Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

A Film Review by James Berardinelli

United States/United Kingdom, 2001 U.S. Release Date: 11/16/01 (wide) Running Length: 2:32 MPAA Classification: PG (Mild violence) Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Seen at: Ritz Five, Philadelphia Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart, John Cleese Director: Chris Columbus Producer: David Heyman Screenplay: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling Cinematography: John Seale Music: John Williams U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers

The Harry Potter phenomenon - and make no mistake, it is a phenomenon - is unlike anything we have seen in recent history. Rather than being the result of clever marketing and hucksterism, Harry Potter's popularity began at the grass roots level. And, what's more, this craze is not derived from a movie, video game, or television series, but from one of the oldest forms of mass-market entertainment: a book. Of course, now that the cat's out of the bag, the marketing has begun in earnest. There are Harry Potter lunch boxes, trading cards, toys, wrapping paper, etc. But it's important to remember that these things followed the phenomenon, they didn't drive it. Much has been written about why Harry Potter is so popular with readers of all ages. While this analysis is fine, all you really have to do is read a few chapters of any of the Harry Potter novels, and you'll understand the appeal. Author J.K. Rowling has developed an intensely likable hero and put his adventures on paper with a free-and-easy style that mixes high adventure with light drama and low-key comedy. The books manage to walk the literary tightrope of never taking themselves too seriously while avoiding the easy pitfall of self-parody. That tone is what Chris Columbus' motion picture adaptation strives for, and, for the most part, achieves. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is unquestionably a member of the fantasy genre. However, while the majority of fantasy novels strike a tone that straddles the somber and the ominous, Rowling keeps it light, falling somewhere between that of David Eddings' Belgariad and Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon. Harry Potter's most apparent antecedents are J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (which is written in a much lighter style than The Lord of the Rings), C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, and Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain. Like Harry Potter, those books find their most enthusiastic supporters in the bracket of ages 10 to 15, but feature enough character development,

and a cauldron).plot. Spielberg backed out. Stepmom and Bicentennial Man). And to call the Harry Potter novels "children's books" is to underestimate them. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a rigorously faithful adaptation of the novel. with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The movie opens in modern-day England. never to be heard from again. some of whom are leveling the same charges at Harry Potter fans that they accused Dungeons and Dragons players of 20 years ago. who teaches Charms. there's more to attending Hogwarts than studying. The only people who apparently do not like the stories are the religious fundamentalists. short scenes. and antagonists. lest we forget. current rumor claims that Spielberg wants to do the third. but. But there's something almost workmanlike about Columbus' approach to . Professor Flitwick (Warwick Davis). At the outset. Voldemort tried to kill the infant Harry as well. and Professor Snape (Alan Rickman). Columbus will also direct the second Harry Potter movie. whose course is Defense Against the Dark Arts. at least in its theatrical release) and those who aren't. and a poltergeist. and thematic content to attract an older audience. For Harry. Columbus proves at least one thing . Yet. Doubtfire and Home Alone (as well as. Harry has lived with his mother's sister's family since shortly after birth. Professor Quirrell (Ian Hart). the crowd-pleasing filmmaker who was behind the camera for Mrs. when his parents were murdered by the evil wizard Voldemort. Harry arrives at Hogwarts. leaving the door open for Chris Columbus. and his staff . After that incident. but failed. Now. for whatever reason (and there are about a hundred rumors flying around). After the Harry Potter novels became a huge international success. where 11-year old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) dwells with his aunt. where he will study to fulfill his true calling as a wizard. a snowy owl. in large part because of its contemporary setting. leaving the boy undamaged except for a scar on his forehead. on the small rural lane of Pivet Drive.he can make the story accessible both to those who are familiar with the source (probably the majority of those who will see the film. And at least 75% of Steve Kloves' dialogue is lifted directly from the text. master of Potions. on his birthday. uncle.Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith). Voldemort vanished. Harry Potter's popularity has greatly outstripped those of its predecessors. After a trip with Hagrid to buy supplies (including a wand. who has come to bring Harry to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. such as the arrogant Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Then there's the headmaster of Hogwarts. such as red-haired Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and bossy Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). but. this is a boon. the one-word question regarding the movie adaptation became "when?" not "if?" Initial reports indicated that Steven Spielberg would direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. everything in the book is in the movie. For Harry Potter fans looking to see how their favorite scene appears on screen. the venerable wizard Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris). who teaches Transfiguration. With the exception of occasional details. Columbus and Harry might not seem to be the best match. and cousin. he meets classmates who will become close friends. Harry is visited by the imposing Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). There. as he begins to suspect one of the teachers of being in league with a dark force lurking in the forest. however.

liberal doses of comedy. One would think that in this era of digital special effects. Rupert Grint. Columbus doesn't use any imagination beyond that which J. most of the adults are played by recognizable performers . There's no denying that the film is diverting. and the best approach for adapting the latter into the former is not always an unvarnished translation. The movie also has the virtue of not talking down to its viewers. since none of the actors bring baggage with them. and even a little pathos. Rowling has given her full support to the finished project. What they lack in polish. On the other hand. Presumably. but the flying sequences are disappointing. but is far from overwhelming. so too does the movie appeal to audience members of all ages.John Cleese as a nearly-headless ghost.something extraordinarily difficult to do with this property . There are also several big names in small roles . . J.the project. fast-paced. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone delivers as promised . The second is Harry's Quidditch debut. Ron. and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. Hogwarts looks suitably impressive. they make up for in earnestness. but there's still some magic in what Columbus and his crew have wrought. Maggie Smith as McGonagall. but it isn't inspired. is the only one with previous experience. not looking a lot better than when Christopher Reeve donned his cape for Superman. The film has its share of standout sequences. and all but the youngest children should be able to sit through it without becoming restless. John Hurt as a wand salesman. the film has its moments. Alan Rickman as the serpentine Snape. gushing how closely it meets her vision of what the characters and their world should look like. the troll and goblins are convincing. even if they aren't chaperoning offspring.Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone stands out as a solid piece of entertainment.K. Columbus and Kloves' straightforward approach fails to find a creative way of incorporating these. The film's spell may not be as potent as that of the book. The decision to cast unfamiliar faces is a good one. meaning that adults won't be uncomfortable viewing this film.K. but doesn't seem that long. who appeared in The Tailor of Panama. Just as the Harry Potter books have reached a wide audience. inventive adventure. and Hermione against a big. ugly troll. From a visual standpoint. The first is a battle featuring Harry. Fans of the book will likely love or hate the movie based on how closely things match their preconceived notions. the filmmakers could have done a little better masking the blue screen work. and most of the magic is nicely represented. One of the most delicious aspects of reading the books is absorbing all of Rowling's offhand comments. The three pint-sized leads . Viewed exclusively as a piece of cinema . Emma Watson . and Julie Walters as Ron's mother. And the third is the final showdown.Daniel Radcliffe. The film runs 2 1/2 hours. they will become more accomplished as the series advances.a herd of colorful characters.are all unknowns. Movies and books are different media.Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Rowling previously supplied for her book. Radcliffe.

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