Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Release Date: November 16th, 2001 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Chris Columbus Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, John Cleese, Alan Rickman
t’s an epic fantasy for the next generation, essentially rivaling what “Star Wars” was for the ‘70s. Visionary and sharply crafted, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is great escapism centered on family-friendly (and religious unfriendly) fun. The addition of John Williams’ signature, exhilarating music definitely saves the project from its shortcomings, most of which spawn from adaptation difficulties and time constraints. Several ideas don’t have the opportunity to be properly developed or comprehensively translated to the screen, resulting in contrivances that are difficult to overlook from a storytelling standpoint. Nevertheless, the adventure is exciting and alluring, promising numerous sequels that will further flesh out the complex world envisioned by author J.K. Rowling.
Orphaned and left with a magic-loathing family in London, young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is the legendary boy who survived an attack from the vile Voldemort, a dark sorcerer feared throughout the land. Bred in captivity like a snake in a reptile house, Harry serves the role of Cinderella in a home where he tries not to draw attention to himself, squirreled away in a cupboard beneath the staircase. Like energetic escapism ought to do, the film demonstrates that magic and destiny can save the oppressed – when Harry turns 11, he’s invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn the art of real magic. “You’re a wizard, Harry,” the enormous messenger Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) declares as he escorts the startled child to a hidden world full of endless possibilities.
Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) is the classically imagined, white-bearded, elderly wizard in charge of the school – a Yen Sid lookalike as wise as he is old. Ian Hart plays the simple-minded, stuttering “Defense Against the Dark Arts” teacher Quirinus Quirrell, and Rupert Grint is the light-hearted, redheaded schoolmate Ron Weasley. But it’s Alan Rickman who steals every scene he’s in as the black-robed, cryptic, conniving, and suspicious potion master Severus Snape. As for the children, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger proves herself to be the best of the bunch, balancing a know-it-all bookworm aura with a mature feminine sensibility to serve as the brains of the three musketeers. Being the first of a series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” spends most of its runtime setting up origins and locations and establishing characters. The actual plot touches upon the return of Voldemort, but it’s ultimately just the beginning of a complex and evolving story arc.
Many scenes and characters are included simply to be faithful to the source material, which may please fans but drags out unessential subplots unnecessarily. The insertion of Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese), or a giant, interactive, battling chess game board comes across as pointless. This issue is worsened when Dumbledore has to explain to Potter how he was able to combat various villains – something the audience can’t be told until after the confrontation. Even Quidditch, a magical equivalent of airborne, broomstick football, doesn’t advance the story – it’s simply there to set up an element to be revisited throughout the series. And here, it’s presented like podracing from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” a fast-paced hyperactive competition just for show.
Low points include depending a little too heavily on a young lead character and the under-developing or overusing of rushed conceptions. But it’s always thrilling to see kids taking matters into their own hands, outthinking their peers, outwitting adults, and defeating superior enemies. The film also has a splendorous visual sense, with inspiring set designs, costumes, and special effects, and the incorporation of nearly every creature and notion typically derived for fantasy fiction. With magic, spells, an invisibility cloak, wands, witches, trolls, unicorns, werewolves, dragons, minotaurs, and more, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is along the lines of Tolkien lore, “Star Wars,” Greek mythology/Homer’s “Odyssey,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” all rolled together.
– Mike Massie