After enduring an awful life with his uncaring uncle`s family, young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers that he`s actually a wizard and enrols in Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards in training. There he makes friends with classmates Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The trio accidentally discovers the secret of the Sorcerer`s Stone, something that can grant immortality to its bearer, which is being sought by Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard who killed Harry`s parents and is now terribly weakened. It`s up to them to stop Voldemort from returning to power and bringing back his evil ways.
As someone who`s read all six Harry Potter books (yes, including `Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them` and `Quidditch Through The Ages`), my first impression about the Harry Potter movie was how been-there-done-that it seemed.
There are two things going against the film. For one, we`ve already read the magical writing of JK Rowling and imagined the world of Harry Potter in our heads. The other thing is that the template of the book -- young kids in peril way over their heads -- has been used and overused so many times in the movies, from `The Goonies` to `Young Sherlock Holmes` to, oh, just about anything by Steven Spielberg and Co., that there`s an enormous sense of dej vu to the proceedings.
Contributing to the well-worn feeling of the film are its special effects, which appear all too familiar. Anyone who`s seen Superman or any number of films in which people fly will not find the Quidditch scenes all that thrilling. Similarly, the hatching of Hagrid`s dragon is straight out of `Jurassic Park`. The troll who invades Hogwarts looks like Shrek. Visually, the scene with the Devil`s Snare plant is scarily similar to the one in `Star Wars` in which Han, Luke and Leia are trapped in the garbage compactor. All these effects are executed well but do not provide the visceral thrill so crucial to a film like this.
Once you are clued in to this aspect of `Harry Potter and the Sorcerer`s Stone` -- the fact that it`s nowhere as groundbreaking as its source material -- it`s actually quite entertaining, if in a rather bland and generic way.
If nothing else, the film`s casting is simply wonderful. Robbie Coltrane as the dense, lovable Hagrid comes off best, but no less impressive is the trio of kids. Radcliffe is just how you thought Harry Potter would look and Grint makes a terrific Ron. Hermione has been cuted up a bit (she no longer has buckteeth), but her imperiousness is intact and Watson is simply delightful. In the supporting cast is a who`s who of British acting royalty, including Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall and, especially, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, who oozes acid with every word and glance.
It`s great fun to see Hogwarts (with its shifting marble staircases and people moving inside paintings), Privet Drive, Diagon Alley and most of all, the characters come to life. Cinematographer John Seale and production designer Stuart Craig do an impressive job in getting all the details right. The scenes in the Muggle world are all bright and sunny but the shots look more dark and spooky inside Hogwarts. Unfortunately, this is about as textured as the film gets.
Despite its undeniable delights, `Harry Potter and the Sorcerer`s Stone` leaves you with several unanswered questions. When you have a writer as gifted as Steve Kloves, who wrote `The Fabulous Baker Boys` and `Wonder Boys`, why don`t the emotional scenes carry more heft? Why is there a constant need to shift from one set piece to the next, this special effect to that, before letting the audience absorb and enjoy what`s actually on screen? Why smother every moment with a suffocating John Williams score that practically dictates every emotional cue to you?
The answer, I think, is that the book was something for children of all ages while the film knows that it cannot afford to treat scenes with the same degree of darkness or seriousness, lest it loses its core family audience. The other reason is that we`ve become so undemanding as an audience, so much in quest of a fun ride at the movies, that if `E.T.` was made today, it would probably junk all of Elliot`s issues with his parents` divorce and just concentrate on the flying scenes. We do not seem to expect popcorn entertainers to be anything more than cookie-cutter thrill rides.
While that may be alright with any other film, it`s a particular disappointment with this one. What made the books so delightful and scary at the same time was the unique voice of Rowling, who managed to cram any number of pop culture artifacts into a magical setting, topping it off with her sheer imagination and way with words. What director Chris Columbus has done is not so much as find a voice, a visual style, for the film as much as faithfully make a laundry list of things in the book and transfer them on screen.
Maybe the successive instalments in the franchise will get things right. In the meantime, we are left with the wisdom that no amount of special effects can top the magic of realising a book in that movie theatre inside your head.
If you have any comments on this review, post a message on our message boards or write to: firstname.lastname@example.org