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Published: Sunday, 7/12/2009

Exhibit allows muggles to enter realm of boy wizard Harry Potter

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

CHIGAGO - Even with the end of the book series in July, 2007, Harry Potter mania shows no signs of waning, as evident by the mounting anticipation for the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opens Wednesday.

Fans of J.K. Rowling's literary creations have embraced the cinematic versions, too. All told, the Harry Potter film franchise has generated more than $1.4 billion in the United States alone, and for good reason.

For the most part, the movies have been blueprints of the novels, which chronicle seven years of the boy wizard Harry Potter, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and their battle to stop the evil Lord Voldemort.

The movies also have done an admirable job in taking the fictitious people, places, and things and making them real. At least, Hollywood real.

And now Harry Potter fans can see many of those movie artifacts up close in Harry Potter: The Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. The large exhibit, which made its world debut April 30, runs through Sept. 27.

Fans of Harry Potter will no doubt shriek like a Mandrake when they enter. Even non-Potter fans will be impressed by the painstaking effort that went into bringing the stories to life, often in the smallest of ways - intricate etchings on magical wands, detailed product descriptions on candy wrappers, colorful posters and flags of favorite Quidditch teams - most movie-goers will never notice.

Our Harry Potter odyssey began at precisely 9:53 a.m., when our group shouted the incantation to open doors, "Alohomora!," and the exhibit door magically opened, with a little help from a staff member.

After a brief stroll through a long, white tunnel connecting the museum building and the exhibit, our group stopped in a large room where the Sorting Hat, an old, worn witch-like hat that speaks in rhyme, was waiting for us. The hat's job is to sort out the new students to Hogwarts by placing them in one of the dormitory houses named after the boarding school's four founders: Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff.

Aided by a staff member, the Sorting Hat pronounced our group a Gryffindor, "Where dwell the brave at heart. Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindors apart." It's also the home of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Our next stop was another large room with mounted flat-screen TVs on the wall in front of us. Each TV displayed a different Harry Potter movie poster, followed by clips from the movies. Then we were ushered into another room with a train - a replica of the Hogwarts Express that shepherds Harry and his schoolmates to and fro Hogwarts every year - and finally into the Gryffindor common room, the entrance of which is guarded by the Fat Lady painting.

In the Harry Potter books and in the movies, the people in the paintings are alive. In the exhibit, the Fat Lady, like many other paintings in the room, is a looped recorded image of an actor displayed on a small LCD screen.

Once we passed through the gateway, we entered the exhibit, which is where the real magic is, in the form of themed vignettes based on the Hogwarts classrooms, Quidditch, Hagrid's hut, the Forbidden Forest, the Great Hall, and an area devoted to Dark Forces.

Some of the more impressive items on display include Professor Snape's original costume and wand; Sybill Trelawney's crystal ball and eccentric wardrobe; costumes and props from Professors Lupin, Lockhart, and Umbridge; props and artifacts from the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire, including costumes worn by Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore; the fast-flying Nimbus 2000 broom used by Harry in the Quidditch match from the first movie, The Sorcerer's Stone; Lord Voldemort's wand ("made of yew with a phoenix tail feather"); and life-size centaurs, a caged dragon, Buckbeak the hippogriff, a Dementor, and a giant Acromantula, otherwise known as a spider.

There are countless other artifacts from the films as well, from the gramophone record "Wizard Waltz," owned by Professor Lupin in The Prisoner of Azakaban, to the girlish pink kitten notepaper used by Professor Umbridge in The Order of the Phoenix.

The exhibit also offers some hands-on opportunities such as pulling a screaming Mandrake from its pot in the Herbology vignette, tossing a Quaffle in the Quidditch area, and plopping down in an oversized chair that half-man-half-giant Hagrid has in his hut.

The exhibit takes about an hour to tour, though you may want to double-back to see a favorite item or two as I did. The Dark Forces area was particularly worth a second glance. But don't bother with the $5 audio tour guides; the information is mostly behind-the-scenes minutiae provided by the costume designers and model-makers explaining decisions about colors and fabric choices.

Given that this is the only exhibit of its kind, there really is nothing like Harry Potter: The Exhibition in the world.

We ended our visit with lunch at the Museum of Science and Industry's cafe, which featured a selection of deli, grill, pizza, pasta, Mexican, and salad options. The food was fine, but a bit pricey - you pay for the convenience of not having to leave the museum.

Considering some of the other ongoing exhibits, including a submarine tour - the U-505, the only German submarine captured by the U.S. Navy during World War II - and Fast Forward, a multimedia "exploration of how our future lives are being shaped today," you could easily make a day of it in the one of the largest science museums in the world.

But if even a full day isn't enough time to see it all, and it's probably not, there's always Hermione's "time-turner" necklace also on display at Harry Potter: The Exhibition. The time-traveling device allowed Hermione to travel back in time to attend more school classes. A harried museum-goer might find it useful as well.

If you go:

GETTING THERE: Harry Potter: The Exhibition is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. The museum is in the Hyde Park neighborhood, steps away from the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan, and only minutes from downtown Chicago.

For detailed directions and a complete list of exhibit attractions, visit the museum's Web site at msichicago.org.

HOURS, ADMISSION: The exhibition is open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, and runs through Sept. 27. Combination admission into the museum and Harry Potter: The Exhibition during the day is $26 for adults; $25 for seniors; and $19 for children ages 3-11. After the museum closes and on museum free days, tickets are $18 for adults and seniors, and $15 for children ages 3-11. The tickets to Harry Potter are timed-entry, and advance purchase is recommended at www.msichicago.org or by calling 773-684-1414. Audio guides are available for $5.

Tickets can be purchased at the museum, online at www.msichicago.org, or by calling the Museum at 1-800-GO-TO-MSI.

WHERE TO STAY: Visit the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau's Web site, choosechicago.com, for lodging and dining options.

Contact Kirk Baird at

kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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