Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
” Let The Magic Begin.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris
Synopsis: Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
With a gargantuan running time of 152 minutes, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone feels as if it’s making a statement before it’s even started. And the all-star British cast assembled for the inaugural entry in an eight-movie franchise reinforces that impression, declaring that this is no quick cash-in or cynical sales drive dressed up as a motion picture. Oh, sure, you can buy Harry Potter pencil cases and lunch boxes, duvet covers and mugs, underpants and bubble gum – after all, making a profit is the primary motivation of a production company, same as any other business – but the overwhelming impression as one watches the film is that the makers have enough respect for the source material to prevent them from tinkering too much. Of course, the executive producer status of the book’s author, J. K. Rowling, and her insistence that the film was shot in England, with all principal parts played by British actors, has a lot to do with how true the film stays to the book.
The world of Harry Potter is a closed one as far as we ‘muggles’ are concerned. Accessed by passing through brick walls, either hidden in the rear yard of a curiously Olde Worlde pub in Central London, or in plain sight on a busy platform at King’s Cross, it nevertheless bears a close enough resemblance to our own world for younger minds to feel that maybe, just maybe, it would be possible to find. Passing through those walls also takes us back to a place that remains comfortably entrenched in the mid-20th century. The journey to Hogwarts, the wizard’s school to which eleven-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) receives an invitation, is made by steam train. Computers, TV screens and mobile phones have no place within the walls of the school. The pupils have no choice but to interact with one another, form friendships, and make enemies.
On the train, Harry befriends the under-privileged Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint – Cherrybomb) and the precocious young Hermione Granger (Emma Watson – This is the End). His nemesis, at least amongst the ranks of Hogwarts pupils, is the blonde-haired but dark-souled Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), but Malfoy provides only a minor inconvenience once Harry has settled at the school. A much greater danger becomes apparent when the three friends discover that an agent of the evil Lord Voldemort is plotting to steal the eponymous stone, which bestows immortality upon any who drinks the elixir of life from it, and which is hidden in a remote part of the school guarded by a giant three-headed dog.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone feels very much like the first in a long-running series of movies, which is, of course, exactly what it is. Much of the running time revolves around Harry finding his feet at Hogwarts, and there’s a strong sense of director Chris Columbus and his crew devoting more effort to dazzling fans of the books with their physical recreation of Rowling’s world than there is of them endeavouring to create an engaging plot. This might be due to their loyalty to Rowling’s book (Potter-mania passed me by), but while focusing so much on the fine detail of the world she created is pleasing to the fans, the risk is that it might leave everyone else wondering what all the fuss is about.
That’s not to say Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone doesn’t have a lot going for it. The film delivers some terrific set-pieces. Potter’s debut match as a Quidditch player is filmed with a thrilling intensity, while other sequences such as a semi-comical encounter with a dim-witted troll and the trio’s concluding negotiation of a set of perilous tasks in order to reach the stone, provide the kind of barnstorming spectacle that will please all fans of the genre. The film’s all-star British cast, which includes Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, John Cleese, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and John Hurt, all seem to be having great fun, even when their roles add up to little more than a couple of lines. The twelve-year-old Radcliffe is also a wonderfully expressive little actor, and while Grint and Watson may lack finesse, they at least make up for their childhood lack of ability with performances of boundless enthusiasm.
Considering the sheer weight of expectation which greeted the announcement that a series of movies based on Rowling’s books was in the pipeline, it was vital that the inaugural film appealed to the diehard fans while remaining accessible to those who’d never read a line of the Potter books. It was no easy task, but somehow Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves just about got the balance right. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone might not be a classic movie, but it’s a more than acceptable introduction to the little wizard and his adventures.
(Reviewed 14th November 2015)