With a record-breaking opening weekend take of over $90 million it is assured that this long-awaited, enormously hyped event film will make millions upon millions more and is the stuff that franchises are made of. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," if you haven't heard (and you must have been living in a cave on a mountain in Tibet if you didn't), is the first film outing for the first book of the wildly popular J.K. Rowling Harry Potter series.
For those one or two who haven't been exposed to the Potter phenomenon the stories begin with orphaned Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) forced to spend his formative years living in a cramped, dark closet under the stairs in the house on Privet Drive, the home of Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths), Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). There is something very special about Harry, a fact that his cruel, selfish aunt and uncle have denied since the boy's parents died in a car crash (or so we are told) when he was just a baby. For years Uncle Vernon has sought to keep important information from Harry about the boy's true self.
On his 11th birthday, Harry is visited by a giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine), receives an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns that his parents were masters of the magical arts and that he is destined to greatness. He attends the school, makes best friends with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), learns oodles of magic from Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), becomes a Quiddich hero (read the book or see the movie for an explanation) and has one daring adventure after another, all the while being a good, honest kid.
What you will see in the movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (released in Great Britain as "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone") is a movie spectacle that faithfully (within the constraints of runtime - it is 142 minutes long - a truly faithful adaptation would run for hours) delivers the book from start to finish. Sure, there are elements left out or under told, but overall, helmer Chris Columbus and scripter Steve Kloves have succeeded in creating the magical world of Rowling's main character with all the magical details so imaginatively drawn in the book. The screenplay uses the same episodic technique that Rowling utilized, much to the same affect.
Production designer Stuart Craig has brought to life the odd and wonderful places that are described in the book from the halls of Hogwarts School to giant Hagrid's cozy cottage to the bowels of the school where Harry and his friends confront the evil Voldemort (Ian Hart) in the film's finale. The fans will have little to fault, either, in the special F/X department. The fast-paced flying Quiddich match puts you in the air (to sometimes queasy affect) and the creatures that make up the magical world of Hogwarts - trolls, dragons, gnomes, owls and more - bring visual life to Rowling's written word. Makeup and creature effects by Nick Dudman gives a real feel to his various and sundry monsters and guardians of Harry's new world. Cinematographer John Seale does a fabulous job photographing the film with a rich texture that captures the necessary magic.
All the players do a decent job bringing the characters to life. The three kids, all newcomers, establish themselves well and should grow nicely into their roles as the franchise takes off. There will be seven (at least) Potter books and that should translate nicely into a marketing dream. There are a bevy of veteran character actors who show up in small and cameo roles. The aforementioned Harris, Smith, Hart and Coltraine are joined by the likes of Alan Rickman as the mysterious, serious Professor Snape; John Cleese passes through as the ghostus with the mostus, Nearly Headless Nick; Julie Walters has a brief moment as the loving mother of many, Ron's mother Mrs. Weasley; John Hurt does his bit as Mr. Ollivander, purveyor of magic wands.
So, if you have lived in that cave in Tibet and know only the little bit that I told you about the story go see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." If anything, the film adaptation is too faithful to the book, which may be a turnoff to the less-than-hard-core fans. I like it but I don't love it, which is just the same way I felt about the novel. I give it a B.
Director Chris Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire") brings the first of the hugely popular J.K. Rowling series to the big screen. Daniel Radcliffe ("The Tailor of Panama") stars as the 11 year old orphaned boy born of a wizard and a witch and marked but not killed by the evil Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
While Chris Columbus has done what Warner Brothers, Rowling and most of her readership wanted - faithfully adapting the book to the screen - in doing so he's ironically lost some of the magic. The film also demonstrates something which the books did not - it's indebtedness to the mythology and ideas of the "Star Wars" series.
Harry, like Luke Skywalker before him, is an orphan destined for a supernatural greatness (magic, 'the force'), guided and mentored by one duo (Hagrid and Dumbledore vs. Obi-Wan and Yoda) and assisted by another (Hermione and Ron/Leia and Han) to battle a dark lord of mysterious background (Voldemort/Darth Vader). Chess pieces move themselves across boards, strange creatures abound and the game of Quidditch recalls a certain race through a Redwood forest. But then, "Star Wars" itself has its roots in a Kurosawa film ("Hidden Fortress") and mythologies have common themes, so back to "Harry."
The production mostly looks great, from the Dursleys' typical British home to the fanciful Hogwarts where candles float in mid-air and paintings and photographs come to life (although the ghosts who wander about give the place an unfortunate Disney's Haunted Mansion feel). Special effects are good, especially a troll that needs dealing with, but the artificiality creeps through on occasion (the initial approach to Hogwarts is too obviously matted). John Seale's ("The Perfect Storm") cinematography is straightforward and Richard Francis-Bruce's editting is mediocre (particularly in the wizard's chess game which builds no suspense). The less said about John Williams's score the better.
The cast is a who's who of British talent, all well cast. Richard Harris initially seems an odd choice for kindly Professor Dumbledore, but he wears the robes well. Maggie Smith puts a witchy twist on her old teacher role of Miss Jean Brodie for Professor McGonagall. Robbie Coltrane has both the bulk and gentleness of spirit for Hagrid. Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths were born to play the Dursleys. John Hurt gives his all to his small role as Mr. Ollivander, who matches Harry to his wand in Diagon Alley. The best performance comes from Alan Rickman, made up to look like a silent film Rasputin, as Professor Snape. Rickman reaches somewhere off kilter, making one wish the entire film had been invested with his imagination.
Of the three leads, newcomer Rupert Grint as Harry's pal Ron Weasley, is the most natural and delightful. Radcliffe is a bit neutral as Harry, but as the first story's reactions evolve into more action on Harry's part Radcliffe will have more opportunity to act. While Emma Watson leaves the film as Hermione, she's rather stiff and actressy initially.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is good entertainment that lacks soul.
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