How A Harry Potter Set Accident Led To Candles Falling From The Ceiling

HBO Max's new special, "Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts," is a thing of real-life magic. The nearly two-hour special reveals behind-the-scenes tidbits from the series and revisits some of the eight films' best moments. It's even managed to make viewers nostalgic for a series that many of us will never be able to love through the uncomplicated lens of childhood again. Its best magic trick, though, is reuniting an impressive number of the series' original cast and crew members, who all seem to be genuinely happy to be in one another's presence again.

"Return To Hogwarts" covers a lot of ground, but as someone who relished in escaping into the world the films created while growing up, I appreciate that it takes the time to acknowledge the behind-the-scenes mastery that made Hogwarts come to life. The cast and crew jump at any chance they get to acknowledge the work of Stuart Craig, the production designer who worked on all eight films and directed the film's vision of everything from Quidditch to the halls of Hogwarts. The films' lead actors even say that one of their favorite on-set moments came from one of Craig's designs — though it wasn't actually meant to happen.

The Great Hall Set Had A Candle Problem

Fans of the films might remember decadent establishing shots of the Great Hall, Hogwarts' go-to place for feasts and gatherings. In some shots of "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone," long, white candles are visible, floating as if suspended by magic. In actuality, they were suspended by wires, and didn't always work the way they were supposed to. "One of my favorite moments on set ever is the moment when the floating candles started burning through the ropes that tied them to the ceiling and just started falling around The Great Hall," Daniel Radcliffe reveals.

This sounds more terrifying than enjoyable, but given that Radcliffe was a kid at the time, it was probably hilarious. Emma Watson describes the moment further: "Hundreds of real candles that were really lit, on fishing line, from the ceiling!" Watson's emphasis makes it clear that this moment made a strong impression. Luckily, the two actors, along with Rupert Grint, seem to look back on the moment fondly, so it seems no one was hurt.

A Bygone Era of Practical Effects

Radcliffe points out that a moment like that wouldn't happen these days, as "so much of that would be visual effects now." Indeed, the emotional opening sequence of "Return To Hogwarts" features a fantastic dance sequence as the camera moves through The Great Hall, and those floating candles are there, almost certainly via the magic of CGI. Radcliffe is grateful that the cast was able to experience The Great Hall's magnificent design firsthand during "Harry Potter" filming. "The fact that we got to actually be on that set..." he says, as Watson chimes in, agreeing. "Thank you Stuart Craig."

Maybe (probably) the powerful nostalgia of the new special just has me re-framing potential workplace safety violations as signs of a better, bygone era, but it's certainly true that the practical effects of "Harry Potter" are largely missing from movies 20 years later. The franchises' early films feature a number of impressive set pieces, including Aragog the spider, the Basilisk and Chamber of Secrets, and Fawkes the phoenix. A few recent major projects, like the Disney+ series "The Mandalorian," still work hard to incorporate the craftsmanship of practical effects in their final product, and often look better for it. Yet it seems like the tide has turned towards CGI-heavy production in a way that might not be reversible, and when you look back at some of the awe-inspiring scenes in early "Harry Potter" films, it's clear something special has gotten lost along the way. Let's add candles to the long list of things "Harry Potter: Return To Hogwarts" somehow made us emotional about.

"Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts" is currently streaming on HBO Max.