HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart, John Cleese
MPAA Rating: (for some scary moments and mild language)
Running Time: 2:32
Release Date: 11/16/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
The fact that the Harry Potter novels became such a phenomenon may surprise many, but it just seems appropriate. The books have such universal appeal. For children (and, indeed, some adults), it gives the chance to escape the ordinary. For older, more discerning readers, there are literary allusions abound. Then there’s the archetypal structure of the main story: the young Harry Potter, who knows nothing about the greatness within him and must pit himself against a pure evil who also happened to kill his parents. To top it all off, the bold imagination of the locations, characters, and creatures who inhabit Harry’s world must give even the most jaded individual a sense of wonder. It would all seem the perfect basis for a film, and in all honesty, it should be. But the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone seems to think that its job is over for simply having been made. What should have been a magical experience is simply a mediocre one, and what may be the biggest event-movie of the year ends up being one of the year’s most disappointing experiences.
The movie opens on Privet Drive, where the Dursleys are about to receive an unexpected permanent guest. Professors Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and Minerva McGonogall (Maggie Smith) appear on the street—he extinguishing lampposts, she as a cat—awaiting the arrival of Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) with a young baby, who has just survived the attack of an evil dark wizard. The Dursleys are the boy’s only family, but little do the magic-folk know that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) will grow up not knowing a single thing about the magic world or his own place within it. There is something strange about Harry, and the Dursleys know it. At the zoo, he makes the glass of a snake habitat disappear but not before conversing with the snake inside. One day, a letter appears for him from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but he does not receive the letter. Soon enough the house is flooded with letters, and in a remote shack on an island, Hagrid returns to tell Harry the truth about his life.
That starts Harry’s venture into the world of magic, and his later adventures will have him making two friends, even more enemies, and a whole lot of trouble trying to discover what is hidden in Hogwarts that is so important as to be guarded by a three-headed dog. If this all sounds intriguing, it should. The source material has provided ample imaginative scenarios, but the movie lacks the needed skill to present them. Mostly to blame are the poor special effects. There’s a trick that most special effects artists know, and that is to keep a scene extra dark when a less than acceptable special effect will be present. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is full of dark scenes, and when a troll is made clearer in flashes of lightning, we can tell why the movie stays so drab. Other effects that take place in the day just make the shoddy work more apparent. The center-piece of the movie is a Quidditch match (think basketball, dodgeball, and finding a needle in a haystack on flying brooms) which depends on catching the audience up in the game. Unfortunately, the effects are awful in this sequence, and the game itself should probably take a lot more skill than the movie portrays it to take.
The movie’s most consistent saving graces all come from the acting front. Radcliffe is serviceable and charming as Harry, although the movie seems more convinced to make it a story about our wonder and amazement (which is rarely achieved) instead of Harry’s. As Harry’s friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson show promise in their feature film debuts. It’s the adults, however, that are more noteworthy. Harris adds a stateliness to Dumbledore, although a sense of playfulness seems missing. Alan Rickman is devilishly perfect as the sinister Professor Severus Snape. But it’s Hagrid who emerges as the most developed character. As played by Coltrane, he is a big, lovable oaf, and it may be nice to see him, and the rest of the characters, develop further as the intended series progresses.
But even likable performance cannot save Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It seems odd that a movie which depends on its visuals as much as this could end up looking so bad, and I can only think of one possibility. This movie is an incredibly easy sell, so why bother with quality? It will make a ton of money either way. I hope the studio pushed this attitude and not the filmmakers, though. The entire movie feels rushed, and what could have been extraordinary is just barely ordinary. It doesn’t matter what I say, though. People will still flock to see their beloved book come to life on the big screen. My suggestion: Sit down and read the book again.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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