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owlviewsmaller.jpgWarner Bros Entertainment and Universal Orlando Resort tonight finally gave out details to what I first reported back on April 13th: “The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter” is coming to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in late 2009. The two Hollywood entertainment companies also released these 3 first official artist renderings of the new theme park — and in my opinion they’re are spectacular! (See the concept images larger here.) The pair of studios are partnering to “create the world’s first fully immersive Harry Potter themed environment” envisioned as a “theme park within a theme park” and based on the best-selling books by J.K. Rowling and blockbuster feature films from Warner Bros. ”Over the years we’ve received thousands of letters from fans around the world wishing they could visit Hogwarts and the wonderful locations described in each of J.K. Rowling’s beloved stories,” Barry Meyer, Warner Bros Entertainment chairman/CEO said in the press release embargoed for tonight. ”Working with Universal Orlando Resort, we are confident that we’ll be able to provide Harry Potter fans with an incredible experience that upholds the richness of J.K. Rowling’s books and delivers on the authentic detail portrayed in our films.” Ron Meyer, Universal Studios president and COO said: “We will rely on our company’s rich movie heritage and expertise in transforming film concepts into theme park entertainment experiences. “The Harry Potter stories are among the most compelling of our time. The millions of people who have read the books and seen the movies will now be able to experience the world of Harry Potter in person.”

meyers.JPGThe artist renderings appear faithful to the visual landscapes of the films. The theme park planners promise to provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the magical world of Harry and his friends, bring it to life in a physical environment that fans can walk through and relax in and ride on, as well as enable guests to visit some of the most iconic locations found in the books and the films including the village of Hogsmeade, the mysterious Forbidden Forest, and even Hogwarts castle.

“The plans I’ve seen look incredibly exciting, and I don’t think fans of the books or films will be disappointed,” J.K. Rowling said in the press release. The project will include immersive rides and interactive attractions, as well as experiential shops and restaurants that will enable guests to sample fare from the wizarding world’s best known establishments. daniel_radcliffe11.jpg“We are going to devote more time, more money, more expertise and more executive talent from throughout our entire organization and creative team – as well as from Warner Bros., our partners – to ensure that this entire environment is second-to-none,” said Tom Williams, chairman/CEO of Universal Parks and Resorts. Involved in the project is the Academy Award-winning production designer Stuart Craig, who has created the world of Harry Potter in all of the Warner movies to date and will lead the creative design for the area to ensure it remains faithful to the look and feel of the films. “Our primary goal is to make sure this experience is an authentic extension of Harry Potter’s world as it is portrayed in the books and films,” said Craig.

hogsmeadesquaresmaller.jpgThe negotiations for The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter had been kept under wraps. It marks a major expansion of Universal Orlando Resort which also recently skedded The Simpsons ride (I announced on April 11th.) Previously, various online blogs and websites that follow theme parks had posted only unconfirmed rumors about both. So why does Universal get Harry Potter and not Disney, owner of the world’s most famous theme parks? Back in 2005, a news story made the rounds that Walt Disney Co. wanted to create a Harry Potter theme park, and execs were reportedly looking at a Singapore site for a huge complex with rides devoted to the Harry Potter stories. But Disney became stuck in protracted negotiations with J.K Rowling and Warner’s to secure theme park rights for the complex. So that project never materialized. Rumor had it that Disney was willing to pay a hefty bounty just to get the property and put it on the shelf in a purely defensive manuever. Instead Universal went into negotiations — and now Disney will be forced to walk the plank (pirate pun intended) as they watch millions of fans set sail for that other theme park in Orlando. Indeed, Universal has cashed in on lots of movie-related attractions by spinning Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Van Helsing, King Kong, Spider-Man, Hulk, Back To The Future, Jaws etc. into theme park gold.

hogwartssmaller.jpgIronically, I was told that when NBC first bought Universal, parent company General Electric was intent on selling the studio’s theme parks. After all, Wall Street has been only so-so about theme parks because they have fixed costs and swing up and down with the economic cycle. But then GE realized Universal’s multi theme parks generate tremendous cash flow and became a huge fan of them.

This deal is a big deal for both Meyers because The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter should be a gold mine for both Warner and Uni. Together the two moguls have given their parent companies something to cheer about on Wall Street. uniwb.JPGBarry just figured out a way to keep the humongous Potter paychecks coming into Warner well after the multibillion dollar film franchise has been exploited across every platform known to mankind. And he’s also finally giving Time Warner a great headline out of a film division that the parent company has, frankly, had to apologize for in recent quarters. Also, Ron just gave NBC Universal, and for that matter GE, a nice morale boost when the news about NBC has been grim at best and his own studio has just ended a fallow period for hit movies.

jk_rowling.jpgThe six Harry Potter books, a global phenomenon, have been translated into 65 languages with more than 325 million copies sold in over 200 territories. The 7th book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is scheduled to be released on July 21st. Its publishers have announced a record-breaking 12 million copies for the first print run in the U.S. alone. All four Warner films in the Harry Potter franchise have grossed more than $3.5 billion at the box office worldwide and made it into the all time Top 20 grossing films worldwide. The 5th film in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will be released in theatres on July 11, 2007.

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