Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone [Retro Review]

“You’re a little scary sometimes, you know that? Brilliant, but scary.”

The Scoop: 2001 PG, directed by Chris Columbus, and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman and Richard Harris.

Tagline: Let the Magic Begin

Summary: Pleasant orphan boy goes to wizard school, and is taught by every British character actor in the world ever.

Justin’s Rating: One thing’s still for certain: the British need to up their dental plan payments

Justin’s Review: I waited, and I waited, and I waited some more, but the expected climax of this movie never came. At no point do the villagers seize Harry and his warlock buddies, tie them to the stake, and make wizard-ka-bob. This movie is set in England, a place where they used to routinely burn suspected witches if they caught someone baking cookies, skinning cats, or signing up with Amway. And no burning Harry! What a letdown.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Haunted Mansion ride in DisneyWorld (and I might’ve mentioned this in another review as well). You don’t go to the Haunted Mansion to be scared in the least; you go because the pseudo-Addams Family stylings are cheerfully morbid and enjoyable to tour. Nothing in the Haunted Mansion feels the least bit threatening, but it at least gives you an unusual ride. This is much like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which simultaneously didn’t suck and didn’t live up to its potential.

Introducing us to the magic world of a boy named Harry, director Chris Columbus condenses down the book into a 2 1/2 hour running time, which felt long but not long enough to do everything justice. I kept thinking, many times, that perhaps the whole Harry Potter translation might be better served as a miniseries. Columbus takes us on a ride through gorgeous sets and locales, but never quite slows things down to let us properly enjoy them. He flashes special effects in our face, perhaps overdoing it in some circumstances, glossing over the more mundane parts of the story – like CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – to get to some pithy lines and key plot points. So it’s much like a ride, pretty to look at, yet sometimes very hollow.

There were two things I really, really liked about this film, and in the interests of not being too critical, I’ll point them out here. The Quidditch match (sort of like a game of soccer flying around on broomsticks) was handled perfectly. The music was right on, the action fierce and fun, and even the Quidditch outfits looked pretty cool. It was one of those SFX extravagandas that weren’t necessary to advance the plot (reminding me somewhat of a certain pod race), but actually spruced up the film immensely. The second thing is a mere detail, but one that I loved to see because it was mostly done in the background. I thought the idea of moving pictures and paintings from the book a cool idea, and the movie does this justice. Photos, newspaper pictures, and Hogwarts paintings constantly move and interact. At times, if you were bored watching the actors parade around in a scene, you could merely choose to watch the happenings in some of the big paintings behind them (keep an eye out for the painting in the infirmary, where a nurse blows out a candle and keeps watch over her patient). This sort of detail was handled with a touch of subtlety, and that really brought in a spirit of otherworldliness that was needed in the otherwise old-but-dull settings of Hogwarts.

Acting is take it or leave it in Harry Potter. The kids were okay (and Draco Malfoy had this Darth Vader music theme going on every time he did something), but they didn’t bring too much innovation to the role. For instance, Hermione nails the eager student thing, but the film doesn’t allow her to be interesting beyond that. Essentially, she’s a one-note joke. Hagrid was pretty cool, and Alan Rickman as Professor Snape absolutely nailed the evil aura of the character. However, with such a large cast, many key parts were underplayed or overlooked. When you have John Cleese in a film (as Nearly Headless Nick), you don’t give him TWO lines, one of which is exposition! Most of the Hogwarts teachers were glossed over, as were Harry’s other friends, such as Neville (who they kept whisking in quickly to advance the plot, and then yanked him out again) and Fred and George Weasley (the troublemakers from the book have only a handful of non-funny lines here). Most of all, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry did alright with the whole “open eyes at the wonderment of magic” bit, but was rarely allowed to express the sadness and worry that Harry should’ve had. My favorite Harry scene was just where he was sitting in front of a mirror in silence, watching his long-deceased parents’ reflection.

May I point out one shining actor that should be given more leeway in the next film? Whoever played Wood, the Quidditch captain, deserves a nice pat on the back. I genuinely liked this guy – he felt like the Wedge of the Harry Potter world. The acting felt natural, and he got to be an action hero to boot.

Maybe staying too true to the book was a detriment here, since the filmmakers seem so intent on hitting every magical note that they largely skip over interesting dialogue and important messages (don’t get me started how blatant some of the speeches are in forcing a moral; i.e., “friendship is made of friends” and whatnot). The actual purpose of the school – classes teaching kids magic – are virtually ignored or given brief montages. Hogwarts became less of a school in the movie and more of an interesting place where stuff happens. Still, at no time was I forcing myself to like the film for the sake of liking the book. I just liked it for what it was.

There’s a scene toward the end where Harry lets his white owl (Hedwig’s name is never mentioned in the film) go flying around Hogwarts. There’s no reason for the following two minutes except for scenery chewing, but it did allow me to lean over to my friend and borrow a line from MST3K: “It’s not just Hedwig who’s flying, it’s the human spirit.”

DnaError’s Rating: Gee. Whiz.

DnaError’s Review: I wanted to like Harry Potter, I really did. Back when the books became all the rage among children and scary middle aged men, I tried to read them. But man oh man, about 20 pages of Rowling’s dishwater prose and silted dialogue was enough to put me off Harry Potter forever. This movie hasn’t helped any. The first half was surprisingly enjoyable, brisk and quick and full of “oooo! ahhh!”.But you can only on whimsy and gee whiz charm for so long. The movie misses a critical part of good kids movies, a real dangerous villain. The world of a kid is fraught of evil and danger at very corner, mostly taking the form that jerk who stole your lunch money just cause you drew a picture of Link on your notebook. So the best kid’s movies have this deep, dark naughtiness somewhere (see my review of Willy Wonka). Harry Potter has no such villain. Oh sure, there is a lot of muttering and rumbling about Voldermort, but they’re too busy going HEY LOOK OVER HERE! ISN’T THIS WHIMSICAL!? to actually show us what makes this guy such a big bad. The real evilness and danger doesn’t pop up near the end, where we finally get a decent action scene after 80 minutes of “ooo! Ahhh!” The end of he movie showed how cool the concept could have been, a kind of kiddie Indiana Jones, a “Spy Kids with Spells” if it didn’t spend all it’s time with long, detailed shots of long, detailed CGI shots.

Andie’s Rating: I wish magic really did exist. Just the other day I was telling my roommate, “Just call me Willow. The red-headed, Jewish, lesbian witch.”

Andie’s Review: Okay, so I always thought that I was going to be different and grown-up and whatnot and not give in to the Harry Potter mania. Well. Slap my ass and call me Judy (it’s from a “Friends” episode) because I read the books last May and fell absolutely, totally, head-over-heels in love with Harry Potter and his world. It is so wonderful. The books are well-written, easy but engaging reads. I seriously could not put them down. I finished the first 3 in 3 days and then went on a rabid hunt for the fourth one. I couldn’t find it anywhere and I thought I might die. Truly. But I finally got my hands on it a couple days later. This monster of a book is almost 800 pages long. I started it at 9 pm and finished it at 6 am. I couldn’t force myself to stop reading because it was so good. However, I am not here to review the books (even though everyone should read them) I am here to review the movie.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is one of the best book adaptations I’ve ever seen. Typically I don’t like movie versions of books because what I imagine while I’m reading is always SOOOOO much better than what I’m shown in a movie. But Harry Potter was marvelous. It completely surpassed my expectations and almost every image my head came up with from the book was fairly close to how they were in the movie. That was cool and a little creepy.

Anyway, the story is an enchanting tale of a boy who discovers at age 11 that he’s a wizard. He goes off to study at Hogwarts, a school of Witchcraft. He meets his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and they get into all sorts of fun adventures while discovering the secrets of Harry’s past and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The movie flies by, I hardly noticed that it was 2 1/2 hours long. The imagery is great. I particularly liked seeing Hogwarts across the moonlit lake. That was beautiful. I also liked how the main staircase/hallway looked like something right out of an M. C. Escher painting.

The casting is spot-on. I don’t think they could’ve found anyone better for Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, or Professor Dumbledore. But my personal favorite was Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. I love Alan Rickman. I’ve had a thing for him since I saw Die Hard. It’s pretty impressive that when Bruce Willis is running around shirtless and dirty and tough-guy-looking I will notice the sexy terrorist villain. Anyway, in Harry Potter Rickman is not so much “sexy” as he is…ummmmm…”greasy” and “creepy.” (I’m envisioning this sentence being said by Chris Farley when he used to play that character who used the hands making “quotations” a lot, like ‘So maybe I don’t “bathe” regularly or “wear deodorant” every day.’ Anyway…..) Rickman plays Prof. Snape perfectly, I can’t wait to see his relationship with Harry develop.

There are so many great things to talk about from Harry Potter. The Quidditch game is great, ending is great, the part with the Mirror of Erised is so bittersweet. The Wizard’s Chess game at the end is spectacular. I love how the pictures in the background are always moving, what an attention to detail. I know there are some things from the book that got left out but that’s what happens when you make a book into a movie. However, I was very miffed that Hermione didn’t get to solve the Potions Logic Puzzle in the climax because that was a cool part of the book that I wanted to see but it was cut. That’s a pretty trivial quibble, though. Overall, Harry Potter is great. My roommies and I have a countdown for the release date of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. So run, don’t walk to rent the first Harry Potter so you can go see the second one on November 15th.

 

I am the almighty Hedwig! I am hungry! This boy's arm will suffice!

 

Intermission

  • Professor Flitwick is played by famous little person Warwick Davis (WillowReturn of the Jedi, Leprechaun) – and Warwick also doubles as the voice for the goblin in the bank (who is played by Verne ‘Mini-Me’ Troyer. Although Warwick continued to play Professor Flitwick throughout the series, his appearance changed by the time the third film was made.
  • This film broke the 3-day record in 2001, taking in $93.5 million in a November weekend.
  • The name of Harry’s owl, Hedwig, and Filch the caretaker’s cat, Mrs Norris, are not mentioned in the film.

Groovy Quotes

      Hagrid: Ah, I shouldn’t have told you that.

Hermione: Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.
Ron: She needs to sort out her priorities.

Hermione: Why was he trying to get past that 3-headed dog on Halloween?
Hagrid: Who told you about Fluffy?
Ron: Fluffy?
Harry: That thing has a name?

Dumbledore: It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Filch: Shame they let the punishments die. Was a time detention would find you hangin’ by your thumbs in the dungeon. God, I miss the screamin.’

Harry: I think if he’d had the chance, he might’ve killed me tonight.
Ron: And to think I’ve been worried about my Potions final.

[to Hermione]
Ron: You’re a little scary sometimes, you know that? Brilliant. But scary.

Ron: Lucky we didn’t panic.
Harry: Lucky Hermione paid attention in Herbology.

Dumbledore: What happened down in the dungeon is between you and Professor Quirrell. It’s a complete secret. So naturally the whole school knows.

Hagrid: Harry, you’re the boy who lived.

If you liked this, try

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
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12 Comments

  1. This is something that’s part of a specific time, and looking back will seem incomphrehensible how it stretched on for 8 movies and 7 books. It’s not bad at all though, and even edited heavily it still beats just about every recent live-action children’s film in quality and faithfulness to the source. You have to respect that, especially when other kids films murder the source and are totally clueless at making the film (Walden media and Narnia films, looking at you.)

    I guess if you have a continuum with Star Wars on one end and Twilight on the other, HP would fall squarely in the middle.

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