Harry Potter And The Near Death Experience
By Rick Fulton for The Daily Record, 16th November 2005
THE scuba divers couldn’t believe it. They were teaching Daniel Radcliffe to swim underwater for the new Harry Potter movie – and now their teenage charge was signalling he was drowning.The crew were underwater, in the middle of training for one of the hardest stunts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Daniel made the emergency hand signal that he was in big trouble.
The fourth film sees a more grown-up Harry taking part in the tough Triwizard Tournament.And for the tournament’s second task, Daniel had to get more than a bit wet.To make it look like Harry has turned himself into a fish, Daniel had to learn to hold his breath underwater for long enough to film entire clips.All was going well until Daniel was motioning that he was drowning.
Daniel, 16, laughed: “I got the signs wrong. I thought I was signalling everything is fine but in fact I was signalling ‘I’m running out of air, get me to the surface’.
“I said the wrong thing and they all thought that I was drowning and got me up to the surface very, very fast.”
Luckily the false alarm and panic didn’t put the intrepid actor off and he went on to train for six months to be able to perfect the underwater scenes.
Daniel said: “I had the most amazing stunt team who I trained with for six months and who were down there in the tank with me.
“I was sharing somebody else’s air from their scuba diving tank and we both had regulators.
“They’d say ‘Three, two, one,’ and on the ‘one’ I’d take in a very big gulp of air and then it’s all about how much action you can do with that amount of breath in your body.
“The hard thing was not just holding my breath; I wasn’t allowed to let any of the air out because Harry is supposed to become a fish with gills. There’s not supposed to be bubbles going around. So if I look at all pained, you know why.”
It was hard work. But then this film more than the other three has pushed the teenager to the limits as Harry Potter becomes an action hero. While there is romance and the physical return of Lord Voldemort to deal with, the greatest challenge of the production was bringing to life the three tasks of the tournament.
In the film, 14-year-old Harry is three years too young to enter the deadly competition, but he is chosen as a champion anyway, and faces rival teen wizards.
The first task pits each champion against a different breed of dragon.
The competitors must recover a golden egg nesting under their gigantic reptile’s protection. As fate would have it, Harry draws the most fearsome dragon of all – the Hungarian Horntail.
This sequence begins in an arena carved into the rocky Scottish landscape and was filmed around Glen Nevis.
The sprawling set has the look of a quarry crossed with a medieval bullring, and was built in two parts.
Stuart Craig, the Oscar-nominated production designer on the film said: “It was one of the biggest sets we’ve ever built for any of the films, but when you’re battling a dragon you need space.
“Also, we didn’t just confine the chase to the arena. We decided to make full use of the magnificent backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.” Harry’s battle with the Horntail – a 40ft-long beast – meant Daniel had to be hurled around and dangled from rooftops.
He admitted: “The dragon battle was very physical and terrifying at times.
“When we were doing the stunt where Harry falls down the roof, I found myself literally dangled by my ankles, hanging upside down 40 feet in the air.
“Then I was dropped suddenly and hurtled head first to the ground. I knew it was safe because our stunt team is so brilliant. But I did feel my life flashing before my eyes for a second.”
The second task – to save a loved one from Hogwart’s Black Lake – was even more challenging. Rather than use computer trickery, the production team were determined to film the sequences underwater.
Producer David Heyman said: “We faced one of our greatest challenges with the underwater sequence.
“Filming in an actual loch would have been too cold and impractical.
“We looked into doing a process called ‘dry for wet’, where you suspend an actor and blow wind on them to give the illusion they are underwater, but the hair didn’t undulate convincingly.”
Over the course of three months, the production team constructed what became one of the largest underwater filming tanks in Europe, measuring 20 feet deep by 60 feet square.
A ‘dry room’ was also built to enable Daniel and his co-stars to remove their breathing apparatus for short periods without having to surface and risk problems with ear pressure.
After six months of training with the dive team, Daniel was ready to start filming. Over three weeks, the teenager spent more than 41 hours underwater.
One dive alone lasted 75 minutes, which he described as “quite cool”.
To make the task look realistic, body casts of the actors who play Harry’s pals Ron and Hermione and love interest Cho Chang (Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Katie Leung) were tied to ruins in the tank for Harry to free.
In addition to mermen and other creatures, water demons known as Grindylows were created by computer. This meant the scene was set for the final task which required the teen wizards to navigate a foreboding maze.
The champions begin their journey at dusk, with nothing to guide them but an eerie blue light which comes from the top of an ornamental shrub, where the coveted Triwizard Cup awaits.
As darkness descends, the threatening maze literally closes in on the young wizards. It was a collaborative effort between John Richardson’s special effects team and the visual effects group headed by Jimmy Mitchell which brought this part of the film to life.
Parts of the labyrinth, engineered by Richardson, stood 25 feet high and 40 feet long. These computerised hydraulic walls were designed to move independently of each other, swelling and surging at the actors on command.
Richardson said: “The maze has a heavy steel sub-structure, which could literally crush the actors if something went wrong.
“We had various fail-safe devices in place to ensure that this never happened – although when you see the fear on the actors’ faces, I’m pretty sure it’s genuine.”
With all that to contend with, it seems the boy wizard really has grown up to be an action hero.