Now Showing: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Magic. Pure magic. Finally, a movie comes along that is able to capture the spirit of a well-written book exactly. I hate to use this phrase lightly, but Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is an instant classic.

Poor Harry is a victim of fate. After his parents, two powerful magic-folk, are murdered, he is sent to live with his Muggle (non-magic folk) aunt, uncle and spoiled brat cousin, the Dursleys. In an effort to hide his strange and embarrassing parentage from him, Harry is never told of the lineage from which he descends. Instead, he is treated as a slave and a bother, someone to be ignored or tormented, until that is, the giant Hagrid comes and hand delivers his invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his parent's alma mater. From there Harry discovers his true self and finds a home and family the likes of which he had never experienced. Unfortunately, all is not well in the venerable old school. Someone is trying to steal the Sorcerer's Stone, and it's up to Harry and his friends to stop them. Gorgeously filmed, unabashedly earnest and forthright, and maybe slightly overlong, Harry Potter lives up to the hype.

If you've read the books, bought the merchandise, or just been alive and breathing for the last couple of years, you might say, "Well of course, it's obvious that movie was going to be a hit." From the moment author J.K. Rowling sat down in that coffee shop and ordered extra napkins on which to pen her legacy, success seemed preordained. However, preordained or not, there were a lot of nervous fans out there when the announcement came that a movie was being made. First, the obvious choice for director, Steven Spielberg, dropped out, handing the reins to his proteg, Chris Columbus. Then, after a world-wide search for a lead, the studio went with an unknown. Then came the question of the script. How much of the book was to be left in? How much to be cut? Would children be able to concentrate over ninety minutes? Problems abounded.

Amazingly, for once though, the stars seemed to align in favor of an adaptation. Chris Columbus proved ultimately loyal to Rowling's vision of the world of magic. Steven Spielberg remained on-board as producer, and steered the production with his inimitable penchant for fantasy. The lead the studio found, Daniel Radcliffe, is perfect. Besides looking like the Potter illustrations from the first editions of the novel, he exudes a kind of earnest innocence. His acting is very appropriate; not too much or too little. As well, his sidekicks, Hermione and Ronald, are played to the hilt by their young unknowns. The casting director deserves an Oscar for being able to bring the characters from the book to life with such success. And, as far as the editing of the beloved novel, cool heads prevailed. Nearly everything was left in. Aside from one Quidditch match and a little of Sevarus Snape's background, the film is a nearly word-for-word retelling of the novel. At two-and-one-half hours, it may seem a little daunting for the younger members of the audience, but trust me, they'll stick with it.

Hogwarts is a beautiful tapestry of magic. Nearly every scene has something to see, something to be delighted in. This is not like an effects heavy blockbuster which hopes to blind you to the lack of a script; no, these are effects that serve the script, that create the atmosphere without drawing undue attention to themselves. You'll want to see the film again just to watch the paintings move. The film flows from Fall to Winter to Spring to Summer effortlessly, emphasizing the magic of each season through the grounds of the school and the surrounding area. From the hustle and bustle of London, to the forbidding of the Forbidden Forest, Potter takes on a multitude of locations and environments with a scope not often attempted in "children's films." The effect is entirely positive.

I think it's interesting to note that this is considered a children's movie. The book was touted be kids from 2nd grade on up, and the PG rating makes it attractive to parents. However, before that turns some of you away, let me say that this film truly has something for everyone. It is true that kids skipped school on the Friday it came out in order to go to the early show. It's true that those same kids gave Potter a record breaking $31.5 million dollar first day total. What that doesn't tell you is this: the theater where I saw this movie was playing it on 5 screens all day long. I had to wait in line 45 minutes to get a seat after having bought my ticket. Nearly everyone in my line was over the age of 18. There were grandparents there, without their grandchildren! This movie is a true phenomenon. Based purely on the popularity of the series of books, it bested Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for the top grossing one day total of all time. And, unlike that film, nearly everyone who went in, came out smiling. Harry Potter may only be in his first year at Hogwarts, but he's already cast his spell on the entire world. Grade: A

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is rated PG for a few pretty scary scenes.

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