Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

At this point in time, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is no longer just a movie. It is an event. Not since the release of “Star Wars” has any film generated such a high level of hype and buzz. It’s not surprising when you consider that both films share common themes, visual cues and ideals, including a young boy discovering his hidden powers, characters drawn over to the dark side, and wise old wizards.

You needn’t have read any of author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books to appreciate “Sorcerer’s Stone.” Screenwriter Steve Kloves (“Wonder Boys”) creates a little magic of his own, condensing the novel without offending the diehards. The result is a film that will please both fans and everyone else just looking for a good time.

Although “Harry Potter” clocks in at an epic two-and-a-half hours, the film’s core audience won’t mind. They wouldn’t have it any other way. With over 100 million books in print, Rowling’s word is as good as gold. Any extreme deviation would be sacrilege.

Kloves tinkers with the narrative, but that’s because he’s burdened with the Herculean task of laying the groundwork for the films that will follow. Fans will be pleased that much of what is on the screen has been lifted directly from the novel. Backed by $125 million worth of production value and special visual effects, “Sorcerer’s Stone” has no problem casting it’s magic spell.

Daniel Radcliffe (Geoffrey Wright’s son in “The Tailor of Panama”) is down-to-earth as young Harry Potter, an 11-year-old who lives in a cupboard under the stairs of his mean-spirited aunt and uncle’s house. Constantly taunted and tortured by his opportunistic cousin, Harry wishes for a better life. Harry gets his wish when an ogre named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) arrives with an invitation for him to attend the prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.

Unbeknownst to Harry, his parents were great wizards who were murdered by the evil wizard Voldemort, who then went over to the dark side. Hmm? Before Hagrid can mutter “Use the force,” he and Harry are off on a shopping spree at Diagon Alley, a Dickensian marketplace populated by a variety of goblins and wizards. It’s here where Harry gets his first taste of what is to come.

Then it’s off to Hogwarts, where Harry meets friendly classmates Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and adversary Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Once at Hogwarts, “Sorcerer’s Stone” shifts into high gear, putting Harry and the other students through their paces. Fans of the book will appreciate the opportunity to see their favorite passages come to life, although those with vivid imaginations might find the results less than satisfactory.

That’s one of the pitfalls of adapting popular novels into films. More often than not, our imaginations do a much better job of bringing the written page to life. It’s rare when a film based on a book equals or exceeds its source, and even though “Sorcerer’s Stone” isn’t everything it could be, it is more than adequate.

Some characters make abbreviated appearances (John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick), but all of the major set pieces remain intact. Some work better than others. The exciting game of Quidditch, played in a fabulous arena of floating towers, should have been a highlight but lacks the visual conviction of the Pod race in “Stars Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” Curiously clumsy visual effects almost destroy the illusion, forcing the viewer to step outside of the fantasy.

The moments that do work, and there are many, more than make up for those that don’t. The Mountain Troll that attacks Hermione in the bathroom is vividly brought to life with computer- generated effects, which also turn the interior of the school into a giant, ever changing fun house. Floating candles, broomsticks, cloaks of invisibility, a living chess game, and instructors who transform into animals are all part of the fascinating world of “Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Director Chris Columbus has so perfectly cast the film that the characters are instantly recognizable. Columbus mixes veteran actors with virtual newcomers, and the result is satisfying and actually refreshing. You get the sense of a living, breathing community where the elders obviously possess more wisdom than the youngsters.

With a mop top of shaggy hair, thin oval glasses and bright blue eyes, Radcliffe perfectly personifies Potter. Radcliffe doesn’t just say his lines and hit his marks, he shares the same enthusiasm, curiosity and strengths as his character. Radcliffe is so convincing as Potter that we have no problem embracing him and his adventures.

Newcomers Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are equally engaging as Potter’s schoolmates. Grint, with his rubbery face, displays great comic timing as Ron, who makes up in spell casting what he believes he lacks in social status. I absolutely loved Watson’s bossy Hermione. It’s hard to believe that this little charmer is making her debut. Tom Felton is appropriately dark as the classmate who can’t stand Harry and his ilk.

The adults are well represented by Maggie Smith (in a nod to her “Jean Brodie” role) as Professor McGonagall, who teaches a class in transformation while in human form; Richard Harris as wise headmaster Albus Dumbledore; Ian Hart as the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor Quirrell, who seems afraid of his own shadow; Robbie Coltrane as the well intentioned but loose-lipped ogre Hagrid; and Alan Rickman as potions instructor Snape, who Harry instantly distrusts.

Columbus thankfully restrains the urge to wear his heart on his sleeve (“Stepmom”), and does a admirable job of pulling all of this off. He’s blessed with top notch production and set design that bring the fantasy world of “Harry Potter” to life, and the great John Seale behind the camera. Attention to detail is amazing, while some scenes are so beautiful they could be framed. The musical score by John Williams is extremely obnoxious and pounds every moment home instead of underlining it.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” doesn’t need my recommendation. If you have kids, you’re going to see it. At least you can rest assured that you will have as much fun as your kids.


Rowling’s Potter materializes in big screen adventure


Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart. Directed by Chris Columbus. Rated PG. 153 Minutes.


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