhibit was created in partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products. You can get a boxed wand for $44.99 or a plain one for $7.99, a plush Buckbeak animal for $19.99, a mini sorting hat for $7.99, a quill and parchment kit for $19.99, a Marauder’s Map for $44.99 and a Firebolt broom replica for $399.99. My advice: get the cheaper wand. It will work just as well as the expensive one.
“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” runs through Feb. 21 at the Museum of Science, 1 Science Park, Boston. Tickets, which require a timed entry and include museum admission, are $26 for adults, $24 for seniors and $23 for children. The exhibit is open Saturday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call (617) 723-2500 or go to mos.org.