Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone depending on which side of the pond the film is on) is the eight hundred-pound juggernaut of the fall. It is already a worldwide phenomenon, with four books published in a projected seven book series by J.K. Rowling. Everybody knows this film is coming, and the sequel is already underway. And no matter what any critic says, unless the film is awful (which it is not), people will flock to see it. As a film adaptation, Harry Potter succeeds where most do not. It remains reverentially faithful to the source material, almost too faithful at times. Director Chris Columbus (Bicentennial Man, Stepmom) and writer Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys, Flesh and Bone) seem so worried about offending Rowling fans that instead of cutting, streamlining, or (gasp!) modifying material, they opt to leave as much as they can in. This helps explain the mammoth running time, but the film still passes by at a decent clip.

For any muggle still in the dark, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone follows the adventures of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, The Tailor of Panama, David Copperfield), a young chap who learns he is a powerful wizard. He lives with some awful relatives until Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, From Hell, The World is Not Enough) comes to fetch him. Hagrid works for Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At Hogwarts, Harry befriends Ron Weasly (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and begins to learn about magic and his legacy. Along the way, Harry and friends uncover a conspiracy to steal the Sorcerer's Stone, a mysterious artifact that grants the bearer immortality. The person behind the conspiracy is also the wizard who killed Harry's parents and gave him the lightning-shaped scar he bears on his forehead.

In terms of casting and design, Harry Potter is a resounding triumph. Supposedly, Rowling insisted that Columbus cast only British actors. Most of the students are first time actors and they fare well, it is the adults that are truly great. Columbus and Kloves nailed the essences of each character and chose the perfect actors to portray them. Chief among them are Coltrane, Richard Harris (Gladiator, Grizzly Falls) as Headmaster Dumbledore, and Alan Rickman (Blow Dry, Galaxy Quest) as Professor Snape. Coltrane plays the gentle giant, imposingly tall yet filled with warmth. Harris radiates kindness and nobility, and Rickman seems a little more pissed off than he usually is. Other good actors here include Maggie Smith (The Last September, Curtain Call) as Headmistress McGonagall and John Hurt (Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Lost Souls) in the all-too-small role of Mr. Ollivander. Hogwarts and its environs look absolutely beautiful. It is ominous and regal at the same time, what everybody imagines a castle of this sort would look like. The hall where the students eat is monstrous, opulently decorated with floating candles or jack-o-lanterns, and the special effects are up to par. There are only a couple of places where the CGI looks fake, but this is a very minor thing in an otherwise impressive movie.

The main problem with Harry Potter is the lack of emotion. Sure it remains faithful to the book, but by ensuring that the film adheres closely to the novel, Columbus and Kloves forgot the main element which made the book so popular; the magic. The feeling of wonder that permeates the book is, for the most part, missing from the movie. All the actors are just going through the motions to make sure the story ends. This is not a good thing for the audience, who wants to feel a connection to the characters and the story. The scary parts are not that scary, the heartwarming parts are not that heartwarming, there is just an overwhelming sense of neutrality. Still, this is a huge step forward for Columbus, who usually has his films wallow in cheap, false emotion. Little true emotion is better than lots of fake emotion. However, this is a step down for Kloves, who did a great job adapting Wonder Boys. The truest feeling comes from John Williams' (A.I., The Patriot), score, which triumphantly rises and falls to match each scene. As a whole, Harry Potter is a very enjoyable movie, especially in a season replete in mediocrity, but not great enough to be a classic.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 32 minutes, Rated PG for some scary moments and language.

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