Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/3/03 w/ Additional Content
Since the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling arrived in 1997, the story of a young orphaned boy who becomes a wizard became a worldwide phenomenon as books like Harry Potte & the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire broke sales records and topped several book lists for endless months as literary critics began to compare Rowling to such greats as Roald Dahl and several other children’s novelists for their freewheeling imagination while at the same time, Rowling attained the respect from several novelists including horror king Stephen King who wrote an exhilarating positive review on The Goblet of Fire for the New York Times. The phenomenon concerning Harry Potter brought the attention of Hollywood producers who easily knew that a successful film franchise could be made around the Harry Potter phenomenon.
While it was a good idea, J.K. Rowling was very cautious about her stories be turned into big, Hollywood blockbusters, especially since the producers wanted top Hollywood film stars and filmmakers to do the film. Fearing that Harry Potter would end up becoming some horrible film that didn’t stay true to the books, Rowling demanded some control for the movies and wanted to find the right people in running the Harry Potter films. She found the right man in American filmmaker Chris Columbus who had previously made such great family films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, and Nine Months. Columbus who had a great reputation for working with children actors was the perfect choice for Rowling as he gathered his own team that included screenwriter Steve Kloves to work on the first Harry Potter film Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (In the U.K., it’s called Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone). Rowling who knows how powerful and shortsighted the film industry in Hollywood is, also demanded that the casting for Harry Potter should be all-British ensemble so at least the movie could hold a certain prestige that most big-budgeted American films don’t carry. In the end, Rowling won her battle with Hollywood as Columbus began production on Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Based on the book of the same name, The Sorcerer’s Stone is actually an introduction to the Harry Potter character, a orphaned boy who lives with cruel, abusive relatives named the Dursleys that included a fat, bullish cousin named Dudley who treats Harry like crap until one day, he receives a letter from a school called Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches where Harry learns about his parents and finds a world where he is appreciated while finding a mysterious secret about an evil wizard named Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents when he was a baby and lost his powers when he tried to kill the boy.
While like all movies made from books, The Sorcerer’s Stone does leave off some important details that would be useful in later films but it is still enjoyable since screenwriter Steve Kloves does stay true to the book while director Chris Columbus makes an enjoyable film that is both fun for adults and children. The film features an all-star British cast that many filmmakers would die for that includes Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Zoe Wannamaker, Warwick Davis, Julie Walters, John Hurt, Ian Hart, David Bradley, and Alan Rickman! Rounding out the adult cast is the meat of the film, the young actors that provides the accessibility for young moviegoers that are led mainly by Daniel Radcliffe playing the lead role of Harry Potter. Released in late 2001, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone is an excellent film that begins one of the most promising franchises in film history.
The film begins eleven years earlier in a quiet English suburb where a powerful headmaster named Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) arrives with fellow teacher Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to drop off an orphaned baby to a home to live with his relatives. The movie fast forwards eleven years later as Harry Potter wakes up in a cupboard where he’s mistreated very often by his Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths), Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), and their fat son Dudley (Richard Melling). One day on a trip to the zoo, Harry finds himself communicating with a snake as he mysteriously makes the snake glass vanish freeing the snake while trapping his cousin inside the snake cage.
After the snake incident, Harry receives a letter from a mysterious school called Hogwarts as the Dursleys take and it not let Harry read but the letters keep showing up in multitudes sent by owls which led Vernon to get his family out of their home and into a small house by the sea where their found by Hagrid who tells Harry about Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards, and gives him something he never had, a birthday cake. Hagrid also tells Harry about his parents who were wizards and a bit of truth about their death from his Aunt who is his mother’s sister. Hagrid is outraged over what his relatives told Harry about his parent’s death and tells them that he will go to Hogwarts and be taught by Albus Dumbledore which lead Vernon to say one of the stories most famous lines “I WILL NOT LET SOME CRACKPOT OLD FOOL TEACH HIM MAGIC TRICKS” which led Hagrid to give the Dursleys a punishment.
Hagrid accompanies Harry to London where they go to a pub where all the patrons are excited about meeting Harry Potter including a Hogwarts professor named Quirrell (Ian Hart). There, Harry enters a secret wizard street called Diagon Alley where he gets his money (a fortune) from a bank run by goblins (played Warwick Davis and other midgets including Austin Powers' Verne Troyer, who is the only American actor in the film) where they get Harry’s money and a secret package Hagrid must take to Dumbledore. After buying some things for school, Harry goes to a wand shop run by a man name Ollivander (John Hurt) who lets him try some wands including one that has a connection to the man who killed Harry’s parents where Hagrid tells him his name, Voldemort (a name that many wizards don’t want to say) and all the things he’s done including killing Harry’s parents which led Voldemort to try to kill the baby Harry but for some reason, Voldemort lost his powers and Harry survived with a lightning-bolt scar on his head which is the reason Harry is famous in the wizarding world. .
After getting all the supplies including a snowy pet owl named Hedwig, Hagrid leaves him at King’s Cross to go to a mysterious train platform called 9 ¾ where Harry meets up with a wizarding family named the Weasleys led by a mother (Julie Walters) who accompanies her boys Percy (Chris Rankin), twins Fred & George (James & Oliver Phelps), and the youngest boy in the clan Ron (Rupert Grint). Harry makes friends with Ron who is in shock that he’s sitting in the same compartment where they also meet up with an intelligent young girl named Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) who comes from a Muggle-family (Muggle means non-magic folk). When they arrive at Hogwarts, Harry sees Hagrid and enters the Hogwarts castle where he meets a cocky boy named Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) who is always followed by his cronies Crabbe (Jamie Waylett) and Goyle (Josh Herdman). Harry and the new first-years at Hogwarts enter the great hall where they get sorted into the houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Hermione and Ron get into Gryffindor while Draco goes into Slytherin. Harry meanwhile gets into a tough position when the Sorting Hat considers putting him in Slytherin but ends up putting him in Gryffindor.
As the first day arrives, Harry and Ron gets into their first classes where McGonnagal teaches the first-years Transfiguration while Harry gets a special loathing from Potions master Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) who doesn’t like the way Harry’s getting attention since he’s already somewhat famous. The first-years also get a chance to learn how to ride brooms taught by Madame Hooch (Zoe Wannamaker) where Harry finds a natural talent in riding one after catching an object thrown by Malfoy where Harry becomes a Seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch team (Quidditch is a sport played on flying brooms that is like football (soccer for you Americans)) where Harry gets a quick lesson from team captain Oliver Wood (Sean Biggerstaff). While going up back to the Gryffindor common room, Harry, Ron, and Hermione accidentally enter a secret room while trying to get away from caretaker Argus Filch (David Bradley) where they meet up with a three-headed dog named Fluffy who was guarding something. Once the trio finds out what Fluffy might be guarding, they learn that the object could be the Sorcerer’s Stone and they learned that a teacher might be stealing it.
The film does include a lot of CGI images, particularly the Quidditch match that is very intense but it’s mostly a film built on sets and everything. Chris Columbus does an excellent job in turning J.K. Rowling’s vision of Hogwarts to the moviegoers while making the Harry Potter fans wishing there was a school like Hogwarts or go through Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross. Then there’s the acting, the younger actors do make the film enjoyable for kids and adults even if it’s a bit off at times since the films feature a lot of first-time actors but the leads played by Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, and Felton do bring out great lines as well as some comical timing to the film. Then there are the adult actors who bring in some of the film’s finer moments while being likeable to the younger audience. Robbie Coltrane who usually plays some big boss or a villain finally plays a loveable role that kids could enjoy while Alan Rickman, known for playing enjoyable villains, brings another masterful performance in a role that is so unlikable yet is mostly appreciated by fans of villains.
While the film include some great CGI, colorful cinematography by John Seales, and a flourishing score by John Williams. The story itself is faithful to the books but nothing quite radical to make some changes for the film. Columbus' direction is fine though not very daring. Even when he's compared to other directors that would follow him. It's mostly a by-the-books approach to directing yet it works because he's aiming for a young audience and readers of the book. Despite a few of its shortcomings, it is a fantastic film from Columbus.
While it’s not as good as the original book, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone is still one of the most enjoyable family films in the past few years. With fans currently waiting for the fifth book Harry Potter & the Order of Phoenix on June 21, 2003 and the third film Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban in the summer of 2004 where the film will add new actors like Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Pam Ferris, and a replacement for the late Richard Harris for Dumbledore (Currently in the running for that role are Peter O’ Toole and Michael Gambon). While the movie is a worthy introduction to those who want to know about the Harry Potter series, it’s to pick up the books first then see the films later on. Overall, the film for Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone is an excellent introduction to a promising film franchise.
Harry Potter Reviews: The Novels: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
The Films: Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
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