HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE (2001) ***1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

(*Author’s note: This review generated my first piece of “hate mail.” so I cherish it deeply)

One of the most anticipated films of the year has arrived, and with it an almost guaranteed blockbuster. Breaking records already with its first weekend returns, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” fills in a very difficult market for the Hollywood studios, bridging the gap between the child and adult demographics. Warner Bros. new they had an automatic hit when they adapted J.K. Rowling’s first in a series of children’s books. Now all they have to do is sit back and watch the box office records break and the money roll in.

Orphaned at a young age, life has been hard for 11 year-old Harry Potter. His horrible aunt and uncle lock him up in a closet beneath their staircase while their gluttonous son torments him. His existence seems grim until a series of letters and a mysterious stranger arrive, propelling him into enrollment at the magical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Soon, Harry learns acceptance for the first time in his life and discovers his destiny to be the greatest wizard that ever lived. Plus there’s a little storyline about an evil wizard and a magical stone tacked on at the end.

While the movie fairs well in its ability to entertain, it seems to lack much of a story. If a movie has a weak and rushed story, it makes the film seem more like a simple series of pointless scenes. Sure there are experimental films that lack stories, but “Potter” was never intended to be one. However, you must also take into account that this is the first in a big series that will continue on for at least 6 more films. Consider this the springboard into the Harry Potter world and you’ll enjoy the setup. If not, wait just one year more for the next Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I trust you’ll find more story there.

Acting is difficult to gauge or critique in such a high profile movie when the primary actors are children. Given the high expectations of this adaptation, you can bet the producers worked extra hard to find the right kids for the parts. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Potter himself, at least looks the part, but he spends most of his screentime in quiet awe of what goes on around him. Otherwise he seemed pretty stiff, so I hope his developing maturity goes hand in hand with his acting abilities. Emma Watson tended to be a little too obnoxious and prissy in her role as Hermonie Granger. Although the character called for such qualities, she came across as too annoying. In contrast, be on the lookout for newcomer Rupert Grint (more on him later).

Director Chris Columbus can certainly add another success to his resume. Unfortunately, the man has never made a film of substance in his career, a fact that might account for “Potter” not being as great as it could have been. With bland or brainless comedies like “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Stepmom” and “Home Alone 1 & 2” to his name, you may think it surprising that Columbus got such a high profile gig. Alas, these films yielded blockbuster-sized returns, so Columbus won the draw. Expect him to also direct “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” due out next year, although I would think it wise if they try other directors for future sequels.

I can, without a doubt, recommend this film to all ages. While there may be a few tense and scary scenes, kids will go nuts for “Potter”. I see nothing that might be any more objectionable than anything they might see out on a night of trick or treating. Adults will get a kick out of it too, given that the humor and subject material can be intelligent and entertaining, without the use of potty jokes. Rated PG.

Scale of 1-5:
3 ½

Best Aspect of the Film:
The whole spectacle of the darn thing. The special effects, the wonderful sets, the great costumes and elaborate makeup all make for a fun ride. If you don’t go to see it for anything else, at least see it for the incredible “Quidditch” tournament. Quidditch, a fun-looking type of rugby played while flying on broomsticks, stands out in my mind as the most exciting part in the film. Reminiscent of the “Pod race” in “Star Wars: Episode 1”, you’ll sit on the edge of your seat watching Potter chase the “Golden Snitch”. What’s a Golden Snitch? Don’t ask me, it’s wizard lingo, so sit back and enjoy the game… even if you don’t understand the rules.

Biggest Disappointment:
Upon reading the above description of the plot, you might notice the main problem of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. The film spends so much time building things up and showing off all the neat little touches and mythology of the Harry Potter world, that it doesn’t leave time for a plot. In fact, the story doesn’t even really start until halfway through the movie (a 2 hour and 53 minute movie, by the way). While this film appears very loyal to the book, it becomes the downfall of the film. Books are often changed when adapted to film in order to fit a cinematic structure and a strict time constraint. The results aren’t always great, but deviating from this structure can turn a good book into a really bad film. Luckily there were enough neat things in this film to make a trip to the theater worthwhile, especially for the kiddies who won’t care if there’s a story or not. Too bad it couldn’t have been a miniseries.

Biggest Surprise:
The entire supporting cast that pretty much steals the show from the main characters. Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, the massive but kind-hearted gamekeeper, Alan Rickman as the insidious Professor Severus Snape, Richard Harris as the legendary Headmaster Dumbledore,… and so on, all add to the terrific atmosphere of the adventure and I cannot see anyone else playing their parts. Of considerable note, newcomer Rupert Grint gives the best performance of them all as Harry’s less fortunate friend, Ron Weasley. Grint doles out all the best lines and delivers them with thoughtfulness and well-timed humor. I look forward to seeing his hijinks again in the next “Potter” incarnation.

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