Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Yes. I am a Harry Potter nut. You know who I mean, the weirdies who camp out to get the books at midnight and stay up all night reading it, decked out in wizard robes and drinking “butter” beer. I’ve probably read the books ten plus times, so if I wanted to bash on this movie for three pages worth I could and would gladly do so. But as much as I’m sure you’d love to hear all of my sarcastic quips, I shall try my best to judge it as a film and solely by that, limiting comparison from book to movie. And it would be pretty sad if I could bash about Sorcerer’s Stone since it does follow the book near perfectly… but leave it to me to notice the 10% that’s inaccurate.
Anyway, in case you’ve been living under a rock these past twenty years, this is what’s up. Meet Harry (Daniel Radcliffe): orphan at birth due to the mysterious death of his parents, his hair long and unkempt, his forehead decorated with a lightning bolt scar, his clothes drowning his skinny body. He lives in the cupboard under the stairs in the home of his heartless aunt and uncle and he is shunned by his peers. He is also generally present whenever strange and abnormal things go down. His rags to riches story begins at his eleventh birthday when a nine-foot scruffy-lookin’ mountain-man named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, who is the MAN) visits him. Harry learns that his freakish tendencies are actually magical powers, and that he has been invited to study at a wizarding school, leaving his all-but home for a luxurious magical castle. Oh, and he’s famous. Hogwarts gives him a gift that he never had before: a chance to live and discover himself. He lands a spot on the school’s Quidditch (basketball and soccer combo – seriously Rowling, how do you come up with this stuff??) team, his fame precedes him and makes him the most popular first-year at the school, and he gets to practice cursing people for his homework. Not bad, eh? With friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), the mischievous threesome begin to uncover mysteries in the castle, and their attempt to single-handedly solve them gets them in a plot that’s way over their heads – a plot that may involve the wizard responsible for the death of Harry’s parents.
It’s hard to say when Harry really entered my life. I was… eight? I remember walking into my third grade classroom with Prisoner of Azkaban in hand ready to read through class. I remember arguments over the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” with my mom. But I honestly don’t remember when Harry really left his mark. Because seriously? Harry and I are tight like spandex. I am a little bit obsessed. Since Book #4 I’ve been getting them at midnight and I read them once a year. I used to play HP imagining games with my childhood buddies. Any sort of Harry Potter paraphernalia, I probably had. Star Wars is probably the only other franchise to leave such an imprint on my soul. Okay, now things are getting a little TOO weird, but you get what I mean. I love Harry Potter. A lot.
It was actually a lot of fun to let the film buff side take over and realize that these movies aren’t the atrocities I once thought they were. The characters created by J.K. Rowling are what drive the story but we’ve got just about every excellent English actor in existence playing them: Alan Rickman as Professor Snape is arguably the best of the bunch – he’s so sinister and snakelike in his hateful disdain for Harry, Richard Harris (I’ll never forgive you for dying) as Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, and tons more. The kids were okay, too – now Daniel Radcliffe’s getting Tony noms and Emma Watson’s got her adorable pixie cut. They were so tiny in Sorcerer’s Stone. These early ones are also great of Rupert Grint, he’s pretty likeable. Watson’s probably going the farthest in her future career, though. She knows what she’s doing as the standoffish Hermione. It also sucks that Tom Felton took such a bad turn through puberty after movie #2, he was s’darn cute in this one! Well, cute and sinister.
This is by-far the most tame of the Harry Potter franchise. That isn’t to say that the others are adult-themed, but this one is clearly catered towards children. The book too is a children’s novel, so I guess I can’t really argue the choice of audience. The feel is innocent and colorful – bright golds and deep reds deck the halls of Hogwarts, the Quidditch lawn too is vibrantly colored with greens and blues. John Williams’ score is twinkly and “Hedwig’s theme” is, haha, magical. For how complex J.K. Rowling’s world is, the movie does a remarkable job of balancing unfamiliar customs with plot in the two-hour film. With each twist and turn, something new emerges (cue the chimes). And really, all I’ve got to say is when can I sign up for Hogwarts? I don’t care how hard they have to “study” for final exams, it has to be more fun than studying for biology finals. I’d study charms with Professor Flitwick and I’m sure I’d blow up my fair share of feathers like Seamus. I’d eat the self-filling plates in the dining hall with all you can drink pumpkin juice. And I’d definitely play chaser on my house Quidditch team (Gryffindor, of course). Obviously, the world emerges from the books but I am thrilled to see it on screen.
Chris Columbus, you may not be too daring but you can NEVER go wrong with sticking to the original story. Sure there are still holes that bug me (i.e. Professor Snape “is helping” to guard the Sorcerer’s Stone yet no potions obstacle is shown – a deleted scene but still an unfortunate loss), and a little TOO much learning-life-lessons cheese (“Swish and FLICK!”) Rowling stuck close to the production of the film, which didn’t hurt. And really, the dialogue is pretty great. “I’m going to bed before either of you comes up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.” “She NEEDS to sort out her priorities.”
This movie also makes me mourn Richard Harris. His death will forever haunt me every single time I watch these movies. Every time. He was SO perfect. He embodied one of the greatest, wisest characters ever written with poise and dignity. According to Rowling, Dumbledore is the “epitome of goodness.” Michael Gambon is fine and I appreciate his talent now, but I can never feel that heart of goodness at his core like I could with Harris. His way of dealing with Harry at the Mirror of Erised is so gentle and grandfather-like. Man, I miss him. My consistency obsessions are also troubled. But whatever, nothing we can do about it. Some of his best lines are in this first installment, though: “Alas, earwax!” “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.” (Which, p.s. I love Neville. Just sayin – one of my favorite book characters).
This is the beginning of a wonderful journey. The boundaries surrounding the evil are barely tapped, but still introduced. The mere whisper of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is taboo and evokes fear and panic in wizards and muggles alike – and we’ve only just met the evil overlord. There are some awesome scenes – namely the giant wizard chess scene. Srsly, so cool. Hagrid also stands out as one of the best adults, and he is involved in some great moments. The entire journey to Diagon Alley is well filmed, John Hurt cameos to boot. Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback even made it in.
It’s nothing without the book. In fact, I wish I could see these without my deep bias and excess back-knowledge. So, guys, read the book. You won’t regret it. These movies are like Barney compared to that incredible series. But if you absolutely insist on watching the movies sans reading, this is pretty good. 7/10