HARRY POTTER AND
THE SORCERER'S STONE

(UK Title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)
(2001)
With Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Tom Felton, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters
Directed by Chris Colombus
Reviewed by JL and JB
A whiz of a Wiz

And a young John Lennon stumbles upon the Beatles haircut     JL: The first installment in the Harry Potter epic saga, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, is a highly competent and visually dazzling adaptation of J.K. Rowling's first novel. Some groused that it was too faithful an adaptation, in that director Chris Columbus's slavish adherence to Rowling's text resulted in some imaginative qualities lost along the way. There's little time to build a sense of awe and wonder when so many details must be crammed into two and a half hours. Ironically, fans of the books -- the very people Columbus tried to please -- were more disappointed with this approach than those (such as myself) who had never read a word of Rowling.

     The film does bear some of the trademarks of a "Part One" of an epic series. All of the regular supporting characters are given ample screen time to introduce and ingratiate themselves, and the adventures upon which Harry embarks are rather tame compared to the obstacles he would encounter in future installments. But the film succeeds in balancing its rapid pace and flashy visuals with a fair amount of characterization and subtext, a rarity in modern blockbusters.

...and a young Brian Jones immediately copies it...      The three young leads of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are very well-cast. The young performers carry the dramatic and comic weight of the film as admirably as seasoned screen veterans, with Radcliffe's bashful heroism and Grint's comic timing being especially appealing. Of the adult regulars, the late Richard Harris is perfectly cast as the crackle-voiced old wizard Albus Dumbledore; it's a shame we could not see him develop in the role after the second film, but he left an indelible mark on the series. Robbie Coltrane is an endless delight as the gentle giant Hagrid, and Alan Rickman is a particular favorite as the brooding and sinister (or is he?) Professor Severus Snape.

     The Harry Potter series would continue to grow and improve over the next three films, but THE SORCERER'S STONE was a strong and promising start to a film series that has become nearly equal to the book series in phenomenon status. - JL


     JB: One thing I've learned about certain fans of the Harry Potter books: they will complain about anything concerning the movies - either the movies are too much like the books or not enough like the books.  Codswallop! For me, a Potter newcomer, THE SORCERER'S STONE proves there is still some real magic left in the movies, a magic found not only in the story and the special effects, but also in the excellent cast, especially the three previously unknown child actors who portray the film's heroes.

     Even if Daniel Radcliffe wasn't such an instantly likable kid, we would probably love Harry Potter by default. When we first meet Harry, he is in the custody of his late mother's relatives, the repulsive Dursley family. After meeting piggish Uncle Vernon, shrewish Aunt Petunia and brattish Cousin Dudley, how can we not feel for the quiet little guy with the horn-rimmed glasses and the great smile who is forced to spend his life in the cupboard under the stairs? With only two movies under his belt before before being cast as Harry, Daniel Radcliffe gives an untrained, natural performance as a nice 11-year-old boy baffled and bewildered by the magical world into which he is suddenly thrust when informed he is really a wizard. 

Graduated top of her class from The Dorothy DeBorba Academy    Like every hero, Harry Potter must have sidekicks. Sidekick number one is the goofy, rubber-faced fellow pre-teen wizard Ron Weasley, played by Rupert Grint. Of all the special effects in the film, Grint's face may be the best - imagine Stan Laurel cross-pollinated with half the Rolling Stones.  Sidekick number two is booksmart young witch Hermione Granger, played by Emma Watson, who is ideal at pitting Hermione's prissy self-importance against Ron's earthy simplicity. Together, the three child actors make for an instantly appealing screen team as they attempt to unravel the mystery of just who, or what, is after the enchanted Sorcerer's Stone. 

      As for the adults, Robbie Coltrane as the bearded giant Hagrid comes off as an overgrown kid himself who seems to be having a wonderful time hanging around with the three young leads. Although he has limited screentime, the deliciously evil Alan Rickman creates a characterization in greasy-haired Professor Snape that ranks with his classic villainous turns in ROBIN HOOD and DIE HARD. Indeed, all the adult parts are cast as carefully as the three young roles.

     The appeal of THE SORCERER'S STONE goes far beyond the cast, however. It is one of the few CGI-dominated films I have ever seen where I don't think about the special effects but rather lose myself in them. Author J. K. Rowling's fairy-tale world is brought to life with the near perfection of WILLY WONKA or THE WIZARD OF OZ. Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, the game of Quidditch - all are magnificently realized in ways that keep you content just to experience this world without fretting too much about when the plot will kick in. Director Chris Columbus helps by framing almost everything from the children's point of view, making it all seem larger than life. With one or two exceptions, the effects in THE SORCERER'S STONE rank among the best of the CGI era. Aside from the Quiddich match - think soccer on broomsticks - the special effects highlights include Harry and Ron saving Hermione from a giant club-wielding troll and all three youngsters confronted by a humongous three-headed dog named (why not?) Fluffy.

      Unlike those behind several recent Dr. Seuss movie adaptations, the cast and crew behind THE SORCERER'S STONE fully believed in J. K. Rowling's fantasy world and chose to move it to the screen as faithfully as possible, without the usual Post-Modern ironic detachment and pseudo-hip cultural reference humor. Through this approach, they created a captivating children's classic which is also completely accessible to many adults. The film has some flaws, but it has so many high spots, such a fabulous cast and is crafted with such obvious loving care, I am not even going to mention certain things I didn't like about it. ½ - JB

Harry Potter    Next Film: The Chamber of Secrets
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