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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Reviewed by Eliza DoLots

Like the makers of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the makers of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE were faced with the daunting task of taking a much loved, well known (LONG) saga and turning it into a movie. Christopher Columbus was NOT the studio's choice for directing this movie. They wanted Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg wanted to move the story to America, with American actors (Haley Joel Osment from THE SIXTH SENSE and A. I. was at the top of the list of possible Harry's).

The book's author, J. K. Rowling, refused to accept that. She picked Columbus, a director who has shown a great gift for working with young actors in movies like HOME ALONE, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING and MRS. DOUBTFIRE. Columbus turned out to be a huge fan of the books. Having Potter fans as children, he felt a need to create a movie that would satisfy THEM.

One advantage to reviewing a movie that has already left the theaters is that one can address the comments of other critics. One thing I read a number of times is that this movie has no surprises. It follows the book almost exactly. I cannot find fault with that. Indeed, if the movie makers had decided to go off on their own with their story, I would have much to complain about. This is a work much loved and known. More, it is a work loved and known by fairly YOUNG people. That meant there would be little appreciation for artistic license. Kids are notorious for wanting things to remain the same. While time constraints necessitated some changes (Norbert the baby dragon is reduced to a brief birthing appearance and the Dursley's were nowhere near terrible enough) and the desire to brighten up scenes with special effects may have changed their focus (Harry getting his wand in Olivander’s Wand Shop is a bit over the top…in the book, the wand made a few sparks and felt warm), as far as I could tell there were no significant plot changes and only one minor “reassigning of tasks." In the book it is Hermione who figures out Snape’s potion puzzle to get Harry into the chamber with the sorcerer’s stone.

Casting was critical to making this movie work. I have read commentary suggesting that the boy playing Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is dull and not nearly as fun as his costars (Emma Watson who is bright and engaging though perhaps not as annoying as the Hermione Granger of the book and Rupert Grint who is everything one could want Ron Weasley to be: bright, funny in the face of hardship). I have to say that the history of Harry Potter - locked in a closet for much of his life, rarely allowed to be HIMSELF - would create a person of little dynamic range. Such range would result in conflict. I have faith that Harry will develop in the movies as he has in the books; into a caring and complex individual.

One of the things that Chris Columbus demanded was that the children HAD to be believable. Without that, the movie would not fly. Certainly his three leads deliver. In the secondary roles, Tom Felton is perhaps a bit weak and needy in his role as Draco Malfoy. Malfoy is supposed to drawl insolently, Felton seems to exist on the edge of whining. Matthew Lewis carries off the role of fumbling Neville Longbottom with aplomb.

The decision to cast unknowns in the children’s roles, while filling the adult roles with beloved actors, is to my mind brilliant. By taking this approach, Columbus has guaranteed that adults will be drawn to the movie while kids will not be put off. The adults deliver wonderful performances, obviously savoring their roles. Maggie Smith (Professor MacDonogal) has been one of my favorites since high school. I remember trekking to Los Angeles to see her perform in California Suites (Her film credits include THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, the film version of CALIFORNIA SUITES, DEATH ON THE NILE and EVIL UNDER THE SUN). Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledorr), while not one of my personal favorites, is much loved by film fans for his long history of great performances (THIS SPORTING LIFE, THE BIBLE, CAMELOT, A MAN CALLED HORSE). Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid) is best known for his role in the television show CRACKER. He has appeared in many films (including MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, BUDDY, GOLDEN EYE and NUNS ON THE RUN) and has a solid fan base. Perhaps the best character in the movie is Snape, portrayed by Alan Rickman. He is evil incarnate. Word from the set was that Rickman was SO scary the kids often broke from the scenes to huddle with Columbus for comfort. Primarily a stage performer, Rickman has given us a number of memorable movie roles in such diverse movies as SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, DIE HARD, DOGMA and GALAXY QUEST.

This is a movie that has a definite A track. Score big at the box office, kill in video sales. The first has definitely happened. As I write this, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is the seventh highest grossing movie of all time having garnered $315MILLION in ticket sales.

 

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Director
Chris Columbus

Screenplay
Steve Kloves

Released
November 16, 2001 (US)

Cast
Daniel Radcliffe
Emma Watson
Rupert Grint
Richard Harris
Robbie Coltrane
Maggie Smith
Alan Rickman

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray