Monday, July 30, 2012

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris and Julie Walters

The Harry Potter franchise recently ended after the seven books were transformed into eight movies. Sorcerer's Stone (also known as Philosopher's Stone) was the first entry. It did well at the box office, grossing $975 million worldwide, and was the most successful entry until the final installment in the series beat it in 2011. The eight films grossed $7.7 billion worldwide, so they are enormously popular.

Due to the popularity of the franchise, I'm going to assume that you have read J. K. Rowling's books, seen the movies, or both, so this review will contain spoilers. If you have never entered the world of Harry Potter, stop reading now.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was directed by Chris Columbus, who was responsible for Mrs. Doubtfire and the first two Home Alone movies. The tone of this first Harry Potter movie is quite similar to those three, relying on whimsy and comedy rather than drama. That matches the tone of the book, so it is not a criticism. If you had read the first book, like me, you were probably looking forward to seeing the world of Harry Potter portrayed on the big screen. The adapted screenplay by Steve Kloves didn't disappoint.

There's a lot to like about Sorcerer's Stone; the sets are vast, the important story elements are present, and the majority of the young actors do a good job. It's a tricky business casting children who have to develop over the course of a decade, but I don't find myself disliking any of the choices. It's great to see Hogwarts, the Hogwarts Express, Gringotts, Diagon Alley, and Quidditch brought to life.

Sorcerer's Stone starts slowly and might seem overly long, but it's necessary to introduce the characters and the worlds they inhabit. I could imagine some people viewing this first installment and giving up on the franchise, but that would be a mistake. This is a vast story which starts off as a charming fantasy before quickly becoming much darker in tone. In a way, it mirrors childhood. We are initially fascinated with the world until we mature and realize that it does have plenty of problems. As the series progresses, the films grow more serious as the threat of evil increases.

Some of the best moments include Harry first learning about the existence of Hogwarts, his initial flying lesson, and seeing the teachers demonstrate some of the spells that the children will learn. The main characters are fully realized and know a lot about them by the end of the movie.

Sorcerer's Stone is a good blend of fantasy and action, with the final part of the film containing the most dramatic sequences as our three heroes try to recover the Philosopher's Stone. The music used in the movie is excellent, and the main theme itself suggests a magical setting. There are a lot of important themes in the series and I think it's generally a good example for children. The importance of friendship is one of the major messages and it all begins with the relationships between Harry, Ron and Hermione.

The Harry Potter franchise isn't just for children. I'm 50 and I have worked my way through the books and the eight movies several times. The adults in the story are played by some of the finest British character actors. Can you imagine anyone other than Alan Rickman as Snape? Dumbledore was played by Richard Harris in this movie and the sequel, and I think I prefer his version to Michael Gambon's portrayal, although Gambon's version did work for the more serious tone present in the other movies.

There's a whole generation of people who grew up loving Star Wars, but here's a franchise for the next generation. Sorcerer's Stone is funny and lighthearted compared to later entries in the franchise, but don't let that deter you from watching all eight movies. The adequate acting improves considerably as the children age throughout the series.

Overall score 4/5

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  1. I read the first books as a kid, I saw the first couple of movies as a kid. I love HP. And now looking back at the first film, which is light and fun, like you mentioned, I agree that it's a very decent adaptation.

  2. Yes, I think they did a good job. J. K. Rowling is 47 today.

  3. I liked how you compared the progress of the HP series with everyone's own maturity. That is spot-on.

    I love the HP books and movie series to death; you could say I'm a die-hard fan. I find Sorcerer's Stone to be the weakest entry but still a good movie and great at setting up the franchise. BTW, today is both J.K. and Harry's birthday!

  4. Thanks Fernando. I've watched the first four over the past four nights and it's always enjoyable. I like how it gets more serious as they age.

  5. I grew up with Harry Potter, from the novels to the movies. I was pretty much hooked with HP when I was a teenager, until I got older and my fondness is going less and less. But I still keep up with the movies.

    Also, I just pass Liebster Award to you

  6. Hi Andina,

    I'm 50 and I still return to the Harry Potter movies often. They are a lot of fun.

    Thanks for nominating me. I'll have to think about my answers. I know who my favorite animated character is though :)